Every two years the Presbyterian Church (USA) gathers for our General Assembly (GA), and this year it meets in Detroit, Michigan. 2014 marks the 221st meeting and like most years there are many issues and policies that will be discussed. I encourage you to visit the denominational website (www.pcusa.org) for information on the specifics of this year’s GA.
I have to admit that each year the GA meets I am struck with a higher level of anxiety than normal. Since it’s inception, the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly has considered important and contentious topics. In recent years this has caused a considerable amount of dissension within the denomination. I have given my concern for institutional wellbeing and longevity over to God a long time ago. I have found peace in the reality that in the midst of our life together as a denomination, we need to allow members, ministers and congregations to find their way through these issues. My anxiety comes from the fact that the highly divisive spirit that takes over many of the discussions at GA can be a cancer that spreads throughout the body of Christ. In particular, I get worried that the national news and decisions made by GA will cause folks to question their place in our local congregation.
I appreciate the connectional church, and am glad that we have the support, resources and reach of something larger than our local body. Yet, it concerns me that a congregation that has chosen to focus on the things that unite us, could be adversely effected by the perceptions of other parts of the church. This is perhaps the hardest part of being part of a diverse, thoughtful and spiritually seeking denomination. We are called to wrestle with discernment while staying connected to God and one another.
Even before this GA makes one decision, I have a sense that my response to its actions will be similar to previous meetings. I still haven’t discovered a place that sets my ministry or the ministry of Christ Presbyterian in a better and more spiritually sound place. I also stay committed to the idea that there is a real place for those who disagree with decisions to continue to advocate for what they believe is right. I hold fast to this idea because it reminds me of the historical principles of our faith. Reformation is all about reform of the current reality, not the abandonment of it to start something new. The more we splinter and scatter, the weaker our witness becomes.
I know that there will be decisions from this GA that I will celebrate and others that I will want to reject. This is part and parcel of my Reformed/Presbyterian faith. I continually remind myself that in the end, “Jesus Christ alone is Lord of the conscience.”
I hope you will pray for our General Assembly and all that are engaged in its work. Please pray that not only will the Spirit guide our life together towards righteousness, but also that God’s peace that surpasses all understanding will be present before, during and after our General Assembly does its work.