LOUISVILLE (PNS) At a recent meeting of newly elected moderators of presbyteries across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I was asked to share my thoughts concerning ways a person might serve in the role of “reconciler” in a presbytery or church where there were divisions. The following were my comments:
- Pray first. Pray alone before you begin the conversation. Then offer to open the conversation in prayer. Such grounding lays a framework that removes the issue from the people involved and invokes Christ to join you. It also helps you to “get over yourself” so that your agenda isn’t the primary focus.
- Listen and show respect. Everyone has the right to be heard, no matter what their position. It may be appropriate to establish ground rules of respect before you begin, so that people won’t use their time attacking one another. Hearing anger and pain is every bit as important as hearing successes and joys.
- Don’t take sides if you are in the role of reconciler. Recognize what it says in 1st Corinthians 13:12—“For now we see in a mirror, dimly.” None of us has the full truth. That is still to be revealed. Learn from each other’s “dim mirrors” and see if there are new truths for you to understand and to help explain.
- Affirm one’s right to disagree with the PC(USA). We are a church comprised of sinful humans. We make mistakes. It is not sinful to disagree. It IS sinful to judge—“Thou shalt not … .”
- GENTLY state facts—not opinions. As reconciler you have a responsibility to be sure that facts are on the table, and that the conversation is not merely a subjective set of opinions.
- Use the Bible as your foundation. Show how our Bible, which all elders, both teaching and ruling; have vowed in their ordinations to be the authoritative word of God, can shed light on various issues. But remember that being “authoritative” does not mean that everyone agrees on its interpretation. That is done with dim mirrors too.
- Get data from the sources. If there are concerns about certain positions of the church, call your executive presbyter or call the national offices in Louisville. Staff have access to the rationale and justification for various positions taken by the church. Too often people interpret the way they “understand” it and are not accurate in those interpretations.
- If possible, talk in person with the individual(s) who have issues. Phone conversation is the next best option, followed by emails, and finally U.S. mail. Writing letters is NOT a helpful way to reconcile. It is difficult to “read” the emotions and seek clarification in a letter, whereas personal contact allows follow-up as well as accountability.
- Find a common foundation between the different parties. At the very base you can probably agree that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. When you have something in common you have a foundation on which to build additional links and bonds.
- Stay firm about PC(USA) rules and regulations if you are reconciling issues about the denomination. As stated earlier, people have a right to disagree. They DON’T have the right to tell untruths. Too often in many conversations about the church, the Book of Order, which is part of our Constitution (or law), is bypassed because it doesn’t say what people want to hear. Those rules and regulations were put into place prayerfully and in accordance with Presbyterian polity. If people wish to change them, there are avenues to do so. But to ignore them is in essence breaking the law of our denomination.
There are other ways to be a reconciler in the church, but these might help serve as a foundation when one is beginning the process. Always venture forward with an awareness that it is God and not your local church or the PC(USA) whom we are serving.