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Jan Armstrong
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Thanks for the post. I have been doing a lot of thinking, as I have been invited by my Presbytery to give thought and input in the GAMGBCommission work. We have been talking here about ways to encourage churches to stay in the PCUSA. A worthy goal. Much of our conversation has been around porous presbytery boundaries, overlaying presbyteries or conjunct presbyteries.. There are some big walls up around changing boundaries. They are based on a lack of willingness to move away from the past and its failure to maintain and grow the church and a refusal to adopt a new way that leads us into the future, and the possibility of growth, church planting and missional work through congregations aligned theologically and committed to the mission that is a result of theological connection and the passion of call to mission. Back in 1990 General Assembly Council acknowledged that since we do not agree theologically, that mission would unite us. Unfortunately that mission unity model has also failed. Any review of the metrics of our denominational attendance decline and mission funding is sufficient to prove the point. The proposals around porous presbytery boundaries and conjuct presbyteries hold the possibility of providing a way in which presbyteries and congregations with a profound level of conscience regarding differing theological, political, missional and ethical positions might live together. One area where porous presbytery boundaries help. is that it creates a means to avoid tying our churches up in church court fights, and allows support and political voice for those marginalized in a presbytery. I look at what lies ahead for us in Santa Barbara. Here is my concern: July 18th the G-6.0106b wording gets replaced. Our COM has already adopted definitions and standards for ordination and guidelines for congregations that will define the new G-6.0106b section using confessional and scriptural guidance. But even with this guidance, suppose one of our "More Light" churches votes to ordain some GLBTQF people, and makes a big public display for the news media. I am sure of at least two people in the presbytery will file a formal complaint. So the Presbytery of Santa Barbara will be forced to act, using funds dedicated to mission to pay for complaints, court cost, appeals, travel. For what? An internal church fight which wins no souls to the gospel, feeds no poor or homeless, helps no young people out of gangs and builds no new churches. So the lack of porous boundaries means mission dollars go to lawyers, theological guns and money needed for church trials. I find this very unappealing. Now multiply that times one third of the presbyteries in our PCUSA. This is a predictable consequence I want to avoid. In this case the easiest short term fix, is to allow, only if they want, the more light congregations in our historically-conservative-voting-presbytery to transfer to another presbytery, perhaps Redwoods. This is across Synod lines, and across a couple of presbyteries. At the same time the more light church remains an affiliate member of our Santa Barbara Presbytery. The church is under Redwoods COM, CPM, judicial commission and guidance regarding ordination standards. The new presbytery will welcome their behavior, oversee training of leaders, provide pastoral care for their pastor. By this action: On this one issue, which will create massive upheaval, a solution is reached. While the congregation stays affiliated with Santa Barbara Presbytery, for collegial support, the pastor attends meetings as corresponding members. The congregation uses of our Lay Leader Training Institute, resource center, mission sending and mission internship program, and is free to invest in other missions both in Redwoods and in Santa Barbara. The same would occur for a congregation of conscience in Redwoods presbytery, which, by their own choice, wish to transfer membership to Santa Barbara presbytery and remain an affiliate member of Redwoods. Geographically Bound presbyteries, as I read the constitution, do not preclude porous borders for membership. One presbytery could have an outpost in another presbytery, which might included a geographical determined radius around the congregation. "Geographic presbytery" does not preclude complex borders, nor mandate contiguous geographically connected borders. It is not perfect, but what we have is broken. The only thing lost is control from hierarchical structures. The win is a lowering of the heated rhetoric, and the possibility of congregations staying in the denomination, uniting and not fighting.
Toggle Commented May 21, 2011 on Walls, Fences and Necessary Things at Tod Bolsinger
Tod, I think much of what we are looking at in resistance to change is FEAR. Some might think it mistrust, but I think it FEAR. I was so saddened the other day, when Palestinians crossed the border at the Golan Heights in Israel, and the response was the same old same old, no change, no trust, no new initiative, no creativity, just old policy...guns, bullets, fear. And Israel has reasonable things to be afraid of. I wonder, what would have happened if the Israelis met them at the border, with catering trucks, water, food, tables, coffee and spoons and Israeli civilians to sit and visit with those they are afraid of. Would better understanding or a breaking of old hatreds and barriers been accomplished. Maybe not. I really don't know. BUT it might have created the possibility of understanding and kindness. You can always shoot and kill something later... I feel that the resistance in the system to change in the PCUSA is similarly based on FEAR. Holding on to old structures and borders, holding on to viewing the other as the enemy, keeping mis-trust and fear in the system. What would happen if the OGA/GA/advisory committee on the constitutional, and even the GAMGBCommission decided to call a year of Sabbath or a year of Jubilee on all the geographic borders of the presbyteries, and allow for a year of grass roots congregational community building and connecting of churches with presbyteries. There would be more talking, visiting and building of community and joint action for mission than could be imagined. The power and wisdom of the church is not in an oligarchy of experts but in the people on the ground in churches every day making ministry happen. Just Wondering...what would happen if we gave up FEAR?
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May 17, 2011