Monday, August 29, 2011

Back From FOP and In Context

It takes me a couple of days of thinking about an intense experience like the Fellowship of Presbyterians (hereinafter affectionately termed "FOP") before writing about it. We got back from Minneapolis last Friday evening and plunged back into everyday life over the weekend.

At church today I was asked numerous times "What happened?" and "How did you feel about it?" So here are my answers to those two questions.

What happened was that 2,000 Presbyterians representing more than 800 congregations had several amazing, inspiring worship services spread over the two day period. We spent most of our time grouped in 195 tables of ten people each. I was privileged to be a table leader and met Teaching and Ruling Elders from all over the country . I  learned a lot about other congregations.

Presentations about the "Four Tiers" (or options) that the FOP leadership had developed for the consideration of those present. After each one we were offered questions to guide discussion and the leaders emailed questions and opinions from the group. 

The Tiers are: to remain in place, to create "presbyteries within presbyteries", to create parallel divisions of presbyteries, and to create a New Reformed Body (NRB) which would allow congregations to withdraw from the PCUSA and join the NRB, or affiliate with the NRB while remaining in the PCUSA. Except for the first, all of these options are in the broad concept stage and require more definition.

As you can imagine, Tiers Two through Four generated the most conversation and questions. At the end of the day my group asked me to send a message stating that they unanimously believed that the only two realistic options were to remain in place or develop the NRB and that was were the FOP effort should be focused. All the other group leaders I discussed this with told me that was also the conclusion of their table groups. That's a very unscientific survey, but I offer it for whatever it is worth.

We also had the opportunity to attend break-out sessions that covered a range of topics from Leadership in Times of Radical Change to What Are the Theological Essentials as well as more conversation about the four tiers. Our church group made assignments so we wouldn't duplicate attendance at the sessions. My assignment was Connecting with the Global Church which was, well, meh.

"Context" was the buzzword of the day. The FOP leadership repeatedly emphasized that the context each congregation operates within (its presbytery, its membership, its pastoral leadership) is bound to differ and must be respected.

Here's how I feel about it. 

The FOP Gathering met or exceeded my expectations, which were to see those gathered begin to come together around a way forward even though that way is not yet clearly defined. I was pleased with the positive focus  on the new thing God may be doing as well as respect for those with whom we differ. I welcome the discussion about defining the "essential tenets because I have led elder training and had to hem-haw around when asked what were the "essential tenets" they were being asked to affirm in their ordination vows. I've never been comfortable with that lack of definition, but maybe that's just my personality.

I am encouraged that the emphasis is on forming a "bottom-up" rather than a "top-down" movement and that regional gatherings are planned for the fall as well as a Constitutional Convention for January 12-14 in Orlando, Florida. Presumably there will be more definition of the movement, especially the NRB concept, before that convention in January.

I think that at FOP I was "seeing through a glass darkly" and hope that as it evolves, clarity and light will emerge.


recovering baptist said...

IMO the conversation on Essential Tenets is , well, essential :-) I've been floored over the years by the fact that presbyterians don't appear to have a good grasp of this and frankly without it we get into the mess that PCUSA has got itself into.

Mac said...
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Mac said...

I left out a word. I agree that options one and four are the only really practical options. If my pastor and session recommended two or three, I would probably say "Why go to all that trouble for no real purpose?"

As for the essential tenets, RB is right on the money. At my final PC(USA) presbytery meeting, we had discussion regarding the tremors within the denomination at that time (PUP, Trinity, the 2007-08 attempt to change ordination standards, among others). We split into small groups to respond to the question "What do leaders need in order to better explain what the PC(USA) stands for?" I suggested that we needed clearly stated essential tenets.

A Ruling Elder who was in her 60's asked what they would be? I responded to the effect that at a minimum, they would be a firmly stated belief in the sovereignty of God, the authority of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, the atoning nature of the cross, and the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

She said, "Well, agree with those."

The TE leading our group scoffed. "But you can't put those in writing. Not all of us believe in some or all of those. Besides, you'll scare people away."

We disaffiliated and joined the EPC three months later.