Doors Open Wider!

The doors of Presbyterian Church, with a recent decision to allow for same sex weddings, have just been opened wider for those in the LGBT community wishing to be married.  While I join with Presbyterians from around the country celebrating our becoming a more inclusive church, we must also remember the need to be pastoral toward those in the church who, in heart-felt ways, disagree with this decision.  Let’s be honest!  Many in the church have strong feelings that this was a bad decision.

From a pastoral letter written by Rev. Jim Browne, the General Presbyter for the Presbytery of Lake Huron—the Presbytery of which I am a member:

What this means is that anyone authorized to perform a marriage and lives in a state where this is legally possible will be able to officiate at  same sex weddings as well as traditional weddings, between a man and a woman. The pastor still is vested with the authority to decide whether a particular wedding is wise and should go forward. The Session which is still given the responsibility to control the use of the building still retains the right to authorize the use of the building for a particular wedding, or to refuse it. The rights of the pastor and of the congregation, vested in the Session, will remain unchanged from before.[1]

Rev. Browne calls upon those in our beloved church to be “gentle with one another”.   I like this!  While some, like myself, want to celebrate this change in our church constitution, I also know some of my best friends at the core of their being are in disagreement with where the church when it comes to this issue of marriage.

I am proud to be in a church that wrestles with difficult questions – always putting Christ at the center of our deliberations.  We are grounded in scripture recognizing there can be varied interpretations when it comes to how God’s Word inspires and guides us in making difficult decisions–living our lives as faithful Christians.

It comes down to this for me:  The door is now open wider for those in the LGBT community who wish to join in worship in Presbyterian churches knowing they are fully included as participants in the sacred institutions, like marriage or holding ordained office–institutions and offices we hold near and dear to our hearts.

Note:  Rev. Grady Parsons, the Stated Clerk and spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church shares an excellent letter showing how decisions on the issue of the inclusion of the LGBT community has evolved since the 1970’s—a short letter for those interested in learning more about how the PCUSA came to this decision. 

http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga221/message-stated-clerk-grady-parsons-marriage/

[1]   Bi-weekly News of the Presbytery of Lake Huron, March 18, 2015

PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH–PROPOSED MARRIAGE AMENDMENT 14-F

The Presbyterian Church is considering an amendment to the constitution that changes the definition of marriage so that persons of any sexual orientation can be married.  Already approved by the General Assembly, Presbyteries now must vote to ratify this proposed change (highlighted):

Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.

I am in favor of this amendment.

As a pastor, I recognize there will be those whose consciences differ when it comes to how they will vote on this amendment.  This is okay.  Different people may read and discern what scripture says in ways that differ from my reading of God’s Word.  For me there is nothing vague about the decision that needs to be made.  While traditionally marriage has been between a man and a woman, this amendment opens a door for the spirit of God to work with clergy and with churches who see women and men or those with diverse sexual orientations as ‘children of God’ who have the right to be joined in marriage.

An important point:  The decision is mine and mine alone to make as to whether I perform a marriage—any marriage.  The decision up to the session of a particular church whether to allow a marriage on their property—or not!  The only restriction would be if a vote on this amendment should fail.

Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.

 

To see the entire section of the constitution impacted by this proposed change to the constitution go to this link:

http://covnetpres.org/amendment-14-f-marriage/

May we pray for unity of our collective heart a presbyters when voting on this amendment.  May our decisions continue to lodged in our respect for one another and in giving glory to God.

 

FILLED WITH HOPE, I AM WAITING

In this sacred Advent season of waiting and hoping I encountered an editorial written by John Wimberly (The Presbyterian Outlook, 12/22/14, pg 5) addressing a concern I have had for years.  My basic question:  Why don’t we give some of our churches more time before closing them?   John Wimberly says in his editorial:

The congregation I served for 30 years was almost closed and the building sold back in the 1970’s.  Thank God the congregation convinced the presbytery to give them more time for God to work through their ministry.  Today, Western Church is a vital, urban ministry where people worship God joyfully, children are educated and the homeless have been fed, clothed and given social services for more than 30 years…..thanks be to God that the majority of presbyters were in no rush to judgment.  They decided to wait with God for something to happen as Western Church.

I thank God for the urban church I served for 28 years, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan.  I am glad the church has an intentional transitional pastor, Rev. Jim Williams, working with this church and presbytery in helping this congregation determine their future.  I pray that the Presbytery of Lake Huron give this church time and resources to help them determine what God has planned next for them.

And thinking about church buildings, the church spends too much time worrying about real estate.  Let’s invest more time thinking about what we could do to maintain a Presbyterian witness in some of these buildings we decide to close.  I can name three former Presbyterian churches in Saginaw with buildings no longer under the Presbyterian umbrella that continue doing ministry in various neighborhoods (Grace, Washington Avenue and Wadsworth Avenue).

Buildings and dealing with church real estate is perhaps the one big obstacle in making the decision to close a church.  As John Wimberly continues to say:

When I see our judicatories selling off property (make that: congregations), I am profoundly troubled.  Unable to envision a successful ministry in the old Central Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, our presbytery sold the buildings in the early 1980’s to a coalition of community groups.  Today, the buildings house a thriving community center and a non-denominational church in one of D.C.’s most vibrant neighborhoods.  Others had and implemented a vision we lacked.

Again, I would hope that presbyters would consider holding onto these properties and ministries.  It is absolutely true that once a building is sold or torn down the opportunity for a Presbyterian ministry in that location probably ends forever.

It is my hope and prayer that some of the resources the Presbyterian Church invests in helping to form new congregations could be invested keeping some of our small struggling urban (and rural) church doors open.

I am waiting and hoping to see more of our urban (and small rural) churches find ways to keep their doors open.

Just Wondering

007Knowing that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is investing tens of thousands of dollars and professional staff hours with the “1001 New Worshipping Communities” initiative, I wonder where the funding and intentional staff support exists in helping thousands of small congregations in need of revitalization.   I know of dozens of rural and urban churches that could use more focused support from the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Are there others who share this concern?  Specifically, what is being done to help small struggling congregations deal with huge buildings that drain congregational resources away from evangelism and mission?  Who on the national staff is addressing the specific concerns of urban congregations?

Just wondering!

Have you discovered: Theocademy?

‘Theocademy’  (http://www.theocademy.com/) is one of the best kept secrets in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).   I heard of this series of FREE instructional lessons a few weeks ago.   This Theocademy was developed by Rev. Landon Whitsitt in partnership with several synods and ten Presbyterian Seminaries – and I understand plans are being made to create more lessons.  While these two groups of lessons were developed for New Members and Ruling Elders and Deacons, I believe they would make for an excellent Adult Education series of lessons.   I look forward to viewing new lessons as they are developed.  And yes, as mentioned before, these lessons are FREE!

THE FOUNDATIONS OF PRESBYTERIAN POLITY

Are our PCUSA foundations cracked?  I sometimes feel the church is ready to collapse under the weight of numerous issues.   Is our polity working for us or against us?   Is our desire to always do things “decently and in order” get in the way of reconciling our differences?   What has happened to our celebrating diversity acknowledge we are not always going to agree on all of the issues?  Are the foundations, that have always held us together as a denomination, failing us?

So back to basics.    It’s been a long time since I took a formal class on church polity.  After forty years of ministry and regular use of the Book of Order, I would like to think I had a pretty good understanding of all three sections of our Presbyterian Church Constitution. 

Wait a minute!  Did I say “Three sections” to the Book of Order?  There are now four sections in our constitution.  With all the work we did in approving the (NFOG) New Form of Government, how could I miss the fact that we added a fourth section to our constitution?  The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, wrote a pastoral letter this past week  (July 10, 2014) reminding us once again of these “foundations” – to quote Dr. Sorge: 

The former Book of Order identified features of our foundation here and there, but did not lay them out anywhere in order  Our revised version now identifies our foundations as one discrete section among four, each identified by their first letter.:

  1. F – Foundations of our life together
  2. G – Governance of our life together
  3. W – Worship as the core practice of our life together
  4. D – Discipline that insures the ongoing integrity of our life together.

 Aha!   There is one quote I have used often in referring to these foundations.  Having served an urban church struggling with the decline in membership and resources we affirmed often:

The Church is the body of Christ,. Christ gives the Church all the gifts necessary to be his body.  The Church strives to demonstrate these gifts in its life as a community in the world (I Corinthians 12: 27-28):  The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.  F-1.0301

It’s time for me to check out the rest of these “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity”.   In outline form:   

The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity

Chapter One

The Mission of the Church

F.1.01 God’s Mission

F.1.02 Jesus Christ is Head of the Church

F.1.03 The Calling of the Church

F.1.04 Openness to the Guidance of the Holy Spirit

 

Chapter Two

The Church and Its Confessions

F.2.01 The Purpose of Confessional Statements

F.2.02 The Confessions as Subordinate Standards

F.2.03 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Church Catholic

F.2.04 The Confessions as Statements if the Faith of the Protestant Reformation

F.2.05 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Reformed Tradition

 

Chapter Three

Principles of Order and Government

F.3.01 Historic Principles of Church Order

F.3.02 Principles of Presbyterian Government

F.3.03 Foundational Statements

F.3.04 The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Defined

 

I end this blog with the words of Dr. Sorge who said in his pastoral letter:

In a time when some folk wonder whether and how our beloved church can weather some storms we are currently facing, it is critically important that we consider the sort of foundation that can keep us strong all the way through.  Understanding the storm is important, but attending to our foundations is what will cause us to survive and to thrive today and tomorrow, to the glory o God.”

 Entrusting our lives to God alone,  

Amen