I've spent much of the past week following the proceedings of the PC(USA) General Assembly which was going on in Minneapolis. Given that once in Nashville I will more than likely be attending Downtown Presbyterian Church (DPC) with Joel I felt invested in finding a bit more out about the denomination. With live online streaming of the plenary sessions and twitterfeeds devoted to it, it turned out to be pretty compelling. I may be lapsed in PCI* but hey, you know what they say: you can take the gal out of Presbyterianism...
*Full disclosure for the record: despite my decision several years back to no longer attend PCI, I was back at my original home church of my teens in Dun Laoghaire this very morning to hear an old friend preach. Was nice to reconnect.
LGBTQ equality was a big issue at GA219 and given Joel and I hope to be married by the church before the year is out (visa permitting) the marriage debate was of significance. I was really hoping for signs of hope-filled and just progress in the denomination. Although motions on ordination and benefits equality were passed, it was disappointing that the marriage debate was avoided. There's a good roundup of LGBTQ news from the GA here.
Despite feeling sad about the delay on the marriage debate and my fears that many Presbyteries won't engage on this issue in any meaningful reflective way between now and the next GA in 2012, I have had to admit that even if the result to send the issue back out to be 'studied' by churches had been just a couple of % in the other direction, the ultimate result of debate might not have been very different. It is evident that this is a matter that is really dividing the denomination - for some it is an 'issue', while for others it is their identity and their lives under debate. But, it was encouraging to see the diversity and solidarity at the assembly and I saw signs of hope that progress will be made without the church needing to split in two.
And the outgoing and incoming moderators and vice-mods seem like pretty cool folks. (I can't believe i just typed that.) I keep thinking how strange it'd be to be in a denomination where you need more than two hands to count the progressive clergy. And no, that's not hyperbole.
I know some folks have issue with church polity and procedures, but I realised this week that this is the tradition I grew up in since I was a child in the URC, and I'd likely always take it over excessive hierarchical authority or "whatever that charismatic guy up the front says goes" style leadership of non-denominational churches. Church polity can delay things and often does, but there's a process one can access if one wants to to influence change if one is willing to be patient and determined.
Presbyterians like disciplined order and unity over chaos and schism. The path to full equality may be a long one (almost 40 years in PC(USA)'s case), but there are progressive voices on a whole range of important causes in PC(USA) and strong voices at that. People who are not only calling for the church to catch up with the radical love of G-D but who are also willing to do so with grace and kindness rather than in anger, despite their pain. And there are a lot of them. The LGBTQA and emergent voices at GA219 were loud and clear. They gave me hope.
As does DPC. It's an artistic and progressive church in a progressive city in a very conservative state. They are doing some considerable work for those in deep need on their doorstep and that, along their commitment to the arts, really inspires me. Plus it's a place that when i have spent time there has been so open to conversations that are filled with questions and I have never felt like my thoughts on theology have had to bend or be apologised for in order for me to be welcome there.
I quite like the thought of being part of all of that. I read a blog post by Jonny Baker the other day that said the margins of the church are both inside and out its walls. And after several years of being on the outside, I'm thinking a lot about seeing if there's a chance I might find a sense of home back in the church so to speak, with all the imperfections and frustrations that come with the enrichment when working with others for others.