Book of Common Prayer for the Mission of the Church:
Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours for ever. Amen.
Now, the letter. God's will be done. We offer it humbly, respectfully, praying for grace.
6 June, 2014 - An Open Letter to Irvine Pres. Church (IPC) Session
Last Wednesday evening, we attended the second of the two IPC Town Halls on congregational discernment. We thank our Session leaders for their work, but the information presented was not balanced, and the speed of the congregational discernment is shocking. We write this as an open letter in the interest of transparency and speaking truth to power, in love.
We don't seek to change beliefs. We accept that in a congregation there will always be different viewpoints because each of us has a different lived experience. Anita’s recent experiences with the PC (USA) have been rejuvenating; she has been subscribing to their faith resources, e.g. The Daily Lectionary, for many years now. We interpret news and statistics about and from the PC (USA) such as the Pastors (2011) and Listening to Presbyterians (2014) studies cited differently. Thus, we do not see the solution to the problems as leaving the denomination to join a new one. We have many friends with similar positive experiences, but having now heard you, we accept that there are some who have had negative experiences. We are sensitive to your pain and we respect your love for Jesus and humble attempts to hear and follow as He leads. What we hope to accomplish by this letter is encourage the adoption of a more Jesus Christ-honoring congregational discernment process for IPC BEFORE any formal request for dismissal is made to our Presbytery of Los Ranchos (PLR). We value the unity in our local church and strongly recommend that Session NOT engage the congregation in any kind of voting - straw poll or otherwise - before we all have taken the time for a longer period of prayer and true discernment.
The Presbyterian History presentation drew its negative charges about the PC (USA) from Carmen Fowler's "How We Got Here" article in The Layman. Fowler’s overarching misrepresentations have been addressed by the PC (USA) - see Apologia Progressiva by Paul Rack – and specific cases by Bruce Boyer in How We Got Here – 1 and How We Got Here – 2.
According to the History of IPC’s Consideration of the Discernment Process, Session started the discussion in 2010; not so, according to our former friends who were on Session then but are no longer with our church now. Session engaged in activities with ECO in 2011 and 2012, began a year-long study in Jan. 2013, entered into discernment in November, and formed a task force in Jan. 2014 to plan the congregational discernment process. Session did not request all-church prayer or inform the congregation of starting the study. The lack of transparency is troubling.***
We are also concerned about the Session Discernment process. No details have been provided on the Scriptures Session studied or how you prayed together. Presbyterian discernment seems to have become conflated with Presbyterian government; that is, discernment has become the prerogative of the session, as the governing body. Linda, an ordained Deacon, and active member for 35 years, feels that IPC was built on a foundation of prayer; Session and congregation have always prayed together before. We need to take the time to do this now.
The IPC congregation is being given less than a month to discern. This speedy process and the timing are not good as most IPC families are busy getting ready with end of school year and summer transitions, not to mention VBS and Project South Africa. In response to these concerns which were also raised at the Town Hall, Session reassured us that this is just the first step in the process. The congregation will have plenty of time to talk – all the time we need - with the Presbytery during formal discernment. This is incorrect. The PLR Property Policy and Procedures of June 15, 2013 requires only one meeting with the Presbytery post straw poll.
The bottom line: Session is making the recommendation to leave and join ECO. According to the IPC Discernment Guide, Session has been exploring this since 2010, for four years and found “PC (USA) is no longer a theological, missional or relational fit." At the Town Hall, the pastors repeatedly said: "ECO is our tribe" and have engaged with FOP/ECO since 2011 but appear to have no recent real experience with the larger PC (USA). In 2013, the Strategic Coordinating Team (SCT) of PLR, charged with this task, organized discernment forums with outside experts and invited churches/Sessions to encourage their congregations to join in wide, open participation. IPC Session did not do so. Now, our congregation is being given a month to discern. Our Session’s understanding of the discernment process is flawed. The Presbytery advises a three to nine month period of discernment before the second step that is a request to enter into formal dismissal conversations (PLR Property Policies and Procedures, p. 3).
Since the Town Halls, we’ve had a few people share their questions with us and here are some:
1) I cannot accept ECO’s tenets – it looks like PC (USA) but then you get to the bottom and I cannot accept them. I won’t be able to serve in a leadership role at IPC if we join ECO.
2) If IPC joins ECO, will gays be welcome to worship in our church?
3) I wish we could study the issue of gays, truly study the Scriptures, and pray about it together instead of just airing biases, prejudices, fears and anxieties. I really don’t know what to think or feel on this issue. Why can’t our church congregation be led in a study of this issue since this is such a defining problem of our times? Why are our pastors not caring for our souls?
Our Recommendations: Therefore, we humbly and respectfully request Session to adopt the following changes in the congregational discernment process:
1) Begin with 40 days of prayer and plan for a longer period - at least 6 to 9 months - of true congregational discernment following the guidelines given by PLR and used in other churches.
2) Invite the Presbytery, as they have offered in the PLR Property Policy and Procedures (p. 3), to become a part of the congregational discernment process. We want to listen to other voices in our covenantal fellowship and take advantage of the additional resources they have to share. Do invite ECO representatives, too, so we can hear from them about their stance on the gay issues.
3) Lead from the pulpit by teaching us what the Bible tells us about sexual immorality, and gays.
(signed Linda Del Crognale and Anita Coleman)
***Full disclosure: In February 2013, Anita, an ordained Deacon and active member of IPC for 8 years, became a member of the SCT. She shared the news with two members on Session, now no longer on it, and invited discussion about the PLR Season of Discernment. It never happened.