Though many Presbyterians are grieving the current state of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), they need to remember that Jesus Christ has a plan for the church and their job is to follow it, a leader of the fledgling Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP) said here today at the group’s first gathering.

More than 1,900 Presbyterians from more than 850 congregations in 49 states are meeting here today and tomorrow (Aug. 25-26) to explore their options in the wake of denominational decisions that have roiled the PC(USA). Their movement began last winter when a group of large-church pastors wrote an open letter declaring the church “deathly ill.”

“What happens when people get together who are disappointed?” asked the Rev. David Peterson, pastor of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston and a member of FOP’s seven-person steering committee. “We grieve our current state. Some are angry. Some are sad. Some are confused.”

But people of faith have been here before, Peterson said. At the death of Lazarus, some criticized Jesus for not showing up sooner, he said. Even Martha questioned Jesus, saying, “If you had been here sooner my brother wouldn’t have died.”

When Jesus told Lazarus’ friends to open his tomb, they complained that “it would be really stinky in there,” Peterson said. Jesus’ response to this “stinky talk”?

“He told them that if they looked closer, they’d see God’s glory and to stop the stinky talk,” Peterson said. “It’s time for us to trust that Jesus has something prepared for us already, stop the stinky talk, and begin the search for glory.”

Participants were welcomed to the gathering by the Rev. Duncan MacLeod, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Yakima, WA, and the Rev. Marnie Crumpler, associate pastor of Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

“We are a diverse group but with a common shared love for Jesus Christ and his church,” MacLeod said. “That has to drive what we do here ― to gain clarity about options and about what the Spirit wants us to do next, to take something useful back to our congregations.

“The truth is that God has something in store for each of us, a positive future for all of us,” Macleod said, “this curious group of us that call ourselves Presbyterians.”

Crumpler agreed. “We’re here because we feel compelled to do something about [our church],” she said, “to affirm what we believe and affirm our theological tradition while remaining committed and connected to each other. We seek a fresh way to be the church and follow Jesus.”