Referencing the remarks of the author Phyllis Tickle at the 2010 General Assembly; the work of the Middle Governing Body Commission (which is meeting Feb. 3-5 in Orlando, Fla.); the “NEXT” Conference coming up in Indianapolis at the end of February; two other task forces also at work; and the pastors’ letter as well, the denominational leaders agree that much ferment is rising that begs for conversation and discernment.
“Many talk about this era as being like a wilderness experience for the church, from which we can learn the lessons of being the vibrant people God leads from exile into life,” write Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the 219th General Assembly; Gradye Parsons, the PC(USA)’s stated clerk; and Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council. “We believe that it is in our places of brokenness that the work of Jesus Christ has always been most miraculous,” their letter states.
While the letter prompting this response was published by a group of pastors from a particular slice of the church – mostly pastors of larger congregations – the denominational leaders assert that all parts of the church need to be involved in the conversation. “We encourage ministers and elders; churches which are large or small; immigrant communities, men, women, and young people; established churches and innovative worship and mission communities to join in prayer and conversation, vision and leadership for the church in this exciting time,” the denominational leaders state.
In the process, they urge their fellow Presbyterians to pursue a course of unity, citing John Calvin’s resolve, “‘So far as I have it in my power, if I am thought to be of any service, I shall not be afraid to cross ten seas for this purpose, if that should be necessary.’”
FEBRUARY 4, 2011
LOUISVILLE This is indeed a rich time of ferment and deep discernment in the Christian Church and denominations like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Many talk about this era as being like a wilderness experience for the church, from which we can learn the lessons of being the vibrant people God leads from exile into life. At General Assembly we heard from Phyllis Tickle, who talks about “the incrustations of an overly established Christianity” that are being, even as we speak, broken open and reformed. And the good news, Tickle says as she looks back on centuries of Christianity, is that when this happens “the faith has spread – and been spread – dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas, thereby increasing exponentially the range and depth of Christianity’s reach as a result of its time of unease and distress.”
We hear many voices seeking God’s guidance in discerning how to move forward in a rapidly evolving church and culture. A number of pastors recently issued a Letter to the Presbyterian Church, expressing frustration and calling for something new. Elsewhere, an open invitation has been extended to a conversation about more vital, faithful and connectional congregational ministry in the “next” PC(USA). The 219th General Assembly (2010) empowered a Middle Governing Body Commission, not only to consider the relationships of our middle governing bodies, but to act, upon request, responsively in new expressions of the church. Another task force has been set into motion to consider the whole form and function of our meetings of the general assembly, another is examining what the nature of the church is in the 21st century, and yet another is considering how we can live up to our aspirations for racial and ethnic diversity. Presbyterians everywhere long for vibrant congregations and communities of faith, and relationships built upon trust and our common faith in Jesus Christ.
We are seeing a growing momentum across the church to foment a strategy of leadership, resources and polity which will inspire the transformation of congregations and the creation of new worshiping communities in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
We listen as the debate over a new Form of Government engages elders and pastors in shaping a more responsive polity. We see presbyteries crafting new identities and fellowships.
We have ourselves been party to many conversations about the future of the church, convinced that it is the Spirit of Christ sparking conversations throughout. For we believe that it is in our places of brokenness that the work of Jesus Christ has always been most miraculous. The parables of our Savior are full of images that bear the hope of grace coming to a people living in hope, humility, faith. We live in the certain faith that this is Christ’s Church, and for that reason, we engage in the re-formation of this church into the church we are being called to be.
We encourage ministers and elders; churches which are large or small; immigrant communities, men, women, and young people; established churches and innovative worship and mission communities to join in prayer and conversation, vision and leadership for the church in this exciting time.
We thank those who put before the church challenges, aspirations and ideas in commitment to God and to the church, for this will contribute to the conversations going on across the church. We appeal to those who do so to participate and engage with, that ongoing conversation. John Calvin spoke of his commitment to working on the unity of the church:
“So far as I have it in my power, if I am thought to be of any service, I shall not be afraid to cross ten seas for this purpose, if that should be necessary.”
We ask that those who would challenge us also join with all of us across the church as we work together to make that happen.
We proclaim that Christ is present with the Church in both Spirit and Word. We believe that the best days of Christ’s church are ahead of us. We encourage all Presbyterians to discern in conversation and prayer where God is calling us as a community of faith. We invite you to join the discussion below.
Cynthia Bolbach, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010)
Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Linda Valentine, Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council