On Aug. 25-26, about 1,900 people came to Minneapolis to learn more about what the Fellowship of Presbyterians is proposing, and to help sort through their own decisions about whether to stay in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or to leave.
Those attending included pastors and elders, as well as some presbytery and synod executives and national leaders of the denomination. While no details were released on demographic factors such as age, race, and gender, the crowd included people from all 50 states and 3 countries beyond the U.S., and appeared to be predominantly white and male. The list of speakers was somewhat more diverse.
This was a meeting primarily for discussion of ideas – not for voting on a particular course of action. Here are some of the highlights:
Constitutional convention. The Fellowship will hold a “constitutional convention” in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 12-14. At that meeting, the Fellowship intends to create a new Reformed body into which congregations could be dismissed from the PC(USA) and to propose overtures to the 2012 General Assembly.
Four tiers. The Fellowship is proposing four tiers of action for individual congregations to consider.
- Tier 1: Stay in the PC(USA), in the current presbytery. This is for congregations that don’t want to leave (perhaps because they are in a congenial evangelical presbytery), or feel they can’t leave, perhaps because the congregation is too divided.
- Tier 2: Create evangelical presbyteries or synods, which would overlap with existing presbyteries and synods, and would invite like-minded Presbyterians in a region to exercise oversight responsibilities for those congregations wishing to differentiate from their present presbyteries.
- Tier 3: Create a presbytery within a presbytery – with perhaps two committees on ministry, each applying distinct ordination standards, the one following the new language in the PC(USA)’s constitution calling for “joyful submission to Jesus Christ” and the other holding to the “fidelity in marriage, chastity in singleness” language removed from the denomination’s constitution in July.Tier 4: Join a new Reformed body the Fellowship will create.
New Reformed body. The Fellowship already has created a legal structure for such an entity – what leaders of the group described as an “empty warehouse” that will be filled during the January 2012 meeting. Those choosing to join the new Reformed body could potentially have three options – including two that would bestow what as “dual citizenship.”
- Leave: Leave the PC(USA) altogether and belong solely to the new Reformed body. That would mean formally asking to be dismissed from the PC(USA) to the new body and negotiating with the presbytery regarding property issues. Pastors and church employees would cease participating in the Board of Pensions retirement and medical insurance plans. In the new body, congregations would own their own property.
- Union. Become a union congregation with membership both in the PC(USA) and the new body. Those congregations could continue participation in the Board of Pensions medical insurance and retirement plans.
- Affiliate. Seek some sort of “affiliate status” – either by joining the new body and being an “affiliate” of the PC(USA), or belonging to the PC(USA) and being an affiliate of the new body. Creating a new affiliate status for congregations (rather than for individual members) would require approval from the General Assembly.
Essential tenets. The January meeting will spell out the “rights and responsibilities” involved with joining the new Reformed body, and it will include a statement of essential tenets that those drafting the document consider evangelical, orthodox and morally sound. “By golly, we’re going to stand on Scripture and its authority,” and not be embarrassed to describe essential truths, said Jim Singleton, a pastor from Colorado and one of the Fellowship Organizers. A group will begin writing that document soon and will post its proposal on the Fellowship’s Web site this fall to solicit feedback.
Ecclesial orders. There has been discussion of creating a new order for Presbyterians willing to take a vow of theological orthodoxy. It would be modeled on Roman Catholic orders that require those joining to take particular vows.
Proposed overtures. Among the overtures the Fellowship will suggest for the 2012 General Assembly is likely to be one for a national “gracious separation” policy for congregations wanting to leave the PC(USA).
Leaders acknowledged that each of these ideas is a work in progress. Based on feedback gained and questions raised at this gathering and through subsequent conversations, they will roll out more clearly formulated proposals for action at the January meeting.
Permission is granted to circulate a link to this report to congregation members and circles of friends for no charge. A PDF version is available for downloading, internet circulation and/or printing as a newsletter or bulletin insert for a cost of $9.95 per congregation or other group: Click here to purchase.