If ever there were a year about which we might say, “Nothing’s changed,” 2007 at least comes close.
Kevin Eckstrom, editor of Religion News Service, has provided us a great lead story regarding the religious news of the year (p. 6). He says that 2007 may well be remembered as the year that set the stage for big news to follow. The powerful Religious Right grew ragged around the edges this year, although the big headlines await the election year to follow. Stay tuned.
For the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2007 seems to have been a stage-setting year, too.
Some expected it to be the year of the scruple. Given the 2006 General Assembly’s adoption of an Authoritative Interpretation of the Constitution, some prognosticators had warned that this year would unleash a horde of scruple-toting infidels and fornicators all seeking ordination. Didn’t happen. Not until November, fully 17 months after the adoption of the A/I, did a single individual file a first scruple. Yes, an openly gay seminary professor has asked the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area to reinstate his ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament on the basis of a scruple regarding the fidelity-chastity policy. Stay tuned.
Many thought this would be the year of the split. Delegates from the 150 member congregations of the New Wineskins Association of Churches voted in February to encourage churches to consider taking steps to leave the PC(USA), hoping to develop a “transitional presbytery” to explore full affiliation with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). The EPC, at its General Assembly in June, embraced that proposal. Now, 10 months later, just a couple dozen churches have joined the new presbytery, and just a few dozen more are exploring the possibility. In sheer numbers, the departure of a few dozen out of the 11,000 churches in the denomination means that the “split” is better termed a “splinter.” In fact, at the NWAC meeting in November speakers spewed opprobrium upon those evangelicals who are “too comfortable” in the institutional system to join their parade.
But the actions of those few churches did send shockwaves. Church members pressed to approve their pastors’ and elders’ pleas to vote to leave got caught in the web of conflict. And colleagues choosing not to disaffiliate, who have been accused by friends of being heretics, traitors, or merely wishy-washy, and who know that their circles of friendship are being torn asunder, can tell you the loss has been great and the grief painful. More may develop on this front in the year ahead (see the developing “scruple” issue above), but we hope that no matter what may come, no more will go. Stay tuned.
Other headlines from 2007 moving into 2008?
“¢ The Form of Government Task Force published its proposed replacement for the polity section of our Constitution. What will come of that?
“¢ Clifton Kirkpatrick decided not to seek re-election as the denomination’s Stated Clerk. Commissioners to the San Jose General Assembly next June will send him off into continuing ecumenical leadership with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches with heartfelt appreciation. Who will be elected?
“¢ Many new senior staff members coming into the GAC offices will impact denominational work into 2008 and beyond. How will they do?
“¢ Black Presbyterianism’s 200th anniversary was celebrated. Will our diversity continue to grow?
“¢ 4,400 students studied, learned and made new friends at Youth Triennium. Will they lead us into a vital future?
“¢ As the Joining Heart and Hands missions funding efforts near completion, and as Gulf Coast mission efforts continue to expand, new missions partnerships, and new efforts such as the New Sanctuary Movement and Presbyterian Global Fellowship will assuredly continue to be in the news. Will we make a difference?
Exploring new initiatives for examining ordination candidates, of middle governing body partnering, of interfaith dialogue–especially with Jews and Muslims; new church paradigms, new forms of connectionalism, new mechanisms for outreach, new vehicles for justice advocacy, all will continue to evolve. Stay tuned.
Altogether, 2007 was a year when little changed, but under God’s sovereign care, everything changed.
Just how? Well, stay tuned.