Thursday, August 24, 2006

Quotidian Grace: News From New Covenant Presbytery

Quotidian Grace: News From New Covenant Presbytery:
"... In light of the events surrounding the recent vote by the session of Kirk of the Hills Church in Tulsa to withdraw from the PCUSA, it was very important to make it clear that our process is not secret and that it emphasizes a pastoral rather than a litigious approach. Friends, the PCUSA will not be preserved through litigation. We must find a more excellent way, and pronto.

What if congregations and pastors considering leaving the PCUSA could have open and honest conversations with representatives of presbytery about their concerns without worrying that they were opening themselves to pre-emptive legal action from the denomination? What if they knew that the presbytery was willing to work with them to resolve their concerns even if the result was their withdrawal from the denomination? What if they knew that they could discuss the property implications with presbytery in advance and negotiate that issue without fear of legal reprisal? ..."

Quotidian Grace (aka Jody Harrington) was elected moderator of the Presbytery of New Covenant in Houston TX for 2008. Judging from her blog postings and the concern they show for not only the institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) but equally for meeting controversy with pastoral concern, love, and mutual forbearance, I suspect that Houston Presbyterians are the better for it.

My parents live in Houston, apparently not far from QG's church, although they are members of another PC(USA) congregation. Maybe my wife and I will get the opportunity to meet her in person over Thanksgiving week.

The quote above relates to one of the actions of New Covenant that proposes to set up an open process for congregations and the presbytery to discuss issues of major concern without the threat of preemptive legal action through the courts or the forming of an administrative commission to rule a congregation that has expressed frustration with the way things are going. Recent events in Iowa and Oklahoma, not to mention a document from a legal counsel in the Stated Clerk's office that outlines preemptive legal action that can be taken against congregations that express a desire to leave the PC(USA), are troubling.

It is good to hear that this presbytery is trying to ameliorate the tension, mistrust, and (in my opinion) outright unchristian behavior that is being demonstrated by both sides in this difficult issue.

I have had occasion to see how such disputes play out in two presbyteries. In one case in the late 1970s in Denver, a fairly large congregation voted overwhelmingly to affiliate with another reformed denomination. Locks were changed, armed guards were posted, and the congregation began meeting in temporary quarters until they could acquire new property. They did not sue because they felt in was unscriptural. In other words, they "peacably withdrew". In another instance in another presbytery, after much discussion, prayer, and deliberation, the presbytery sold their interest in the property and dismissed the congregation with their blessing and in friendship.

Both sides have to choose to work in Christian fellowship and mutual trust for this to work. I think it is safe to say that not all disaffected congregations are willing to do that, nor are all presbyteries inclined toward pastoral solutions to such problems, but with with God's grace and our willingness to engage each other, we ought to be able to negotiate these difficult times. As QG put it, "We hope that is what our process can achieve, and that it will build trust and thereby keep congregations from leaving or allow for a regretful parting of the ways without adding more rancor and angst".

In another action the Presbytery of New Covenant voted by a 2:1 margin to remind ordaining bodies within the Presbytery that where the Book of Order uses the words "shall", "is or are to be", "required", or words and phrases with equivalent meaning, that they are not subject to "scrupling", and shall be complied with.

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Quotidian Grace said...

Gosh, Denis, thanks for the kind words and support. I hope we can get together for a cup of coffee and conversation during Thanksgiving weekend if you are in Houston visiting your parents. That would be great!

Denis Hancock said...

I'm looking forward to it.

I know you have more important things on your plate in the next few weeks, so let's just plan on it, and we can work out details in November.

Best wishes all around for the wedding and all its associated events.