We live in weird times within the Presbyterian Church. Those feelings of weirdness comes as the PCUSA struggles to find its identity in a post 10-a world. For some background, our denomination has removed the cause in its polity requiring “fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness” in its ordination standards. Basically removing sexuality from hold ups in ordination. As the church has struggled with this you can find some churches moving away from the PCUSA to ones with a more conservative slant. There is a more complex discussion about this but that is not the subject that I would like to focus on.
A couple of weeks ago at our monthly Associate Pastor group we discussed the churches leaving. The crux is that we, as Associate Pastors are in an interesting place. What were we to do or act if our Senior Pastor and Session were to discern that the PCUSA was not the place for them. This is strictly hypothetical and no church represented are even thinking about leaving (to my knowledge). The question was what would happen to us. On one had we have a sense of loyalty to our congregation that we serve. They are the faces of ministry and the place that we are called to. They are the ones that we share joys and sorrows with. The John and Jane Smith’s in our congregations are the ones we mentoring to an abiding faith. Can we easily walk away?
On the other hand we are not members of the congregation but of the Presbytery. Does our loyalty stand with our congregation or our Presbytery which is an extension of the PCUSA? At what point does our loyalty break with the PCUSA and to go to the local congregation? Through the five years of seminary, through the ordination trials, mentoring by CPM, and numerous other places we could have easily chosen another denomination. While we were dancing with whether we were Presbyterian the PCUSA was deciding about us. In the end we both chose each other. As we were frustrated about the length of the process, we endured. Our ordination vows make us distinctively reformed and Presbyterian but at no point do we bow and chant “PCUSA PCUSA”. But we are here because we believe in it.
While we each have to discern where we are called to serve and where God’s leading us. Some of the Associate’s said that it should remain with the PCUSA since we are not members of the church, but this is strictly a polity issues. What does happen when a church leaves? Are we obligated to follow? It is for each pastor that is placed in that situation to decide for themselves. Are we PCUSA for life? As there are many churches in flux there is bound to be Teaching Elders (pastor’s) that are asking these questions. There are no answers, but I do know mine.