Even as they were suggesting a change in the church’s stance on who may marry and who can perform same-gender wedding ceremonies, commissioners to the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) were thinking about how to talk about the decisions and keep the denomination whole after they return home Saturday.
“There are ways to work together,” said Jeffrey Bridgeman, moderator of the Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues. “It’s our job as the church together to make that happen.”
Bridgeman, a teaching elder from the Presbytery of Santa Barbara, called for a “deliberate, concerted effort to find ways at hand to restore this fragile denomination.”
The 71-member committee recommended – and the General Assembly approved, by a 521-94 count – directing national church staff to “establish a way to bring reconciliation that would involve visiting each presbytery … and present reconciliation for the unity of the church.”
Asked to gauge the cost on providing those services, GA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons said that while there was no figure available Thursday, “the cost of not doing this is higher.”
Brian Ellison, executive director of Covenant Network, a group working to further the inclusion of LGBTQ people and the unity of the PC(USA), said he hopes the group will be “a helpful resource to Presbyterians across the spectrum as we seek to be a church together.”
He said Covenant Network has already begun what he called “intentional conversations” with groups that take a different stand on the issue. “We hope we can be an increasingly helpful resource to the church modeling a healthy conversation.”
In a statement, the Presbyterian Lay Committee board of directors said it “mourns these actions and calls on all Presbyterians to resist and protest them. You should tell your pastor and your session that you disapprove of these actions. You should refuse to fund the General Assembly, your synod, your presbytery and even your local church if those bodies have not explicitly and publicly repudiated these unbiblical actions.”
Frank Yamada, president of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, tweeted these words: “Literal tears of joy for marriage equality in the PC(USA) and also tears of concern for those in the church for whom this causes pain.”
“We are hurting on the conservative side,” said Ruling Elder Commissioner Neil Zampella of Redstone Presbytery. “Anything that shows consideration for your conservative brethren will be taken to heart. We need reconciliation, because we are in this together.”
In his prayer following the assembly’s action, Moderator Heath Rada offered prayers for those who will face people’s anger and pain and “for those who will feel blessed by what we did today.”
“Let’s commit to everyone,” Rada added, “that we won’t let this be the only prayer” on the matter.