Midway – n.: 1. an avenue at a fair or circus where rides, entertainment, and booths are concentrated; 2. a 2.4 square mile atoll in the north Pacific, approximately one-half the distance between the U.S. mainland and Asia; 3. a World War II battle fought around, on, and in the air over that atoll, which became the turning point of the war in the Pacific; 4. a retired U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, which is now a memorial ship in San Diego; 5. the early summer of 2009, halfway in time between the San Jose General Assembly of 2008 and the Minneapolis GA of 2010.
Welcome to the Midway, on its way to Minneapolis. How’d we get here? And, where are we going?
On the surface, these questions answer themselves. We got here by being adjourned from the San Jose General Assembly on June 28, 2008, and by jotting on our calendars the Minneapolis GA to be convened July 3, 2010. We stand halfway between those dates and locations.
That’s too obvious. One begs to ask, “Where are we now?” … from the perspective of where we’ve been and where we’re headed down this avenue.
One could say that, given the practice of going around and around the same issues, our once-tidy show has turned into a circus, even a three-ring circus. But such a metaphor misses the nuances of change that have emerged even in our repetitiveness.
Perhaps we’ve morphed into a fair – where barkers and concessionaires shout for attention, and where quiet clowns catch our eye by deception. The concentration of issues debated by us are rivaled only by the number of persuasive styles being utilized — all for the sake of waging a noble battle “for the hearts and minds” of church and world. Yet, the tone of debate has softened while the content has become more straightforward than in years past.
We could wax cynical: we are fighting a pitched battle for the control of a denomination that resembles less a continent than an atoll sitting unassumingly in the middle of nowhere.
Metaphors aside, we do find ourselves on board our SS Midway amid a journey, a sea voyage. Oops, that’s a metaphor, too. Ah, well.
This journey, if we could summarize it at its biennial midpoint, feels different than recent “’tween-GA years” interims. On the one hand the presbyteries have been voting their way to a near tie on the most contested topic of this era: whether the church can and should legitimize monogamous, same-sex partnering among its ordained leadership. Yet, in most of the 173 presbyteries, the discussions proceeded with civility, with prayerfulness, with a searching desire to discern God’s will, and with mutual respect. Through the process, cries about the falling sky actually softened like a Mozart decrescendo.
Yes, some churches did continue the exodus provoked by the New Wineskins movement, yet through the first nine-and-a-half years of this century, just 38 churches have left the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for alternative affiliations (about one-third of one percent of our congregations). Our ears to the ground report that as many as 40 additional congregations are contemplating an exit strategy, but in comparison to the nearly 11,000 worshiping communities staying put, well, the battlefields are as few and far between as remote Pacific islands.
In the meantime, much work is being done. Task forces are studying many difficult issues, as you will read about in this edition of the Outlook. But for the most part, the conversations are proceeding with good will among folks of shared faith seeking to live out their mutual commitment to fulfill their baptismal covenant together. Actions coming from our national offices keep evidencing common sense and a general disinterest in foolishness. And, more than anything else, folks in pulpits and pews are aiming to live as missional Christians and are exercising those efforts within connectional relationships through their regions – especially as organized in presbyteries.
Have we reached a turning point? Only time can answer that question. Many turning points are needed for us to become the transformed, world-changing company of the redeemed that Christ Jesus constituted. But at this midway point, we seem to be proceeding in the right direction.