While we join you in lamenting the decline in church membership in the PCUSA, we celebrate new members of different age, ethnicity, immigration status, culture, and sexual orientation that are revitalizing our and many congregations in our denomination. And while we join you in lamenting the decline of higher governing bodies in the PCUSA, which are, as you describe them “losing financial strength, staffing, and viability as presbyteries, synods, and national offices,” we also lament the concurrent withdrawal by some congregations from their financial obligations to support the ministries of the larger church.
As a Session of a congregation in the South, our segregationist and racist heritage is one that we must never forget. Therefore, understanding how it is important, from our own experience, to mine and learn from our failures, we take exception with your implied indifference as to “how we got to this place.” How we got to this place does indeed matter, and consideration of just how we got to this place is critical to our particular understanding of the present state of the church and in preparation for the future that God is crafting for the church. It simply is not possible to see where the risen Christ is leading until we face our complicity in causing or contributing to the challenges the church now faces. Perhaps, that is why the young man at the tomb in Mark 16 invites the women to join the risen Christ in Galilee, to return home, to repent, and to begin anew.
Like you, we too are weary of the struggles that divide us. We yearn to be a church as inclusive and gracious as is God’s love. We will continue to work for the day when the church will not restrict and diminish the contributions of faithful L,G,B,T sisters and brothers in ordained leadership, but will encourage and embrace such leaders. We know that you disagree with us on this issue and we respect your reading of Scripture, understanding of the Reformed tradition, and the positions you take on this and other controversial issues before the church.
What we would ask of you is to respect how we read Scripture, understand the Reformed tradition, and the positions we take on this and other controversial issues before the church. We are grateful for your invitation to look forward but are unclear about your intention to gather with those only of “like mind.” If you ask us to be of “like mind” in reading Scripture, understanding the Reformed tradition, and on positions concerning controversial issues before the church, we will not often achieve that goal. If, though, by “like mind” your letter is a call for us to seek “the same mind that was in Christ Jesus,” finding our unity not in church conformity, but in our shared love of the risen Christ, we can join you gladly.
In your clarification letter of February 7, you reference an old and important term within the Presbyterian Church – “covenanted community.” We encourage you to recall that the “covenanted community” of Christ, to and about which the Apostle Paul writes has always been one threatened by fracture. Within our own Reformed/Presbyterian Tradition the “covenanted community” has always been a fractured one, drawing its hope and vitality not from uniformity of thought and practice, but from a shared faith and trust in the Living Lord who claims us, forgives us, and leads us into a future beyond our imagining.
Your letter of clarification closes with this invitation: “We ask you to consider whether God might be calling you to join in our efforts.” If your invitation is only to those of “like mind” on controversial theological and ecclesial issues before the church, we must decline your invitation. If, though, your invitation is to all within the PCUSA to have the tough conversations so that together we might seek “the mind of Christ,” we will join you in Minnesota in August ready to listen and ready to speak.
We await a clarification of your invitation.
Grace and peace,
John J. Huss, Jr. Clerk of Session Gary W. Charles, Moderator Caroline Kelly, Vice Moderator
Central Presbyterian Church Central Presbyterian Church Central Presbyterian Church
Atlanta, Georgia Atlanta, Georgia Atlanta, Georgia