Monday, June 30, 2014

"He strives with God" - About Remedial Complaints, Stays and Discerning the Spirit in Community

Five remedial complaints have been filed in the cases of the first five churches that were dismissed by the presbytery on May 31st and June 7th. Five stays were granted. What does this mean? 

IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION: The complaints are not against the churches (an earlier version incorrectly stated that it was against the churches).

The dismissal action by the Presbytery cannot move forward. The five churches, St. Andrews, Trinity, First Pres. Westminster, Good Shepherd, Los Alamitos, Christ Presbyterian, Huntington Beach, for now, remain a part of the PCUSA. Also, it does not matter that the congregations voted to accept the dismissal. The matter is now in the church courts. The polarization that we see in our national politics was played out in our presbytery in our spiritual circles. And, so the courts will have to decide what happens next. 

How do I feel about this? I am sad anytime I see Christian brothers and sisters fighting among ourselves. The Holy Spirit however, has, as always, been marvelous and I've been reminded of Israel's origins.

"The faith community of Israel begins in an intense wrestling match with God, allaying any notion that communal life with God is easily maneuvered." The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible.

It is one of the strangest stories in the Bible (Genesis 32: 22-32, NRSV, Jacob Wrestles at Peniel). It is the evening before the reconciliation of Jacob with his older brother Esau. Twenty years have passed since Jacob fled Esau's wrath having stolen his birthright blessing from their father. His difficulties in these years have been punctuated by appearances from God. Now, on the eve before he is to meet Esau he must contend with God. Jacob struggled with God in intimacy (wrestling is pretty intimate). They wrestled till dawn! Jacob prevailed and the stranger was forced to bless Jacob. He gave him a new name, Israel. Jacob walked with a limp, wounded, after that strange night-time encounter, but he was also blessed, and forever changed by that encounter "The nighttime wrestling match with Someone divine is obscured in the shadows of mystery. It leaves room for interpretation of what such wrestling with God entails. What is clear is that, although Jacob prevails, he also acquires a new name and a limp. Jacob's name, meaning "takes by the heel, overreacher, supplanter," connotes the struggle he has known. Insisting he be blessed by the midnight stranger, Jacob receives the new name Israel, indicating that "God rules. God preserves. God protects. God strives." Other meanings are: "He strives with God." "God fights."

I feel that this is what is happening in our presbytery.  We must contend with God. What is God's will for our presbytery? Instead of contending with one another, how can we contend with God to show us the way forward? There is no biblical precedent for the Holy Spirit seeking to divide brothers and sisters in Christ. (Yes, I know Paul and Barnabas over Mark is always quoted here that divisions in the church will exist but that does not mean the Spirit instigates it!) The Spirit always works to heal division among brothers and sisters, the body of Christ. The Spirit will use us for God's glory even when we go our separate ways.  

So, here's my recap for those who are new here to this story and only now catching up, and then, my little bit. 

In the fall of 2012, the presbytery started an open season of discernment and organized events that lasted until Spring 2013. The problem, I believe, is that no real discernment took place. The churches that had decided to leave went through the motions but that was it. Then, last summer around this time ~10 or 11 churches (one of them is a new worshiping community and not a chartered church yet) filed the formal requests to enter into discernment with the Presbytery of Los Ranchos for dismissal from PCUSA. Again, there was no real discernment; how can there be discernment when Session tells a congregation that they have discerned it is time to leave the PCUSA and join ECO? The rest of the process then becomes one of persuading the congregation to follow along with Session's decision instead of prayer and listening to God. So, over the course of fall and winter, Joint Discernment Teams (JDT) were formed for each church. Joint Solutions developed. Starting in April, the presbytery held a series of Special Called Gatherings for the two readings of the joint solutions (each church has to be read twice) and subsequent voting on them in late May and June. Once Presbytery voted to dismiss the churches, the church congregations had to vote to leave too within 30 days.

I was able to attend the first two of the three special called gatherings; the third one was this Saturday (June 28th) and I was not able to attend it as we had our Friends of Pravaham partnership development meeting. It was at the first two gatherings that the presbytery voted on the five churches now with "Stays." 

The joint solutions were extremely gracious; every church dismissed with property and a negligible amount to pay; at this Saturday's meeting, I heard for example, one church (Wintersburg, a Japanese American congregation) was unanimously dismissed with property as reparation for the church's failure to speak against Executive Order 9066 (1942). That was a very sweet moment, I bet, but I also heard it came after a hard morning of extreme polarization over other issues. The other two meetings I attended were very difficult meetings too, and the divided votes in the first two cases, especially painful. The debates and arguments among the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ revealed bitterness and anger on the part of those seeking to leave at what they saw as stalling tactics. As I prayed, I also observed. One of the most dramatic moments came when a complicated clause was inserted into one of the Solutions; the Stated Clerk Forrest Claassen asked Neal from St. Andrews' who'd made the motion for the benefit of Trinity, if it could be written and given to him; he had not been able to get it all down. Within a minute or so, Rich Kannwischer (Pastor at St. Andrews, the large church whose dismissal had just been voted on previously) printed it out, and handed it to Neal who gave it to Forrest. The end of the voting that day - May 31st - was the most bizarre (for lack of a better word) to watch. Some of the commissioners who had wanted these two churches, St. Andrews and Trinity, with whom they have been in covenantal fellowship to stay, understood their desire to leave too, and had tried to be gracious. They had tears streaming down their faces. The ones leaving looked jubilant at the "win." A smaller group was quite confused. A lot of hurting people.
I continue to pray our presbytery will "show “a more excellent way” by remaining together in love and forbearance amid our differences, as difficult as this may be," as Tom Cramer encouraged. I also pray that our Presbytery's and churches' kingdom work of planting churches and feeding the souls of those who seek God and want to follow Jesus authentically will not be distracted or lack prayer, energy, resources or anything else that is needed. Mostly, I pray that the spirit of discernment and transformation will continue. This is indeed an opportunity to save many souls. May we let the Holy Spirit separate our spirit from our soul so we can enter into the rest of Christ and let his rivers of living water flow through us and bless our world. Hebrews 4: 12 

Related References: 

Irvine #StayPCUSA -

ECO: Filtering the Toxins -

Trinity Fairness Group Promoting Dialog -

Trinity #StayPCUSA -

Why Stay in the PCUSA? -

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