The Presbyterian landscape has drastically changed in the last couple months, and quite honestly I am a bit lost and disheveled. It is no longer the denomination that I studied about in polity class, or went through the ordination process with. In many ways it is foreign to me. As I was driving to church this morning I was reflecting upon this. A little over three weeks ago Amendment 10-a was approved by a majority of the Presbyteries which removes the requirement for “fidelity in marriage/ chastity in singleness” for its church officers. A couple of days ago nFog (New Form of Government) was also approved and replaces the current form of the Book of Order. A lot of changes for a denomination that is known for not liking change. That everything has to be done in “decently and in order.”
While the church in its congregation level will most likely not change and continue to do what it always has done, on the denominational level an earthquake has occurred. There has been winners and losers. The landscape has changed in an earthshaking way. What is the response? Some may leave the denomination, or a deeper sense of polarization can occur. I hear of rumblings of some responses by groups within the denomination. Through it all we can be overcome by our own emotional or theological response to the issues.
The last nail has not been driven into the denomination and suddenly we are not totally inclusive. The rules may have changed by there still is a vast divide between among us. There is celebration and hurt, wounds and bitterness that have been caused by years of infighting. The great prayer that comes out of nFog is that a new and streamlined form of government arises, and mission can be done. While I disagree with a great many things in the nFog, it now is the new guiding force of what we are. As we move forward, hopefully together, my prayer is that we get back to what the church was destined to do. Be about the mission and glory of God.
The ongoing question these days seems to be… what shape will our denomination have in the future? Are we going to circle the wagons? Jump ship because we do not like where this is headed? Stay and fight for the denomination that we grew up with? Or something else? Clearly the line is drawn in the sand for some Presbytery’s and Churches. What is going to happen in the next year or so, I believe is going to rock the denomination to its core. At the current time the Presbyterian Coalition has the voting results on changing the wording in the ordination standards as 58-43. This is still with a number of Presbytery’s left to vote (such as mine).
What does this mean? Already we have seen the letters from a proposed new Presbyterian Fellowship and the counter in the Next Church Conference. In the past month my twitter feed has been ablaze with the voting results from different Presbytery’s as the results were announced and comments on such. Easily it can be said that tensions on all sides of this issue is rising. Some are seeing victory in sight and others are discussing options if the vote does not go their way. Regardless of which side is gains the majority of votes, we will see a shift in our denomination. For too long we have embroiled ourselves in the “big church” (aka the denomination) that we have not had a renewed sense of what OUR MISSION is? Is it to win political/ theological victories at the denominational level or is it something else? What are non-Presbyterian’s seeing or sensing about our church?
The future, if we choose the non-scorched earth policy (otherwise know as if I cannot win, no one will) is full of possibilities. In the past few years I have seen the renewed vigor of churches as they have looked at their purpose and sensed that it needs to be changed. Will the denominational politics cause the denomination to split? Who knows, but what I do know is that the church is being led in a time of change. We are asked to let go of what we have always done and embrace what God has called us to. I do not believe that the PCUSA as we know it is the box that we are confined to, but we are to evolve and engage one another in with God leading the way. The road is going to be bumpy and a few may not stay on our course but we need to have faith in what we believe theologically. Not jumping off at the first sign of something that we do not like.
A new generation of leaders are arising. They are not all in their twenties and thirties, but are rethinking the way that we have always done church. As these new leaders take shape and become more cohesive, I am excited to see where they will lead this denomination. What will their solutions be to the many problems in our small churches, evangelism, worship, and multiculturalism. But what are we doing to support, nurture, and develop them. They are coming out of contexts that are vastly different that the ones the previous and current generation of clergy had. Do we stifle their learning due to lack of flexibility of our seminaries or do not help shape them to lead in our churches? A time of change is coming. Our new clergy could be all Commissioned Lay Pastors, that have no formal seminary education, and serve small congregations to survive. Or other creative avenues that we are led to.
The future is promising… as long as we do not get caught up in ourselves and remember the point. The point is:
Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is
necessary for its mission to the world, for its building up, and
for its service to God. Christ is present with the Church in both
Spirit and Word. It belongs to Christ alone to rule, to teach, to
call, and to use the Church as he wills, exercising his authority
by the ministry of women and men for the establishment and
extension of his Kingdom.
G-1.0100b (Book of Order)
I am new to this whole position. That being a pastor (an ordained one) in a congregation that looks at me quite differently than my previous ones. That is my current church is truly jarred by what happens on the denominational level and have suffered through some of the consequences of such actions or inactions depending on ones point of view. Earlier this week a letter arrived in my email. One that was sent to a number of pastors throughout the denomination. The context of the letter and the official PCUSA rebuttal are linked below.
I got a message from a friend, that is not a pastor, and asked if I have seen it. What was I going to do? Me? A newly ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament? Maybe pretend that I did not see it and bury my head in the sand. Beyond that, what was I going to do. As any good man does… I asked my wife. Simply what do I need to do or simply push it under the rug. My wife’s suggestion was that maybe it was time for me to take a stand for what I believe in. And I am taking a stand? Not by pushing it into people faces but simply by being me. People know what I stand for and there is no need to antagonize another or poke them with a stick. I don’t think it is any secret what I believe but I don’t need to engage in a conversation that will simply make another mad or turn them off. The most rich times of my life were in seminary engaging others that I did not agree with and trying to understand their context in the issue. My life and understanding is much fuller because of those times.
Basically, in many ways we could be the beginning of the last chapter of our denomination. Sure we have lived with churches leaving in the past, such as the New Wineskins. While some have left there are others that have chosen to stay in communion with the denomination. What the letter from these churches state is that there needs to be a new way of doing things, that we are at a pivotal crossroads. A crossroads that could could lead to the end (of what we know as the PCUSA) or a renewed missional paradigm. I do not think that the PCUSA will be destroyed if the exodus of the 45 or more churches happens. It is just that the diversity and richness of the denomination becomes a little smaller. In fact the church that I grew up in has just voted and was graciously dismissed from the PCUSA, and that grieves me.
Throughout Seminary and the ordination process the connectional nature of the church has been hammered into me. That no matter how big or small the church is, how diverse our congregation, vastly different our worship styles are, or how different our views are; we are a connectional church as long as we subscribe to some “essential tenants” of the Reformed faith. While some may take liberties on defining what those are, for the most part we agree on a number of essential tenants from baptism to the confessions. If not we would have found ourselves in other denominations or not one at all. It is with these guiding principles and polity that bring us together instead of repelling us.
These past years have not been easy for anyone on either side (left, right, or middle). What I have come to understand is that we have begun to dislike people simply because of their beliefs and not because of THE PERSON. We have been reduced to labels as conservative, liberal, from this Presbytery or that, and not as a brother or sister IN CHRIST. While I do not necessarily agree with everything that is going on in the denominational level I do understand that I need to treat each other as Christ would treat them. Is it time to leave this denomination: absolutely not. I have had my choice for the past five years prior to ordination to leave, as I studied, prayed, and searched the PCUSA is what I believe in and called to. Sure there are problems and I would love to be a part of a new missional focus of it, as it reaches into the world and not worrying about what another church or Presbytery is doing. I must believe and act as if God is working within and through this denomination.
Just my two cents.
So I guess I am really an Associate Pastor here. This past Sunday I was installed at St. Paul’s as a Pastor. As I was preparing the service, I felt it was going to be anticlimactic. Probably since I was just ordained a couple months ago and had yet to feel really connected to this Presbytery. My parents had flown out from California and that was book-ended by two major storms. What I found was quite the contrary.
When the Installation Commission was formed I was asked who I would like to be in it. Since I pretty much knew no one… it was simple “I don’t know”. Well my Senior Pastor assembled a few names that I picked through and it turned out to be pretty awesome. I have connected pretty well to some of the Pastors in our Presbytery and my Installation is definitely going to be memorable with a new and renewed connection with some (Rev. Katie Mulligan was the Youth Director at Goleta Pres more than a few years ago and through Facebook).
What made this service most memorable was the amount of people from the congregation that came out on a Sunday afternoon to affirm my position with them and their support for my family. It was moving as part of the Presbytery’s Litany was to support and provide for me. As I was reading the twitter feed of my service later that night (yes, my installation commission and another in the congregation was tweeting) I was reminded that only installed ministers the congregation pledge to support. In todays age there seems to be more and more ministers that ARE NOT categorized as installed. These are supply, interim, and designated pastors. While I believe that many congregations do care for their pastors even when they are not installed, to put it forefront in an installation service brings a deeper sense of commitment.
I was moved by the many people that made the installation something special… thanks. The final hymn was for Jacoba, Sam, and Sandy. Back to ITM days.
Nfog and belhar confession
Now that I am actually ordained and got a job it is quite interesting to hear from some of the members of the APNC (Associate Pastor Nominating Committee). This whole process was very long and arduous from both sides. Me, in searching for a position and submitting over 80 PIF’s (Personal Information Forms). The APNC, received over a hundred applications in the course of six months.
At times I was incredibly frustrated by the process in searching a call. Why were they not calling me back? Why did I get rejected? What was I doing wrong? Now from this side I had the opportunity to see what a nominating committee went through. While I was struggling so were they. It seems like they were not arbitrarily tossing PIF’s out (as I felt sometimes) but were in fact prayerfully discerning who they were going to choose. Out of my conversation I realized there were several areas that concerned them about anyone.
1. Who really was this person?
As our PIF’s ask us several theological and church questions it does not truly reflect who we are. In fact, we can shape wording to both liberal and conservative congregations. In our references, we are told to put up to six references. These could be anyone. While many put Presbyterian contacts, how well do some of them know us. In fact, the APNC got the brush off from references more than once.
In the search to find the real us, they went online. It is not very hard to find me on the internet. I have a facebook, myspace (that I never use), twitter, linkedin, and blog. This does not discount the post such as denominational items that have me marked. As I searched my name on google and added PCUSA I am listed eight times in the first ten search results. Apparently I am pretty easy to find. In those search results one could get a very good idea of who and what I am; all the good, bad, and ugly. They even got a sense of my spiritual development and maturity in faith.
2. What is there experience level?
It was once told to me that I have to “put in my time”. That was that in order to move my way through the denomination and ordination that I would have to “do time” or serve wherever I was needed. Through my ten years I have served as an elder, elder commissioner, nominating committee member, presbytery council member, and a myriad of other committees. At times it was not necessarily what I wanted to do, but was slowly entrusted in what I wanted to do and be a part of. Too easily was we are in the ordination process we take our Presbytery as a necessary evil in that we have to adhere to the many policies and hoops that they want us to do, instead of embracing it and being nurtured by it. As I left my Presbytery I was giving a strong look because of the belief and trust the Presbytery had put into me.
I was searching the internet for some ideas for my installation and ran across a newsletter for the now Rev. Isaac Chung’s new church. I was intrigued by what his pastor wrote on ordination from a Reformed perspective.
Ordination holds opposites in tension. It sets individuals apart for a particular purpose, but calls them to carry out ministry in community. For pastors in particular, ordination rises “from below” – an act of the whole church, carried out by the presbytery, in order to choose and propose the candidate – and “from above” – a gift of God bestowing both skills for pastoral ministry and a recognition of dependency upon the Holy Spirit for their use. It is both the culmination and the beginning of the call to ministry. While God ﬁrst calls individuals to a life of service, the church then conﬁrms this inner calling, through Committees on Preparation for Ministry, Seminary, and even Pastoral Nominating Committees. Ordination, then, serves as the culmination of that initial call, with installation marking the beginning of service in the calling community.
The central act of ordination is prayer and the laying on of hands. It has been said that in this act, the candidate is overwhelmed by two conﬂicting feelings – a strange burden and a strong support. In those hands the weight of the church’s faith, the witness of the saints, presses down. Yet in those same hands, the candidate is upheld, given that which he or she does not have through education or natural inclination. It is truly a mystical event.
Finally, the pastor is a leader, but this role only arises because of those whom he or she leads. Martin Luther said that “there is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests… except for the sake of ofﬁce and work, but not for the sake of status.” If it were not for the laity, there would be no need of pastors, and the work of the church would collapse before it began. We are all part of Christ’s work, and are called as such. As Luther said, “we are all priests, as many of us are Christians.” The question, then, is not “Am I called to ministry?” but rather, “To which ministry am I called?” In the Reformed tradition, pastors are called to preach to the congregation, in the name of Christ, so that the congregation may preach to the world in the name of Christ.