Dear Friends in Christ,
As we start the weekend where many people will be “springing forward” into Daylight Savings Time, I want to catch you up on what is springing forward with both The Fellowship and ECO.
Every week, interest and activity around The Fellowship and ECO are increasing. Hundreds of individuals and many sessions have already signed the Covenant and joined The Fellowship. We have received nearly 100 requests for applications for ECO from individual pastors and from Sessions.
In the meantime, the ground within the PC(USA) is still shifting. The ruling by the GAPJC and the action of the Board of Pensions have sent a new wave of concern through the evangelical community. Whether your focus is within or beyond the PC(USA), building a flourishing congregation that makes disciples of Jesus Christ is a challenging and demanding call.
In order to be both sensitive and accessible to the most people, we have made strategic changes in our plans for August. We will still meet the week of August 19, but now in two different locations—one in the Southeast and one in the Mountain West. Each location will offer a two-day event affording you and your congregation the best possible opportunity for the greatest participation at the lowest cost. Each location will offer information, resources, and coaching for strengthening ministry in the PC(USA) through The Fellowship and for making the transition into ECO. Participants in each location will hear solid teaching and share in great worship.
Look for announcements of exact dates, locations, and topics in the next few weeks, but start making plans now to bring your current leaders and future leaders to one of our two locations in August!
SEASON OF TRANSITION
Many congregations are taking this Spring as a season of deep prayer and discernment. Some are actively pursuing dismissal. Every context is unique. Many presbyteries have a gracious dismissal process. The Stated Clerk’s office recently held a workshop for presbytery leaders urging a prayerful discernment process with congregations. While that is a more gracious national tone than has been expressed at other moments in our history, local reality varies widely from presbytery to presbytery.
The process of dismissal takes time and requires significant prayer, study, patience, and focus. Here is an example of the dismissal process through the lens of the congregation I serve, First Presbyterian of Colorado Springs, CO:
- We spent nearly ten months as a session exploring the options for our future.
- In the Fall we worked with our presbytery to pass a gracious dismissal policy.
- By January we knew we would seek dismissal from the PC(USA) and, after the Orlando conference, our elders voted to join ECO.
- In February we worked with our presbytery to demonstrate that ECO was a valid Reformed body to which congregations could seek dismissal.
- With those pieces in place, we began conversation with the Presbytery Response Team (PRT), three individuals trained by the presbytery. Those conversations with our session have been helpful and we gained permission to call a meeting of our congregation to assess the congregation’s agreement with the session.
- March 4, last Sunday, 89% of the congregation present voted to pursue joining ECO.
- More meetings will follow with the PRT to negotiate terms of dismissal.
- A formal vote of the congregation is likely in April.
- Final dismissal could come at the regular meeting of the presbytery in June.
One thing to mention in this dismissal process is how the press is reacting to it. The local press was very interested in the congregational meeting last Sunday. Our church was on the front page of the Colorado Springs paper for 3 out of 4 days. The story was picked up in the national press and internet media. Many of the stories were determined to make this about the ordination of homosexuals. For us, this is about a new way of relating to other congregations, and the ability to be something new. It is about a theology and way of biblical interpretation we hold in common. It is about a passion for the lost. Obviously those differing ways of interpretation do include the ways we see many moral issues. While we do not get to determine how our story is cast in the press, I am hopeful we will continue to demonstrate our yearning for a new kind of church.
Part of our success in becoming a new kind of church depends on the attitude of our hearts. Remember Paul’s closing words in I Corinthians – “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” (I Corinthians 16:13-14) Keeping conviction and love welded together will be our gift to the larger body of Christ.
In 1758, when the Old Light/New Light split was healing, the church agreed that in future disputes, individuals or congregations would do one of three things – 1) actively concur; 2) passively submit; 3) or peaceably withdraw. We are now in a time when many congregations feel the need to withdraw – but withdrawal needs to happen peaceably.
Yours in Christ,
President, The Fellowship of Presbyterians