Here is a overview of the gathering from an attendee.
The Fellowship gathering was defined by its worship. The first worship, the night before the conference began, had more than a thousand. Each day of the conference began and ended with worship. And the ballroom was packed – for all of them. Vic Pence, who spoke at the final worship, was prepared to make a joke about attendance at final worship as a lead in to his “the power of a remnant” presentation, but had to make a joke about his joke because worship was full. The singing, the prayers, the speakers, were all very powerful, and all focused on Christ. Speakers spoke on “the need to focus on where Jesus is leading”, “What do we need to do to be aligned with what God is doing?”, “Turning anger to grace”, and “the power of a remnant to make a difference”.
Seminars described the possible organizational options within the fellowship, ways to work within presbyteries, in spite of presbyteries, alternative forms of presbyteries, and the New Reformed Body. More on those in a moment. But did I mention the worship? And the general air of laughter, and friends calling out across the room. People meeting friends from seminary, from online, making new connections.
The informational presentations were done via video feed to every conference room in the hotel. Conferees were randomly grouped in tables of 10 (with the exception of EPs and staffers who were randomly grouped with each other, but not the general population). There was time after each briefing for the tables to discuss and provide feedback and questions (via email). A few folks had as their job for the conference, to sort through the emails and consolidate questions and prioritize based on frequency. Q&A times were built into the schedule for the organizers to answer some of these questions. This led to wonderful, meaningful conversations between the elders and pastors attending the conference.
An example table had 4 elders (all from large churches), 6 pastors: two from large churches, 3 from middlesized, and a pastor from a small town church. It helped people to process the information from multiple viewpoints. Some tables had folks who were against all that the Fellowship stood for, and were naysaying all that
they heard, but their influence was limited to the table(s) where they were. All in all it was upbeat, fast-paced, focused on glorifying God, and seeking answers both within and beyond the PCUSA.
The Fellowship seeks to be an order within the PCUSA. The Fellowship will be a covenanted community of churches and individuals who gather around a defined set of essential tenets (to be defined). The focus is on empowering and equipping the congregation: not a congregationalism, but a recognition that the primary agent of ministry is and should be the congregation. Jim Singleton defined a vision for a fellowship that includes Theological Clarity, Missional Passion, Covenantal Commitment to each other, Global Connections, and Leadership in a different way. Under the original Fellowship vision, this would all happen without any PCUSA structural adaptations. It would be much like More Light Presbyterians or the Confessing Churches. But the Fellowship has no interest in playing the politics of the PCUSA – that has gotten us nowhere. The Fellowship wants to renew the PCUSA one church at a time, by engaging in mission.
As mentioned, the Fellowship seeks to be an order within the PCUSA, but also with those in New Reformed Body. The NRB is for those who fear the coming Kenyonization (1) of GLBT ordination and the redefinition of marriage; those for whom the PCUSA has just gone too far afield, or those who are in hostile presbyteries. Although there is the possibility that releasing a church to the NRB will involve less resistance on the part of presbyteries than release to the EPC, there is still great risk here for local congregations, especially depending on the level of antagonism in the presbytery.
Other strategies proposed appealed to churches in different contexts: a congregation in a friendly presbytery who is able to accomplish their mission in an uncompromised way may continue on as they are. This was especially attractive to those in presbyteries such as San Diego and Santa Barbara. In other presbyteries, where it may become difficult to get any candidate through due to close voting habits, it was suggested that presbyteries take advantage of the latitude of nFoG to have more than one CPM/COM. Another alternative was to petition the GA to realign presbyteries or allow the creation of geographic overlapping presbyteries to avoid these stalemates. Obviously these options require the ability to get an overture through the presbytery. Some churches are in openly hostile presbyteries, although the options are presented, unless a national overture is passed and mandated, these churches have no recourse within the PCUSA.
Questions to ask ourselves:
What do we believe? To what extent are we comfortable with the diversity of belief in the PCUSA and to what extent do we believe the PCUSA has erred? Is the difference in theology sufficient to mandate or even warrant action? Should that action be a statement of difference, removal of fellowship, or something else? What should we be/do? Where do we believe God is calling us to mission and to action? To what extent is our mission currently influenced by our membership in the PCUSA – for the positive or negative? What about in the projected future? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within the current structure for our church and its mission? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within the various presbytery options or the proposed NRB for our church and its mission?
(1) Rev Kenyon was denied acceptance as a minister because women’s ordination violated his conscience; He was not permitted to declare it a scruple -- effectively making women’s ordination an essential belief.
I plan to have a breakdown of the options posted over the next week.