Among the changes are:
· a new Form of Government;
· revised ordination standards;
· the possibility that a significant number of congregations will leave the PC(USA) to join a new governing body, birthed by the Fellowship of Presbyterians; and
· excruciating economic times.
Despite the uncertainty and anxiety, however, some find reason to hope, based in part on biblical assurances.
“Nothing in all creation will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus,” Cynthia Campbell – former president of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and now interim pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville – preached during the opening worship service of the annual Moderators’ Conference, a gathering of presbytery and synod moderators, held in Louisville Nov. 18-20.
“That’s the promise,” she said. “That’s the gospel. That is our hope.”
Cindy Bolbach, moderator of the 219th General Assembly, said she would not want to go back to the 1950s – the numerical heyday of Presbyterianism, when the PC(USA) had clout in Congress and the pews were full. Church leaders then were nearly all white men, and legal racial segregation still reigned.
“We are no longer that church, and thank God for that,” Bolbach said. The challenge for Presbyterians today is to proclaim God’s word to a diverse, skeptical, multi-cultural world.
“To me, there is no better time than now to be a moderator in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),”Bolbach told the conference – the theme of which is “Shifting Sands: A Changing Church in a Changing Time.” In part, that’s because “there is no more important time to be a moderator than right now.”
Bolbach also said leaders in the church are not being called to preserve and maintain the PC(USA). “God may have scoped out a future” that does not include the denomination, she said. “If that is where God is calling us, that is where we will go.”
But she still has hope – a sense there is still life in the PC(USA). Bolbach will not attend the Fellowship of Presbyterians meeting in Orlando Jan. 18-20, where the plan is to create a new Reformed body with which PC(USA) congregations could affiliate – or to which they could be dismissed.
“I will not be at a place where they are talking about schism,” Bolbach said.
She also said: “I don’t want to be part of a denomination of like-minded people . . . of people who think like me and look like me.”
Bolbach urged the mid-council moderators to do three things.
First, “be a non-anxious presence” – bearing in mind “the church is not going to hell in a hand basket,” but is transforming itself into a new way of being church.
Second, support and challenge the mid-council staffs. They too are in transition, confronting the reality that “doing things the way we’ve always done them just doesn’t work any more.”
Third, build relationships across presbyteries and synods, “especially with those with whom we might not agree on certain theological issues.” That can’t be done by meeting for coffee once or twice. “Creating those relationships,” Bolbach said, “takes a long time.”