One-Size-Fits-All or A Common Pursuit?

One-Size-Fits-All or A Common Pursuit?

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.

10 Responses

  1. Folks, I was ordained in the PCUSA in 2000, and now serve in Scotland where we find ourselves facing the same or very similar issues and challenges. I hope that we can embrace each other’s grief and find a new and common way forward to God’s glory?


    • David L. Bierschwale says:

      Thank you, Paul, for this reminder. There is a good discussion of your hopes (and mine!) on a more formal shared future on The Fellowship facebook site. I was blessed in 1999 to visit the Kikuyu Hospital and the Church of The Torch, which were birthed by missionaries from The Church of Scotland. While serving a congregation in Minnesota, I was aware of a clergy couple (progressive in theology) who moved to Scotland and were permitted to labor outside the bounds of the Presbytery. I imagine they lobbied intensely for this unfortunate change in the Church’s standards over there, as well.

  2. Lawrence Wood says:

    Keith, seems to me way out here in Idaho that a dozen OK options covering all desires is a recipe for disaster for the Fellowship (whatever the Fellowship is!). But blessings, my friend. Larry

  3. Thomas H. Hyde says:

    1. I am an active elder at First Presbyterian Church Gainesville, GA.
    2. I have already submitted my draft of resignation due to the action of the general assembly to one of our pastors . My feet and and hands are bound by my own belt.
    3. I was asked to wait untill after the Auguest 25,26 Fellowship meeting ( Pending action of the Fellowship PC USA. Since the General assembly has taken action (which ordained elders are vowed to support the “polity”). The Fellowship PC Elders who (also vowed to “accept the Scriputures of the Old and New testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authorative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s word to you.” ). What action will the Fellowship PC take?
    4. I have chose to follow God’s Holy Spirit vow over the vow to follow the General Assembly polity. The question is what action and vow the fellowship PC(USA) will follow?
    5. I know we in our church which has holy people and that our ministers are wrapped with robes of righteousness.
    Christ’s humble servant. Tom Hyde

    • Patrick Vaughn says:

      Thomas, I hear the frustration and pain that you have experienced from the GA’s decision. You are correct that our ordination vows are to be honored and taken seriously. Though, the actions of GA have changed much in our church, they have not changed the vows that we take for ordination. The vow to “accept the Scriptures of the Old and New testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s word to you” has not changed. Clearly you are entitled to follow where the Holy Spirit is leading you but I think it is important for us to understand exactly what has changed, vows for ordination have not changed, so if you continue to serve at your church I would suggest that you can do so while being faithful to your ordination vows.

  4. Keith is correct to point out that the circumstances in which we find ourselves, locally, are very different. This does not mean, however, that our responses need to be equally varied. Given the theological drift that has led the denomination into its current crisis our response should be simple: we must denounce error; we must seek to recover the denomination; and if this proves impossible, we must shake the dust from our feet and move on.

  5. Linda Lee says:

    Your last line says it all “we are in desperate need of God’s guiding hand”.
    God can bring us to a place of unity, real unity, in His Spirit? Are we desperate enough to put aside our agenda, plans, needs, in order to be ready to receive God’s agenda.
    I believe everything that has happened in the PC(USA) is God’s way of getting our attention, God’s way of making us open to His priorities.
    I know what I pray for for this gathering: Nothing less than “revival”.
    Sometimes we listen to our own voices, singing, speaking, planning and fail to listen and receive God’s power for this time. In the book When God Stepped Down From Heaven by Rev. Owen Murphy (available on line at ) it says that the keys to revival is a faith in a “covenant-keeping” God, a humbling before God, and travailing and prevailing in prayer. This is the only way we can be with one voice; if we are desperate enough to spend time claiming God’s promises and time listening to God and travailing in prayer. I urge the planners to allow time for God to speak
    with significant time in confession, quietness and prayer before God. I want something more for this event:
    I want nothing less than God’s presence, God’s speaking, God’s convicting, God’s power-filled presence so we together receive God’s perspective and way forward. Are we desperate enough to seek this?

  6. Lawrence Wood says:

    David, I, too, visited for extended period the hospital in Kikuyu, Niarobi, and came to know the missionary doctors there. Deeply devoted, deeply spiritual people, and products of the Church of Scotland.

  7. Tim Dalstrom says:

    Keith, like you, I’ve attended gatherings all over the country and every time we wrap up, we all go home to business as usual. Something different has got to happen now. If we leave with a myrid of options, we face disaster. My congregation needs a clear sense of future direction. My prayers are with the planning team.

  8. As I ponder our upcoming Gathering, and reflect on the many voices being heard here, I am reminded that the element of the Church which has prevailed on these issues has done so in great part because of a simple reality. The MLP/TAMFS/GLBT community has acted as a cohesive unit. They have set aside internal dispute and disagreement to work tirelessly on a clear agenda of progressive syncretism. In their success, they have sprouted seeds of the destruction of the PC USA as an authentic Church. It certainly does no longer bears the marks of the True Church. Perhaps that should be a starting point for a workable agenda. How do we restore that standard?

    Unless we come together in Minneapolis with a commitment to stand together on a simple and clear position, we are (still) playing right into their hands. Long before we get off of the planes and out of our cars on the first day, a clear, straight forward and scripturally sound agenda must be in place. We can no longer afford the “sin” of tolerance.

    Looking forward to August with hope.

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