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Future of the church

GA leaders invite all Presbyterians to join in conversation

February 4, 2011

LOUISVILLE

This is indeed a rich time of ferment and deep discernment in the Christian Church and denominations like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Many talk about this era as being like a wilderness experience for the church, from which we can learn the lessons of being the vibrant people God leads from exile into life. At General Assembly we heard from Phyllis Tickle, who talks about “the incrustations of an overly established Christianity” that are being, even as we speak, broken open and reformed.  And the good news, Tickle says as she looks back on centuries of Christianity, is that when this happens “the faith has spread – and been spread – dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas, thereby increasing exponentially the range and depth of Christianity’s reach as a result of its time of unease and distress.”

We hear many voices seeking God's guidance in discerning how to move forward in a rapidly evolving church and culture. A number of pastors recently issued a Letter to the Presbyterian Church, expressing frustration and calling for something new. Elsewhere, an open invitation has been extended to a conversation about more vital, faithful and connectional congregational ministry in the “next” PC(USA). The 219th General Assembly (2010) empowered a Middle Governing Body Commission, not only to consider the relationships of our middle governing bodies, but to act, upon request, responsively in new expressions of the church.  Another task force has been set into motion to consider the whole form and function of our meetings of the general assembly, another is examining what the nature of the church is in the 21st century, and yet another is considering how we can live up to our aspirations for racial and ethnic diversity. Presbyterians everywhere long for vibrant congregations and communities of faith, and relationships built upon trust and our common faith in Jesus Christ.

We are seeing a growing momentum across the church to foment a strategy of leadership, resources and polity which will inspire the transformation of congregations and the creation of new worshiping communities in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

We listen as the debate over a new Form of Government engages elders and pastors in shaping a more responsive polity. We see presbyteries crafting new identities and fellowships.

We have ourselves been party to many conversations about the future of the church, convinced that it is the Spirit of Christ sparking conversations throughout. For we believe that it is in our places of brokenness that the work of Jesus Christ has always been most miraculous.  The parables of our Savior are full of images that bear the hope of grace coming to a people living in hope, humility, faith.  We live in the certain faith that this is Christ’s Church, and for that reason, we engage in the re-formation of this church into the church we are being called to be.

We encourage ministers and elders; churches which are large or small; immigrant communities, men, women, and young people; established churches and innovative worship and mission communities to join in prayer and conversation, vision and leadership for the church in this exciting time.

We thank those who put before the church challenges, aspirations and ideas in commitment to God and to the church, for this will contribute to the conversations going on across the church. We appeal to those who do so to participate and engage with, that ongoing conversation. John Calvin spoke of his commitment to working on the unity of the church:

“So far as I have it in my power, if I am thought to be of any service, I shall not be afraid to cross ten seas for this purpose, if that should be necessary.”

We ask that those who would challenge us also join with all of us across the church as we work together to make that happen.

We proclaim that Christ is present with the Church in both Spirit and Word. We believe that the best days of Christ’s church are ahead of us. We encourage all Presbyterians to discern in conversation and prayer where God is calling us as a community of faith. We invite you to join the discussion below.

Cynthia Bolbach, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010)
Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Linda Valentine, Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council

  1. Growth is not the issue. Maybe God wants the Presbyterian Church to die. Scripture seems to indicate that death comes before life. The issue is faithfulness. I think the Christian church in general in the United States has been co-opted by the culture. Since retiring as a Presbyterian pastor 7 years ago and attending worship as a “lay person” I have yet to be challenged from the pulpit. The church is good at comfort, making things pleasant, sponsoring fundraisers and style shows, but has neglected the challenge of the Gospel. Jesus did say lose your life to find it, take up your cross, rejoice when you are persecuted for my sake. Jesus was crucified for the life he lived, yet the Christian in the US is taught that Jesus is for you, will make things better, will make all your problems go away, is in your corner, and if you are nice and do the right things you will prosper. Crist has become the Santa Claus, the wish granter, the secret to success all united into one "sweet Jesus." We live in sinful world and the United States may be one of the worst of cultures when it comes to sin. We are a spoiled, whining, adolescent waiting to have our needs met by some benevolent elder. We cry about the national debt, but woe to any politician who approaches our pork, we whine about the price of a gallon of gas when half of the world goes to bed hungry, we complain if someone sits in our pew or approaches our sacred cow. If we are challenged from the pulpit or if the leadership does cater to our version of church and worship, we travel across town to find a message that is appealing. It is not about growth, it is about faithfulness and faithfulness involves pain. If you preach and proclaim the prophetic and challenging and sacrificial side of the Gospel in this self-indulgent and narcissistic society, you will not grow. Yet, now more than ever it is what our society needs, it is the part of the Gospel that has been neglected, and it essential for being faithful to Christ. Growth is not the issue, faithfulness is.

    by Jerry Dirks

    February 23, 2011

  2. Just a pew-dweller here. But I appreciate the many points of view being expressed and hope that this next “call to dialogue” actually will engage the larger church in a way that has eluded (or just exhausted) previous efforts. Several things are abundantly clear to me... 1. While there is deep dissatisfaction with the national leadership's emphasis and make-up, there is nevertheless an abiding sense that as Presbyterians, we ought not to shrink from trying to right things in the PCUSA. 2. The Pastor's Letter sounds like an overture, not a symphony. There's no ultimatum, just a plan for “like-minded” people to meet in Minnesota and endure the mosquitoes! But they do raise several possible ways forward, maybe inside PCUSA, but perhaps not. I will watch with interest what they do and propose, but I don't see anything concrete, yet. 3. If only there were no such thing as homosexuality! Think how much effort, time and denominational friction has been triggered by this one fact of life? I raise this point only to observe that if our real goal is to make disciples for Jesus, then why are we focusing so much effort on what is of direct concern to only a tiny minority of people in this country? Put another way, how do those PCUSA liberals pushing for nFOG, relaxing ordination standards and wishing to perform same-sex marriages in our churches justify this from the standpoint of making disciples? Certainly no one argues that if we adopt all these “reforms” that we will reap vast new armies of new Presbyterians. Not to trivialize the deep theological debate, but this is not exactly a winning strategy for “marketing” our denomination to the world. Conversely, to the conservatives who oppose these changes, isn't the passion and commitment that your opponents show an impressive thing to behold? Truly, what might we accomplish if all this energy were directed at gathering God's people instead of politicking in a sad reflection of the secular, broken world and its partisan upheavals? 4. Lastly, it is so tempting to ignore all this national drama and focus instead on my own lovely, country church and the people who serve God within it and through it. No one there worries about this stuff. Whether your church is “Big Steeple” or “School Lunchroom” I suspect many of you feel the same. Remember that we are blessed by being so decentralized as well as cursed to argue forever.

    by Joe Duffus

    February 19, 2011

  3. Conversation? Look at the euphemisms.......if you're against preaching the Bible, you're told that what's gone is "old paradigms." The non-believers simply won't admit that they HATE the gospel and want to attend a nice "service" and dabble in politics under the guise of the "work of the church." Future of the church? It will be fine. It just doesn't revolve or care about the elitist running the PCUSA. Why not join a group that already is overtly not Christian and save yourself some work of running (eventually) everyone who is out of your house. What a joke: The future = simple = PREACH THE GOSPEL AND TRUTH REVEALED IN THE WORD, NOT A REVISIONIST OF TRUTH EVEN A CHILD CAN BELIEVE. Ron Cox Central Illinois (Louisville-area native - proudly)

    by Ron

    February 15, 2011

  4. As I have read the responses to the concerns expressed by the " tall steeple " churches I can ony add that the major problem facing the PCUSA today s not a theological problem, it is however a physiological problem. The chirch and it's heorarchy is out of touch with it's constituency. It certainly appears to me that we are,perhaps at long last desperately trying to fight a raging four alarm blaze with a hand fire extiinguisher when all these years we should have been really sensing the smoldering mass out here in the hustings. Lets face the truth, we have a people problem we are no longer in the mainstream with an entire generation and those that try to lend voice and concern to the issue are ignored and stonewalled by a heirarchy that seeks it's own self preservation, Insted we labor and throw money at projects like enabling, transforming and empowering, Top down, utopian ventures ,when the real key to the whole process is survival ,We need new blood in our churches if in fact we are going to survive. Our present constituency is old and tired, they have labored long in their faith journeys and they need new, younger helpers to turn their ship around in a new and energizing direction. Lets streamline our governmental process and in turn make it responsive to the people and most importantly to a new generation of believers that may well bid to re-energize and revitalize our sagging fotunes . Jim Babcock, Elder, Bozeman,Montana

    by James Babcock

    February 11, 2011

  5. The liberals "at the top" have no clue. Do they care why churches are leaving the PCUSA? GA has voted year after year;Presbyteries then voted; sent it back "up" ; yet, those who "lost" their vote keep bringing the issue back, time and again. PCUSA leadership only serves to be politically correct, instead of carrying out the commands of Scripture. How is changing fog going to feed His sheep? Can changing ordination policies change Scripture? We want our way, not God way. Some would have us believe that God has no rules; that he is love & therefore we can turn the church into "anything goes" as long as we are diverse. I long for a domination that is at peace; one that stands with the Scriptures; one that preaches God's Word and stays out of politics.

    by Christine

    February 11, 2011

  6. For three decades, the PC(USA) has continually revised its polity in order to accommodate its growing theological diversity. Perhaps our actions have been understandable, but they have also been futile; we are fewer in numbers, yet more divided, than we were in the past. The “Fellowship” letter’s authors and the OGA’s respondents now ask us, yet again, to pursue political solutions to fundamentally theological conflicts. This is akin to the physician who treats the symptom instead of the disease. Unless our members, ministers and councils recommit themselves to studying and living the Scripture as Reformed Christians, then the PC(USA) is doomed and its salt will lose its taste.

    by Giles Caver

    February 11, 2011

  7. Thank you Noell Rathbun, Christ's table IS bigger than anything we can imagine!

    by Rev. Cathy Hamrick

    February 10, 2011

  8. How can anyone of faith say the church is dying? The church isn't dying! What is dying is old paradigms and structures and preferred Ways of Doing Things. The Body of Christ lives on because HE lives!

    by Molly Douthett

    February 10, 2011

  9. I really appreciate the comments by Henry Gower. I especially found poignancy in these words: "There is no reason other than sin that Presbyterians of differing opinions cannot live in peace and unity and allow God's Holy Spirit to lead us all into the purity of the faith. " Why oh why do folks continue to believe that unity and uniformity are the same? It is heartbreaking to me to believe that there is not enough room at the table for our diversity. I consider the PC(USA) my church family and in many ways it reminds me a lot of my family of origin. We are different, we fight, we love, we agree, we disagree, but there is a familial bond and a shared history that holds us together. My family finds commonality around the table; when we come together around Christ's table, can't we in the church attempt to do the same?

    by Noell Rathbun

    February 9, 2011

  10. One of the reasons that I came back to the Presbyterian Church after spending several years as a Baptist was that in the PC (USA) there was room for everybody and that the Gospel of Christ was paramount in its vision and mission. I was also under the impression that the PC (USA) took "The Great Commission", the "Two Great Commandments", and the "Golden Rule" seriously... not to mention the authority of scripture and a certain pride in working toward the accomplishment of the Great Ends of the Church with Christ being the focus of all worship, mission, and fellowship. Another great attraction of the denomination to me was the realization that the PC (USA) knew how to fight. Presbyterians could fight like cats and dogs about peripheral issues and still deeply love one another in Christ. Now, it seems that we have forgotten to not only love one another but we have also forgotten that we are made in God's image and not the other way around. It is true that there are deep, deep divisions within our communion and civility seems to have run its course; but it is also true that every single Elder and Minister of the Word in the denomination has taken a vow before Christ and the members of the body of Christ to work for the peace, unity, and purity of the Church. If any Elder or Minister cannot in all good conscience live up to that vow, s/he should either gracefully work for change or quietly leave the denomination. On the other hand, it may be that the experiment of "reunion" between the social gospel of the "northern" presbyterians and the spirituality of the Church of the "southern" presbyterians are inherently incompatible. If that is the case, then perhaps a "re-division" might be appropriate. However, within the pericope of my own faith I find that one grows out of the other and the other gives back to its source. There is no reason other than sin that Presbyterians of differing opinions cannot live in peace and unity and allow God's Holy Spirit to lead us all into the purity of the faith.

    by Henry Gower

    February 9, 2011

  11. My husband and I have long believed that the PCUSA is not one community of faith, but two, and that all the signs are clear that we ought to seek an amicable separation. When the votes on major issues continually result at 50% on each side, then you know that you are not of one mind. And when the side getting 51% on a particular vote yells “victory” and stages triumphant displays of their success claiming that God is on their side, then there is no regard for the 49% who are hurting over that same vote. As one side tries to “hold onto the house” as if that shows victory, then something has gone terribly awry. Why not admit that the relationship isn’t working and seek to find a way to go our separate ways with a determination not to be victorious over the other half but to do what we believe God is calling us to do for His glory, not for our own cause? A quote helpful to the discussion comes from The Trivialization of God as Donald McCullough comments on a deity he calls ‘God of My Cause’ in the chapter on “A Pantheon of Deities”. “When faced with a tough challenge, it’s natural to want help. … The bigger the problem, of course, the bigger the help needed, and God is the Biggest Help available. So God naturally gets called in to lend almighty support to various causes. This seems entirely proper, given the Bible’s witness to God as One who holds the earth with concern, One who calls us to loose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free, share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into our houses. What could be more appropriate than seeking God’s help with these things? Indeed, this must please the God revealed in Scripture—so long as a subtle shift does not take place. What can happen is this: instead of serving God by working for a just cause, we serve a just cause by using God. The cause pushes God aside; the divine end becomes simply a useful means, and God gets trivialized. With the best of motives, we throw golden rings and bracelets of passionate concern into the fire, and a calf appears to lead the way to the Promised Land of social righteousness.” (p. 28) May I suggest that the something new we need is to go back to our lives as they were before the “union” of two denominations in 1983? It will take work but it could be valuable work that allows both sides to do what they believe they are called to do in serving God, rather than using God to serve our own purposes. We have not given evidence to the world or to each other that this is a relationship that can be saved. If all we can do is put up with each other, as if that exemplifies “unity”, then another way needs to be found. Maybe in determining to separate graciously we might give witness to the world that we value those who differ from us, that we do desire to serve God not our own cause, and that we are willing to back that up by letting each other go. We just can’t live together anymore.

    by J. McKenzie

    February 8, 2011

  12. To Cynthia, Gradye, and Linda Thank you, thank you, thank you, and to all the folk who serve the church in Louisville, Thank you, and thank you. God abides

    by Rev. Bobbie McGarey

    February 7, 2011

  13. As Presbyterians we must get back to the basics of congregational Bible study, fellowship and prayer meetings in order to know of the church's holistic ministry and to be involved in it in the power of the Holy Spirit!! Being involved in any of the church's areas of concern (evangelism, social justice, education, etc) demands spiritual nourishment without which all will end up empty and mere religiosity as in the case of Isreal when it had a lot of religious activites but was void of spiritual power!!

    by Rev. Eddie Soto

    February 7, 2011

  14. Jim Babcock. in his Feb 7 comments expressed my thoughts very well. I sometimes ask people to describe themselves to me using a list of terms that I offer, such as Christian, husband, father, veteran, accountant, (or pastor, social worker, etc, as appropriate), in approximate order of importance to themselves. In describing myself, the term American appears very high in the list. If I were to play this game with the Presbyterian ministers that I have known, I am not at all certain that American would appear in the top ten. If there are any PC(USA) congregations that actually celebrate July Fourth, Presidents Day, Veterans Day, or make any attempt to acknowledge the fact that our freedom to worship as we choose is insured by our Nation, I have not been fortunate enough to find them.

    by Harold Anderson

    February 7, 2011

  15. These comments arise out of deep pain and hope against hope. I guess all are expressions of faith of one sort or another. I work in hospice and find it very much like serving the PC(USA) congregations. So many enter my care with a conviction that they will heal and walk out. I pray for healing along with them...few walk out. I think it is time for integral thinking a la Ken Wilber. Humanity as a whole is challenged to jettison old myths and create new that will honor the evolving complexity of our interior and exterior individual and global connections. No more blame game, just challenges to meet.

    by Rev. Dr. Larry Grimm

    February 7, 2011

  16. Christ only has one church, the holy catholic and apostolic one. He has never had a denomination. Our denomination needs to return to the church, and it can only do so by returning to the Gospel. The Gospel is Christ, the story of His coming and His significance. Jesus Christ is fully revealed to us for our salvation in and through the scriptures of the Old and New Testament canon. I believe that these scriptures should be read canonically and the revelation of Christ is the perspective from which, and the canon by which, the canonical scriptures are themselves to be interpreted. For the Christian, all that God reveals to us God reveals in Christ – as He is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit within these same scriptures. HE is the revelation of the Triune God and as such He reveals the mystery of salvation and thus the mystery and meaning and purpose of creation. If we would accept the authority of the whole canon of the scriptures in all its parts, when so read and understood, as the only authority in the church, then we might have a basis to move forward as a denomination. We would then be moving forward on the only basis that the church has always ever moved forward. Otherwise, I’m afraid the church, the only church Christ has ever had, will pass us by.

    by Rev. Peter E. Strand

    February 7, 2011

  17. Cindy, Grayde and Linda I applaud your effort to invite dialogue on this complex issue. That said I feel it is rather late in the game but I earnestly pray that it will provoke some awareness and real response. Truth being, we have long languished in a state of denial with respect to the dilemma facing us far too long failing to face the reality of the situation. Fact is that we have a tired, cumbersome top down heirarchy that has become highly inbred and political. It has wittingly or unwittingly supported layers of political, compex and expensive red tape control that is totally out of touch with it's constituency. We have progessively enhanced layers of " old boy " control and poitics into our structure which has corupted a process which was intended to incorporate and be responsive to the people ( in the pew ) Regardless of what you may perceive, it is not and thus you have a consituency that is not only out of touch but in the main could care less...Jim Babcock, Elder, Bozeman, Mt.

    by James Babcock

    February 7, 2011

  18. After over 20 years as a Presbyterian (USA) pastor's spouse, I finally told my husband I wanted him out of parish ministry. We have fought for gay ordination, commissioned lay pastors and f.o.g. reform. However, the betrayal and abuse our family experienced has been too costly. I am now seeking spiritual nurture elsewhere. But, as a life-long Presbyterian I am now relieved to be away from the constant bickering and legalism that now characterizes my former denomination. In my opinion Presbyterians no longer value pastoral/spiritual care and have thereby abandoned the love of Christ that listens, cares and practices core spiritual values. Good luck to all of you. Good-bye. Dw

    by DW

    February 6, 2011

  19. After 40 years, serving 5 PCUSA churches as a pastor, I have been retired for a little over a year and a half and I ceretainly feel very disconnected from the PCUSA. In the first place I am not "allowed" to attend the church from which I retired and it is the only PCUSA church in 25 -30 miles. You say, move and I tell you I would if I could sell my house in this economy. Second, at the last presbytery assembly I was told I could not speak on the floor of the assembly becasue "we know where you stand." I am so glad that I have been "labeled" and someone knows "where I stand." I do believe the PCUSA is not being "Christ like" in the treatment of members and/or many of God's children. Third, it is my understanding from Jesus teachings that life and worship are to be a glorification of the triune God. How is it then that as Presbyterian Christians our people are more concerned in life and worship about glorifying ourselves rather than God? How is it that what we have is so much more important to us than what we give - is that "Christ like"? And how is it that we go to worship to be "fed", to be "glorified", to be entertained when we have called God to our presence to glorify God? It seems like our priorities are all wrong. Finally, at least for now, we are all about "accepting and living in the diversity of our society." What happened to being "Christ like"? Oh you say that is being "Christ like." Well, the Bible that I read says that Christ did indeed accept everyone into His presence, listened to their story, and then told them "GO AND SIN NO MORE." To me that is what everyone wants to hear from a "Christ like Christian Church", even the PCUSA - "GO AND SIN NO MORE." And if there are questions about what is SIN, God is the judge and has given us the example of a sinless life in Jesus Christ - not in society. Wow, what a picture - Society says that the triune God is out becasue we are a "diverse society", different than 2000 years ago and even 300 - 600 years ago. The churches, as well as Christians, stand by trying to figure out how to "save" themselves, saying nothing as to what is happening to the triune God. And Jesus Christ, God says, "go and sin no more". Indeed who is being _ L _ RIFIE _ ? Certainly not the triune G O D, becasue G O D is being left out and thrown out!!!!!!

    by Rev. John E. ("Jack") Hess

    February 6, 2011

  20. Rev Peggy French -- so well said! If we lose our values, our faith & direction in the interest of forwarding a social agenda, we become no more than another political entity. I don't know a political party that can do what my church has done for me over the years. That same church cares & loves and delivers with or without a plastic water bottle and without regard to the gender of the members/clergy - we live our beliefs, our faith. If there's to be a new church, let those who feel the need go form it. As for me, I will be a Presbyterian. In the meantime entire congregations a leaving PC(USA). Is that the 'new' we want?

    by David Boyd

    February 6, 2011

  21. Joined small membership church (18 members) this year with spouse. Came from Methodist, altho spouse grew up Presby. REASON? the calmness, overt spiritual life (say it out loud), and LACK OF DRAMA and CONFLICT in Presbyterian Church. After investigating for several years and visiting around intermittently, the Presby. belief that "God will take care of everything--don't worry or fret" is the bedrock of all faith----there is no fear--only faith. The I AM is all there is. All mainline denominations are agonizing over numbers and losses and gains. Capital fund drives, family life centers, curricula, small group dynamics, "new" forms of worship, missions, books, books, and more books on "formation of our spirits" and "how-to's", and testimonies on "we know how"-----ad nauseum. Being from a small town, we have always stuck our noses in each other's business---so-o-o-o=o, let's just keep on doing all of it and being the busybodies that we are and QUIT AGONIZING!!! OR-----agonize all you want to, BUT at the same time: feed the hungry, clothe the shivering, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. Talk is cheap, getting our hands busy and dirty is what it's all about. Jesus taught and touched and healed eye to eye and person to person (yes, I know He did some long distance healing!) So, what is it about you Presbyterians that I like? Almost everything---C

    by C Cothran--new church member @ age 63

    February 5, 2011

  22. I would have to agree with Lawrence Wood. What is missing from our denomination (and what has made it a "dying church") has very little to do with who we think should be ordained, whether or not we are speaking 'prophetically,' etc. I feel the church is lacking its committment, as a core value and in its praxis, to reach those that have not heard or experienced the Good News of Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether you consider yourself liberal, conservative, pro this or pro that, the fact is that there are very few people/churches in the denomination whose main focus of ministry is to reach those that do not know Christ. With all due respect to the authors of the letter, the fact that 4 committees/task forces were mentioned to describe what is being done to address the issue is, in my opinion, part of the problem. I understand that it is probably the most efficient way of addressing issues on a national level, however, we have become too engulfed in our own structure. Someone once told me that being Presbyterian has more to do with the government of the church rather than what it believes. Unfortunately, I think this person was right. Our very name emphasizes our structure, not what we do or should be doing. My prayer is that whether we "look" left or right when we think, that we as a denomination focus on preaching the Gospel of JC so that all may know him, first. May the Spirit of God guide us, fuel us, and steer us in the right direction, wherever that may be...

    by Rev. Fernando Rodriguez

    February 5, 2011

  23. It used our polity that once a decision was made, we either abide by it peacefully or we gracefully withdrew. The fact that we've ignored that at repeated General Assemblies, especially with regard to ordination standards as well as some strong advocacy (even church leader visits) to entities such as Hezbollah has cost us dearly. Former members are now even stating that's the reason they're leaving to find a true Biblical church of Christ. They think that the General Assembly of the PC(USA) is on another planet--a small group of zealots a great distance from the majority in the pews. We're now functioning with "local option" when it comes to ordination. How is that supportive of UNITY? (Anyone read or remember the PUP report?) We need discernment that brings back our focus to bringing individuals to Christ; one person at a time. It needs to occur at the top, not just at the individual parish where the rubber meets the road.

    by Dana Gilmour

    February 5, 2011

  24. At times like this, the leadership of PCUSA must be able to handle criticism and engage in dialogue with those who criticize them with humility. I know it is hard because I see we have completely two breeds of people in our denomination. Those who serve the denomination as leaders have totally different culture from those who are frustrated in the trenches. I know this might not be a fair comparison, but are we like in Jesus time when the religious leaders have no clue as to what Jesus and his disciples were talking about? I love my denomination but I feel like a stranger when I talk to the denominational leaders. When I try harder, I was politely excluded. So why waste my precious time and their precious time? If our future must go through a collapse, may God's will be done. When Dr. Leonard Sweet told me that our denomination leadership had no future, I got offended. I wanted to prove him wrong, but I realize that I have to let go. The guru was talking from his observation. There is future if our leadership dares to sacrifice their egos to listen actively to the cry of God's people who are speaking different spiritual languages, the gentiles. Having exposed to all sides of the struggle, I know such sacrifice is almost impossible because of the deep differences I see in them. We need a Paul in our denomination.

    by Sam Stone

    February 5, 2011

  25. Phyliss Tickle is right. the faith is being spread. But not by Presbyterians. It's being spread by evangelicals who are unembarrassed to do so. The PCUSA has chosen instead to focus its energies in the field of politics, this week in Kentucky, under the flag of social justice. It circles back on occasion to say the right thing about the personal relationship between man and God. But that's not where the passion lies for PCUSA leadership. The Pastor's Letter speaks eloquently to what we're called to do as Christians: Love the Lord and Serve the People and in equal balance. I look forward to hearing much more from them. While recognizing the potential for rebalancing in the PCUSA under the current leadership is slim to none.

    by Tome Walters

    February 5, 2011

  26. We are a small, older congregation - 60+ in worship - and between pastors. A couple of us have been talking about melding electronics and Scripture reading as a way to move forward. Sunday morning, in the choir loft, my friend reached over my shoulder with his Iphone so I could follow the Scripture on his device. Next to me was a young 20-something soprano who was instantly alert. She followed along with us and remarked, "That is so cool." We are convinced. We will move forward.

    by Maria Flynn

    February 5, 2011

  27. Like attracts like, because it is always more comfortable to be with others who are like us rather than different. We have, however, little to learn from those like us, so says Rabbi Friedman; "chose challenge over comfort" if you want to grow into what God intends you to become instead of remaining as you are. I hear a lot of "like mindedness" and weariness in the Tall Steeple Preacher's Letter, and am even a little sympathetic. Being in a relationship/denomination based on covenant rather than likemindedness or comfort is hard work...like marriage. In order for a group, however, to be creative, imaginative, innovative and growing, it must be able to embrace diversity and disagreement. Doing so in a healthy way means learning to respect, even love those with whom one disagrees. It is not by chance the New Testament church was filled with conflict. If it weren’t for diversity and conflict, there would be no New Testament beyond the Gospels. And yet the church grew...and grew and grew. Conflict is difficult. It is fatiguing. It is rewarding. It can bear fruit. It took the church 300 years to agree that Jesus was fully God and fully human. I'm sure they grew weary of the conflict. Eventually the Church will reach a consensus about sexuality and how it should impact marriage and ordination, just as it has about Jesus and the Canon and other less important things. It won't happen in my lifetime. I used to feel anxious and uncomfortable around those with different ideas about it than I hold. But I’ve learned from them, and have changed some (not all!) of my beliefs, and have found joy in the engagement. What a gift of grace to be united in Christ with someone so different (and wrong, from my viewpoint!) From me. Wow. What a miracle. Jesus said "follow me." Lots of people have. The crowd is filled with Jew, Greek, Male, Female, Catholic, Protestant, Black, White, Gay, Straight and ever other conceivable label and identity...people who would see only differences, who would (and have) seek to take life from one another. Instead, by following Jesus (and not each other, or a "like minded" idea of Jesus), they may experience the joy of a deeper unity with Our Lord and thus with each other. These struggles – Christology, Trinity, Filioque, Transubstantiation, Old School, New School, Fundamentalism, Liberalism, Sexuality and Ordination . . . they don't have to be diversions from reaching people for Jesus Christ. Our nation, our world, has grown increasingly aware of humanity’s diversity. How can we possibly live together? I still believe there is only one way -- in Christ Jesus. The rest of living together will take hard work immersed in God's grace, and yes, like those who have gone before us, we will grow weary. I choose work, weariness and the rewards that come from these things.

    by Dean Strong

    February 4, 2011

  28. I am happy to see that the PC/USA listened to Phyllis Tickle. 61 Years old I have lived in a small town turn medium big. Also, as I grew up I watched the Churches in my hometown and across America blow up into a millions scattered pieces. I believe with all my heart that now we're forced to see Christ-God on a face to face level. Now we speak heart to heart, mind to mind, to tell our own Christ stories on a Post Modern basis, instead of dead end scenarios, of one movements expectations. That we may be one as Jesus said He and His Father was ONE!

    by George Burks

    February 4, 2011

  29. Is there actually anything of value in this dissertation? All sounds like political double speak to me!

    by Lloyd Kirschenmann

    February 4, 2011

  30. First, I believe that removing the F&C clause is a justice issue because certainly all those who sense God's call to any sort of ordained leadership have as much right to be a part of the denomination's communal decision making process as those who may not receive the same scrutiny. I belong to a congregation that is healthy, growing, and whose leadership shows a healthy diversity though not an optimum diversity. I don't question that we are a broken denomination - should we be surprised? Seems to me that's part of who we are, this amazing mix of humanity, broken - yet striving to do Christ's work in the world. My sadness is that too often we move into our separate corners, not really communicating. Even retreating to our corner happens partly because when we try to be who we are, others sometimes demean our concerns. Certainly that failing is not unique to any particular position. I am grateful that the internet helps facilitate such discussions as this, grateful that folks still put their hopes and dreams out there, whether it be via letter, governing body actions, or any of the many other ways that we Presbyterians try to be faithful to what God is calling us to do and be. (And we know our denominational problems are not unique to us.)

    by Betty Lou Stull

    February 4, 2011

  31. I am happy and proud to see the Presbyterian denomination moving forward in so many constructive ways. It is definitely time to put away some old things and take hold of some new things. God is still speaking through his people, all people.

    by leanne mcginney

    February 4, 2011

  32. We are called to teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not our own gospel of what we perceive as 'social justice'; teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and social justice will flow down on us all.

    by Rev. Peggy French

    February 4, 2011

  33. I take offense at the use of Tickle in this discussion since it is mainly about some pastors who are grieved over the lack of care for the authority of God's word and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Tickle points away from their concerns. She denies the authority of Scripture. Please see http://naminghisgrace.blogspot.com/2010/08/phyllis-tickle-age-of-spirit.html and http://naminghisgrace.blogspot.com/2010/04/sweeping-history-review-of-great.html There has been times when faith has not spread or when heresy overcame truth in one part of the world or another. In Japan it was persecution; at the early beginning of the dark ages it was barbarian tribes who had been converted to Arianism sweeping down into Catholic areas and burning churches, turning the faithful back to the belief that Jesus was not the eternal Son of the Father. What we believe about Jesus and Holy Scripture does matter.

    by Viola Larson

    February 4, 2011

  34. worldwide mission co worker has some comments on the white paper, and wished to be included.

    by rev. dr. donna laubach moros

    February 4, 2011

  35. Here on the Navajo Nation we say "with all types of prayers, we continue on the sacred path"--as Christians we are leading the way in gathering leaders from the Native American Church as well as traditional Navajo spirituality--to promote Hozho--beauty and harmony among the people. For too long, Christianity has caused division and hatred, we are repenting of the old mission paradigm, and building a new beloved community in the Spirit of Christ!

    by Rev. Deborah Haffner Hubbard

    February 4, 2011

  36. [note to person vetting the comments before they are printed: I made a humorous error in a comment I recently sent. I wrote "tall-people" rather than "tall-steeple." Below is a corrected version. Please us it, of course.] This response from our leaders is underwhelming. It's like a patient goes to the ER crying, "I'm bleeding to death! Help me!" and the hospital's response is a list of the medical committees working on improving general health. It appears that our leaders have no concept of the magnitude of the disconnect, anguish, and discord within the denomination. Marie Antoinette has been stuck with the naive response to the peasants who had no bread: "Let them eat cake." When apprised of the dire declaration of a mass of very concerned evangelical pastors about to overturn everything, our leaders say, "Let them engage the bureaucracy." The fact that this number of liberal-skewed, bureaucracy-biased, tone-deaf-to-the-rank-and-file's-concerns task forces are at work on more-of-the-same or out-of-the-pale "solutions" is not a balm for the problems the tall-steeple pastors have raised. It is an irritant. James D. Berkley Seattle, WA

    by James D. Berkley

    February 4, 2011

  37. Since Constantine the church has chosen creed and institution over following the Jesus Way. Rather than welcome “the reign/shalom of God,” we have settled for correct belief, systemic control, and subservience to empire. We have not lived the vision of a compassionate, equalitarian human family. Nor have we, since the industrial revolution, honored the call to live in sustainable harmony with the earth. Until we, the church, address such matters, to talk of the best years being ahead of us is to chase an illusion.

    by Bill LeMosy

    February 4, 2011

  38. This response from our leaders is underwhelming. It's like a patient goes to the ER crying, "I'm bleeding to death! Help me!" and the hospital's response is a list of the medical committees working on improving general health. It appears that our leaders have no concept of the magnitude of the disconnect, anguish, and discord within the denomination. Marie Antoinette has been stuck with the naive response to the peasants who had no bread: "Let them eat cake." When apprised of the dire declaration of a mass of very concerned evangelical pastors about to overturn everything, our leaders say, "Let them engage the bureaucracy." As if they haven't? For decades? The fact that this number of liberal-skewed, bureaucracy-biased, tone-deaf-to-the-rank-and-file's-concerns task forces are at work on more-of-the-same or out-of-the-pale "solutions" is not a balm for the problems the tall-people pastors have raised. It is an irritant. James D. Berkley Seattle, WA

    by James D. Berkley

    February 4, 2011

  39. Do let us remember that Calvin said this as he refused to dilute what he regarded as truth for the partial understandings of other schools in the Reform, and as he held an angry front against the Papists. If that statement were meant to be quoted and understood as simply as you imply here, we would all be Roman Catholic right now

    by Robert Johnson

    February 4, 2011

  40. In my own personal journey (age 62, serving in a chaplaincy ministry) I have felt the traditional worldview and language of our faith to become empty in terms of "real life" relevance. Process theology and emergent views of reality have restored and revived the relevance of my faith, trust in the goodness of creation, and my hope in God. Openness to a fresh vision of the realm of God is an exciting prospect. It is one I work on continually with much enthusiasm. Being true to the reformed tradition would invite that willingness to stay open to such new possibilities in faith and in practice, socially, culturally, and biblically.

    by Rev. Steven Spidell, DMin, BCC

    February 4, 2011

  41. I appreciate this letter because I was very angry over the letter from the "big steeple" church pastors who conveyed an air of arrogance. I am semi-retired and am in my 5th year as stated supply for a very small church who now brags " we are coming back". We've been critical of the church but have raised the bar in our giving because of the "church". We are alive and well and choose to honor our tradition and our heritage with all of its warts.

    by Richard L. Huggins

    February 4, 2011

  42. For our church to stand on its past glory and somehow seek to restore our dignity and standing in the culture is to lose ground and become even more irrelevant. Bold experiments are rife with pitfalls. But, there is no other way forward. We should measure our success by the quality of our Christlikeness not the quantity of new members.

    by Ron Schooler

    February 4, 2011

  43. I suggest that folks listen to Phyllis Tickle. She has very good judgement and good advice. I am impressed with her. Rev. Ron Hooker Columbus,Ohio

    by Rev. Ron Hooker

    February 4, 2011

  44. No doubt -- we are members of a broken, dying denomination. Our focus as a denomination is scattered and confused. Yet, Jesus said, "Go, make disciples...." What is it we don't understand about his directive? I have been involved and committed to social justice issues for 45 years, but that involvement was second to leading persons to a deep and abiding personal saving faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. I hear very little from our PCUSA leaders in Louisville about experiencing a 'saving' faith in Jesus. Meanwhile, our church slowly dies.

    by Lawrence Wood

    February 4, 2011

  45. While I very much applaud this undertaking, I have to chuckle that items which are mentioned in the e-mail, such as meetings of the General Assembly, are so far from the concerns of those wanting to see a revitalized church that it is almost sick humor. While I support the nFOG (aren't acronymns wonderful), little that the larger church does, including "speaking prophetically to the rest of the world" (attn: Stated Clerk), holds either meaning or importance to those of us "in the trenches." And while I have long been a supporter of removing F&C clause, I now question whether those pushing it at this current point in time truly have the interest of the larger church in their thought and prayer process. Since it is not a "justice" issue (I have no "right" to be called), delaying it is not a matter of "justice delayed is justice denied." I simply sense that the fragile ties that hold the denomination together -- which are not the same ties that hold us together as Christians -- are not up to the strains these ties are experiencing.

    by John A Johnson

    February 4, 2011

  46. honorably retired pcusa mission co worker outside the united states responds....i still live and work in venezuela, working in theological education at a distance. this church is the smallest reformed body in the world, and we are also overly structured into a synod and two presbyteries, when what we have is a congregation of seven hundred members in total memebership at the national level. we are trying to undo some of the structure and still are trying to open new fellowship communities. will be available for the dialogue if you so desire.

    by donna laubach moros

    February 4, 2011

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