Howard Edington announces retirement

A number of factors may have contributed to the decision – among them, Edington’s age and length of service; his frustration with the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); and the unwillingness of Central Florida Presbytery to accept transfer of the membership of Carmen Fowler, the executive director of the Presbyterian Coalition, whose office is at First church and who is on the staff there.

Edington, who serves on the Coalition’s national board, has become increasingly outspoken in his criticism of the direction of the denomination – he was one of a handful of Presbyterian pastors who issued a “Call to Confession and Repentance” this fall, in which they described the PC(USA) as “decaying and dying in the belly of the beast,” quoting from the 13th chapter of Revelation, and “irretrievably apostate under current management.”

Representatives of the group later posted a copy of on the front doors of the denomination’s national offices in Louisville, kneeling before the building in prayer. Some have applauded that kind of confrontational approach, saying a wayward denomination must be called to repent. Others have been less enthusiastic.

But there seem to have been tensions within Edington’s congregation as well.

In October, Edington and the First church session posted a letter on the congregation’s Web site, in which Edington apologized for misunderstandings that another letter he’d written might have caused, by stimulating “many rumors and ungrounded concerns for which I am very sorry.” Edington wrote that the frankness of his letter had “caused many members to wrongly assume that the Executive Committee members of the Session were somehow working behind the scenes to remove me as the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church. I can categorically say this is not the case. Even though we have had differences of opinion on challenging personnel and management issues, I remain deeply grateful to the Session and the Executive Committee for their leadership and counsel.”

Edington also wrote that the session “has enacted important changes to our system of governance to dramatically increase and expand the level of lay involvement at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. This will be accomplished by increasing the size of the Session from 18 to 36 lay elders, thereby providing greater congregational representation.”

There also were ongoing difficulties between First church and Central Florida Presbytery – most recently involving Fowler’s attempt to transfer her membership from North Georgia, where she previously served as a pastor, to Central Florida. The presbytery’s Committee on Ministry voted earlier this fall not to validate Fowler’s ministry. And on Dec. 3, after considerable discussion, the presbytery approved a set of criteria regarding validated ministries that the Committee on Ministry had proposed – voting down by a margin of about 56 percent a proposed amendment that would have set up rules under which Fowler’s work could have been accepted. According to Ernest Flaniken, the presbytery’s interim executive, the discussion involved the question of whether validated ministry should be limited to work done within the presbytery, or could be extended to those, such as Fowler, whose work goes beyond the presbytery’s bounds.

“The Committee on Ministry’s reasoning was not to put down the Presbyterian Coalition, but not to accept a precedent to accept any private national advocacy group,” Flaniken said. Some ministers and elders filed a protest to the presbytery’s actions.

Edington told the Orlando Sentinel that the presbytery’s action helped “confirm” his decision to retire.

In his official letter to the church, Edington cited his age as a factor in his decision to step down as pastor. He wrote:

“My late uncle, Dr. Andrew Edington, was a shrewd observer of the church and an unfailing guide and mentor to me. When I accepted the call to this church, I was 39 years old. Uncle Andy said to me: ‘The senior minister of a large church can function effectively during the peak years of age 40 to 55, or perhaps 60. After age 60, the minister starts to move toward retirement, and all too often the church retires with him.’

“Well, I have now reached age 60, and after an incredible ministry here of nearly 21 years, I do not want this church to head toward retirement with me. Therefore, I am announcing to you my intent to formally retire from this great church, effective Jan. 31, 2003. Trisha and I have thought long and prayed hard about this step and we believe that God’s guiding hand is upon us now as it always has been. Retirement will free us up for more quality family time and for new avenues of service to Jesus Christ. Furthermore, it will make it possible for this church I so love to seek leadership that will take it to the next level.

“Much has been accomplished here over these last two decades. I am truly grateful to God for calling me here, for granting me the privilege of fulfilling more dreams than I could ever have imagined, and for allowing me to love and be loved by the thousands of people who have been a part of this ministry since 1982.”

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