The report concludes with a number of recommendations to the PCUSA General Assembly meeting in Birmingham, Alabama next month (June 15-22). The recommendations call for further dialogue and study at the local level, but there is controversy around Recommendation 5, which some see as simply restating how our Presbyterian system handles ordination decisions, while others see it as introducing a new form of "local option" that would enable presbyteries or sessions to ordain gay or lesbian ministers, elders, or deacons.
Getting to this conversation was a long journey in Pittsburgh. On October 20, 2005 the Pittsburgh Presbytery heard from Mike Loudon, a member of the Theological Taskforce, and it had been indicated that there would be a further discussion at the Pittsburgh Seminary. There were some difficulties in finding leadership for the conversation at the seminary, and the Presbytery had two intervening debates relating to issues raised in the report in January and April 2006. The scheduled conversation was announced to the Pittsburgh Presbytery in April.
Twenty-three people were present, a group that included pastors, elders, retirees, a teenager, people related to congregations of all sizes, and from different points along the theological spectrum. As I signed in, I noticed that twenty-three people had told the Presbytery office they would be there; some of them didn't show, but an equal number of walk-ins replaced them.
Given the large turnouts we had seen at the recent Presbytery meetings planning to debate matters, some wondered whether this was a disappointing turnout for a conversation that would not lead to making a decision or taking action. As I looked around the room at the self-selected participants, I reflected to myself that we were only a slightly larger group than the Theological Taskforce itself. There were enough of them to do their job. I think there were enough of us present to make a hopeful attempt at dialogue.
We began the day with worship. We sang "Holy, Holy, Holy!" a capella. Gathered at separate tables we reflected on 1 Peter 2:9-10, and answered the following questions in groups of two or three:
- What strikes you as the most amazing/most daunting designation of the church in these verses?
- Which of God's mighty acts do you feel called to proclaim?
- What is the most important about being God's people?
Following worship counted off by threes to assign ourselves to separate discussion groups. Three members of the Presbytery Council (Tom Bice, Frances Wilson, and Bebb Stone) were present to serve as convenors/reporters for the groups. We discussed our hopes and concerns about the report, and what it would mean for the life of the congregations of which we are a part. We had a brief break for refreshments, and then the convenors reported to the whole group what had been discussed at each table.
The two hour conversation was positive and worthwhile. I hope that there can be future times for dialogue such as this.
My other articles about "A Season of Discernment": 1 2 3