These are personal observations shared by Keith Hill, Pastor of St. Giles Presbyterian in Richmond, VA, based on his experience at a recent Fellowship planning meeting.
I was one of the people present for the June planning meeting for the August Gathering. As an agenda for the Gathering was formed, the initial planners wanted to broaden the perspectives at the table. Our task was to talk about what needed to happen at the Gathering, what people needed to hear and to take away, and how all of this could best happen in two days (August 25-26).
What became clear to me was how our perceptions about what the Gathering should accomplish were shaped by the different places where we serve. For example:
• Some serve in congregations with a virtual 100% coherence on the presenting issues in the denomination. They can vote some particular course without a ripping in the congregation itself.
• Some serve in congregations with a 60-40% split, or vice versa. They’re not likely to do anything very dramatic without a painful tearing.
• Some serve in presbyteries that will maintain orthodox standards, at least for a season. They may find the best way forward simply to be to stay put.
• Some serve in presbyteries that are very congenial, and others serve in presbyteries that are contentious, or even mean-spirited. That awareness shapes which options are viable.
• Some would find the shelter of a non-geographic presbytery to be enough; others need more distance.
• Some serve congregations that want quick action – as in “do it yesterday because people are already leaving us” – and some serve in places where they can decide with a greater leisure.
• Some feel called to stay right where they are (to bear witness), and some feel called to leave (to bear witness).
We were all over the map, both geographically, and in the particulars of our situations.
I arrived with the awareness that the Fellowship wasn’t trying to find a “one size fits all” plan. But in the back of my mind I was still holding on to an old and oft-stated hope, that “whatever happens, we evangelicals must stick together,” and that if we do, then we’ll be able to do what we need to do. I can now see how naïve that hope is. Even if we’re theologically synched, one size will not fit all. I don’t believe that’s a failure. It’s a reality. There must be and will be several faithful options.
So how about “sticking together”? My revised hope is that we will join in a common pursuit to discern several viable options for faithfulness, giving each other plenty of room, and then do all that we can to enable each other to pursue those options.
And all of that in two days… hmmm, I’d say we are in desperate need of the Lord’s guiding hand. That’s not a bad place to be.