This afternoon, I participated in a service of healing.
For years, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has seen congregations break away and join other Reformed denominations. Usually the driving factor has been theological. There has been a perception that the denomination has been moving in a more liberal direction. It typically manifests itself in positions on social and political matters, but at heart, it begins with one’s view of scripture.
But I don’t want to talk about that now. As I said, I was in a service of healing!
Congregations departing, and the presbyteries from which they’ve been departing, haven’t always played nice. Well, maybe “nice” isn’t the right word. Maybe words like “loving” and “faithful” and “keeping-each-other-accountable” are more on target. And yes, I know that the last one isn’t a single word, but it expresses what I’m thinking right now!
In the wake of lawsuits (believers going to court against other believers?) and other rancor-inducing matters, presbyteries have been encouraged to devise “gracious dismissal policies.” Well, that’s what our presbytery did, and I served on the first Presbytery Discernment Team to be guided by that policy. The congregation in question, after a lengthy time of soul-searching, remained in a nearly 50-50 split on the question of “should I stay or should I go”? The vote fell far short of the 75% needed to sever the ties.
Our stated clerk delivered the sermon this afternoon. One of the things he so well expressed (and I’m paraphrasing and grossly oversimplifying) was that being in community is a tough thing. It’s very tough.
I know it’s tough for me. There some people I just don’t want to deal with. And I’m also aware that there are plenty of people who don’t want to deal with me. But as one of the members of the congregation put it today, “The church has been dealing with this for 2000 years.”
At the end of the day, things like proper institutional boundaries, gracious dismissal policies, denominations not poaching off each other (sorry, that’s some of my bias peeking through)—all those kinds of things help. But there’s no substitute for prayer. Our Lord, ultimately, is the only one who sees us through this business of gracefully holding on.
So please, pray for us. Pray for this congregation in pain. Pray for our presbytery. Pray for the church. Because you know what?
“Hear the Good News! Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. Know that you are forgiven and be at peace.”