The Presbyterian Outlook is a magazine that serves up news and a forum for the Presbyterian Church (USA). I follow this occasionally for news of my ecclesia mater, especially as we approach the now biennial General Assembly. (It used to be annual, but then we couldn't afford it.) This is the representative body that decides such things as the ordination of gays. Next on the agenda will be gay marriage so the pages of The Outlook are hot and of course those of The Layman are hotter still. Should we allow non-geographical regional bodies so that those opposed to the ordination and marriage of gays can live in purity with their own kind? That is an issue this year.
The decline of the denomination is serious and so The Outlook sent a survey instrument to the 177 presbytery “executives.” (This is a title dating from the early ‘70's, when corporate management thinking ruled the church.) I sent this in response to The Outlook article:
The Outlook survey of EP's was a creative initiative. I remember telling an EP in the '70's that the rest of us needed his observations and analysis of what was happening because only he had the big picture from interactions with all the congregations. Even 54% of returns are better than nothing. I hope that you worked with Research Services, one of the great and unique assets of the PCUSA.
It seems that what many of us suspected is now more real: We will lose 7-11% of membership and congregations over gay rights issues. Let's get on with it. I remember in 1994 sitting in a meeting of denominational executives discussing leadership issues. These were experienced men and women from the Episcopal Church, the UCC, the UMC, the Disciples of Christ, the RCA, the ELCA, and the United Church of Canada. Lunchtime conversation was about how there ought to be a grand re-alignment to result in a progressive United Church of North America. I was very surprised to hear this from that group. Now more than ever it seems so obvious. Many have said that they have much more in common with like-minded persons from these other denominations than we do with some of our PCUSA brothers and sisters.
We are burdened with our past. The issues that made us separate denominations are mostly just history. The great questions of the last 50 years have included the role of tradition in our lives, the degree of ambiguity we can accept, and the meaning of community in the digital age. How much diversity can we accept without losing whatever identity we begin with? Some pastors and congregations are busy working this out. It means re-thinking who we are -- as seeking people rather than the ones with the answers who are all in agreement. As we speak more and more of “Spirit” we need to question our root belief in the supernatural. Our organizational structures and procedures are heavy burdens that distract us from these more basic questions.
None of us handles high levels of continual change well. Nor can we live without more change in response to the changes that are both around and in us. This contradiction may be resolved only by the God that a pastor friend suggests is or resides in our ability to experience transcendence and to come to new consciousness about the things that challenge us.
This last comment is in reference to last Sunday's sermon by John Shuck, my on-line pastor and friend. I think it is some of his most significant and profound writing. I will blog on this. He tells us how prayer might be of value when we are essentially talking to ourselves. “God” as our ability to bring the unconscious to consciousness. Hmm. A touch of Jung there that seems timely. Perhaps our outlook is improving.