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New Website Serves Up More User-Friendly PCUSA Church Statistics

(By Jerry Van Marter, Presbyterian News Service). The Presbyterian Church (USA) Research Services office rolled out a new website during the 2017 Big Tent that promises to make access to church statistical information more user-friendly than in the past.

The new website – church-trends.pcusa.org – replaces the old “10-Year Trends” website and Comparative Statistics report. “About three years ago we began asking what information people were seeking,” Research Services Associate Susan Barnett told a July 7 Big Tent workshop heavily populated with presbytery stated clerks and other statistics enthusiasts. “We’ve been working on this new website, which is still under construction, for about a year-and-a-half.”

The website breaks down the denomination’s statistical information by congregations, presbyteries and synods, with sections on the entire denomination, racial ethnic data and ministers. Each section is formatted almost identically for ease of comparison. Data is presented in both averages and in raw numbers.

Each category (congregations, presbyteries, synods) into eight categories:

  1. Overview
  2. Membership
  3. Financials
  4. Diversity
  5. Education
  6. Leadership
  7. Females
  8. Males

Information is presented in current year versus previous year statistics and a separate section showing five-year trends.

“Churches that don’t report (via the Annual Statistical Report) are not included in the new format,” said Deborah Coe, Coordinator of Research Services, noting that this is a change from past practice. “Previously, if a church didn’t report, we just carried forward their most recent report numbers.” The change produces a more statistically valid report, Coe said.

She also described some of the benefits of the new website for individual Presbyterians. For instance, Coe said, “Suppose a Presbyterian family moves to a new city and is looking for a church that has kids the same age. The new site enables them to look up churches in their new community and by looking under the “education” tab find churches with church school attendance that matches their kids ages.”

For more information about the new Church-Trends website and the resources available on it, contact Susan Barnett by email at [email protected], or by phone at 502-569-5161.

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Jerry Van Marter is interim director of communications for the Office of the General Assembly.

Article originally posted here.

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ECO: Reflections from the 2017 WCRC General Council

(By Dana Allin, Synod Executive for ECO). A few weeks ago, along with Jen Haddox and John Terech, I had the privilege of representing ECO at the General Council meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) in Leipzig, Germany.  The General Council meets every 7 years and consists of delegates from 220 member churches from around the world.  ECO became a member of the WCRC in 2013 with the endorsement from the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), who were already members.

There are many great advantages to being a member of WCRC.  For example, it validates us as a Reformed denomination across the world.  Several instances have occurred where churches or institutions on other continents have received ECO pastors because of our WCRC membership.  

The WCRC does some fantastic work around the globe. It has helped be a voice for numerous churches that are in the midst of political persecution. It has also helped fight justice issues such as human trafficking.

A seat at the table

Being in a larger communion, however, is not free from challenges.  It was certainly obvious the leadership of the WCRC has a very progressive agenda.  Several times it was stated that there couldn’t be a separation between justice and evangelism.  However, there was never talk about the evangelism part of that inseparable connection – and helping people come to know the Good News of Jesus Christ. The WCRC has also not taken a stance on human sexuality.  However, the leadership from the front continued to push for inclusiveness of ordained leaders. In their eyes, it is a justice issue above an interpretation of Scripture issue. Biblical Integrity is one of ECO’s core values. Thus, when and if the WCRC’s agenda comes into conflict with our values, please note that we will assess our membership in that fellowship.  

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State Supreme Court Denies Presbytery Petition for Review of Property Case

On July 18, the Minnesota State Supreme Court denied the petition from the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area (PTCA) to review the decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals in favor of Prairie Community Church of Twin Cities (formerly known as Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church).

The Court of Appeals’ April 24 decision upheld the March 24, 2016 ruling by the Fourth Judicial District Court, which concluded that the Prairie Community Church of Twin Cities “owns the disputed property and that the disputed property is not held in trust for the PCUSA, and the PTCA and PCUSA have no legal interest in the disputed property.”

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area had decided to appeal that ruling fearing that it “turns [the Presbyterian Church (USA)] into a congregational church, where each congregation has the freedom to pick and choose what it will and will not accept regarding church organization, government, and doctrine.”

In its presbytery report on why it was appealing, the PTCA’s Administrative Commission (AC) called the court’s decision “deeply disappointing, and we’re concerned about the impact it may have on our Minnesota congregations, our presbytery as a whole, our neighboring presbyteries in Minnesota, and the wider church. … We believe the decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals potentially jeopardizes our presbytery’s authority to make decisions in the future regarding congregations who seek to leave. Additionally, we believe the decision may also place in jeopardy our foundational understanding that the Book of Order, in its entirety, applies to all members of the PCUSA.”

Therefore, the AC “decided unanimously to direct our attorney to prepare and file a Petition for Review of this decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

Court of Appeals decision

The Court of Appeals ruled that the District Court was correct when it applied neutral principles of law. Under neutral principles, the court bases its decision in neutral, secular principles, looking at official documents such as property deeds and state statutes.

The court’s decision stated that while the church had created an express trust when it modified its articles of incorporation in 1999, it had also retained the right to modify the documents by a majority vote of the active church members at a properly called congregational meeting.

So, in 2010, when the church voted to remove all references to the trust and the PCUSA from its Articles of Incorporation, “it was within its rights.”

“Thus, EPPC retained the power to revoke the trust and properly revoked the trust by removing all trust language in 2010,” it read.

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Presbyterian Coalition Ends Its Ministry to the PCUSA

The Presbyterian Coalition has announced that it will “cease as a non-profit organization and transfer all assets (about $7500) to The Fellowship Community (TFC) with the request that TFC would consider fielding a team to the 2018 General Assembly with the sole purpose to support, encourage, and assist evangelical GA commissioners.”

The decision was announced in a July 18 email signed by Gale Watkins, Bill Teng and Wally Warrenburg. The web site for the Coalition — http://www.presbycoalition.org/ — has already been disabled.

The email reads:

We write to let you know that we, the board of Presbyterian Coalition, have made a decision concerning our organization. We will cease as a non-profit organization and transfer all assets (about $7500) to The Fellowship Community (TFC) with the request that TFC would consider fielding a team to the 2018 General Assembly with the sole purpose to support, encourage, and assist evangelical GA commissioners.

A document (undated) we found online called “Why the Presbyterian Coalition?” says, “The Presbyterian Coalition was born out of concern for the Church which struggled to witness to historic and Biblical leadership standards and out of hope that the Lord of the Church would work his will through the people and polity of this Church. Beginning in the early 1990’s, the Presbyterian Coalition has gathered individuals, churches, organizations and their leadership into a loosely defined, open, and active movement sharing the conviction that the words of Scripture, interpreted by the Confessions of the Church, reveal the will of God.”

To that end, from 1996 to 2005, the Coalition organized a number of large national gatherings. The Coalition took positions on issues before the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and had a visible presence at meetings of General Assembly. In recent years, the landscape has changed dramatically. Prominent Coalition leaders have left the PCUSA or have retired from national church affairs. Our activities have been drastically curtailed. For the 2016 General Assembly, the Coalition hosted conference calls to help commissioners prepare for their work, and then sponsored and hosted gatherings of commissioners in Portland.

As we say farewell, we want to acknowledge the work that has been done over many years. We appreciate the strong leadership that has been offered by the staff and board members who preceded us. We give thanks for individuals and congregations who continued to support the work of the Presbyterian Coalition financially. Your gifts enabled us to be present at each General Assembly and to bear witness in that setting. Thank you for your love for the church.

God’s blessings on you.

Gale Watkins
Bill Teng
Wally Warrenburg

 

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Community Outreach Sparks New Life at Tacoma PCUSA Church

Buckle up, hold on tight, and pray like crazy

(By Eva Stimson, Office of the General Assembly Communications). In the mid-1980s, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington, was on life support, and Olympia Presbytery had begun nudging the session to consider pulling the plug.

Drugs, crime, and gangs had infested the church’s deteriorating neighborhood. A handful of loyal members attended worship and struggled to maintain the church building.

“But something surprising happened,” says the church’s current pastor, Matt Robbins-Ghormley. “Resurrection happened.” As he describes it, the congregation went from being “on the brink of extinction” to becoming energized through mission in the community.

Last year, Trinity reported 375 “total adherents” (including active members, baptized members, and other regular attendees) and a gain of 19 new members. The number of children in the congregation has grown over the past decade from 30 to 130, and 70 adults are involved in Trinity’s ministries with children and youth.

“The people who have been here a while just shake their heads in amazement,” Robbins-Ghormley says.

One of those long-time members is 87-year-old Irene Orando, who joined the church in 1945. She has remained active in the congregation as it hit rock-bottom and bounced back again.

Orando recalls that once in the mid-1980s she was the only person to show up for Wednesday-night prayer meeting. As she waited hoping others would arrive, she looked around at all the church’s empty classrooms. Finally, she says, “I just stayed and prayed by myself—that we would have people here, that others would come.”

And gradually, the people began to come. Youth With a Mission began using Trinity as a base for outreach to the community. The energy for mission demonstrated by these teens inspired the tiny congregation.

“It was encouraging to us to have them here,” Orando says. “After they left, we thought, ‘What are we going to do now?’ So we got together a task force to see what we could do for the community.”

They came up with two ministries: a tutoring program, in partnership with nearby Bryant Elementary, and a weekly “soup & conversation” gathering to build relationships with people in the neighborhood. “We let people come in and tell us what their needs were,” Orando explains.

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Actually, Eugene Peterson Does Not Support Same-Sex Marriage

 In retraction, popular author affirms ‘a biblical view of everything’—including marriage.

(By Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today). A day after a Religion News Service interview portrayed retired pastor and author Eugene Peterson as shifting to endorse same-sex marriage, the evangelical leader retracted his comment and upheld the traditional Christian stance instead.

“To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything,” he said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Peterson, best known for creating the paraphrased Bible translation The Message, also regrets the “confusion and bombast” in the fallout of his remarks, which were widely shared and commented on online yesterday.

Peterson stated:

Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.”

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

RNS columnist Jonathan Merritt had asked Peterson, “If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?” Peterson had responded with one word: yes.

The interview was published Wednesday under this headline: Best-selling author Eugene Peterson changes his mind on gay marriage.

In his retraction, the 84-year-old said that in nearly three decades as a pastor and in the years since, “I’ve never performed a same-sex wedding. I’ve never been asked and, frankly, I hope I never am asked.

“This reporter, however, asked a hypothetical question: if I were pastoring today and if a gay couple were Christians of good faith and if they asked me to perform their wedding ceremony—if, if, if. Pastors don’t have the luxury of indulging in hypotheticals,” said Peterson. “And to be honest, no is not a word I typically use.”

Peterson went on to state that because of the biblical view of marriage, he would not marry a same-sex couple:

When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that. That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such a couple as their pastor. They’d be welcome at my table, along with everybody else.

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Related article: Eugene Peterson backtracks on same-sex marriage, By Jonathan Merritt, Religion News Service

What in the World is Eugene Peterson Thinking on Marriage?, by Jeffrey Walton, Juicy Ecumenism

Statement from Peterson’s publisher: Eugene Peterson Issues Revised Statement Following Religion News Service Interview

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Eugene Peterson’s Theological Sigh

(By Samuel D. James, First Things). This week, Eugene Peterson became arguably the most consequential evangelical to endorse same-sex relationships and marriage. His short interview with Jonathan Merritt isn’t always clear; there is some hedging and “as far as I’m concerned” moral equivalency. But his testimony leaves little doubt, especially since it feels so very familiar. Peterson’s sexual ethic is overwhelmingly anecdotal. His story of embracing same-sex relationships through friendships and pastoral relationships is a reminder of just how natural, intuitive, and authentic heterodoxy can feel in a post-Christian culture.

As one who holds to historic Christian teaching on sex and marriage, I believe that Peterson is very wrong on homosexuality. But I’m gradually coming to understand what a daily burden holding fast on this doctrine can be, particularly for Christians whose gifts and temperaments place them “out there,” in the nexus of city and culture. That’s what I hear in Peterson’s interview: a theological sigh, an admission that the existential toll of living and serving among those to whom he would have to preach repentance is simply too much.

Says Peterson, “I wouldn’t have said this twenty years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over.” Why is the “debate” over? Because the LGBT people Peterson knows are good, spiritual people. How can that knowledge—not the knowledge of doctrine, but the knowledge of human beings—comport with an antiquated definition of chastity and marriage? What use are theological disputations when it comes to looking real gays and lesbians in the face, living with and loving them, and affirming their humanity and worth?

The question for our generation is increasingly not, “Is this doctrine true or false?” Rather, the question is, “Can I live with it out there?”

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Related articles:

LifeWay Prepared to Stop Selling The Message Over Eugene Peterson’s LGBT Comments, Christianity Today

Should We Still Read Eugene Peterson?, by Russell Moore

Message Bible Author Eugene Peterson: Homosexuality Not Wrong, Megachurches Aren’t Real Churches, The Christian Post

A Response to Eugene Peterson’s Affirmation of Homosexuality,  By Owen Strachan, Patheos

Eugene Peterson on Changing His Mind About Same-Sex Issues and Marriage, By Jonathan Merritt, Religion News Service

The Bible and Same-Sex Relationships: A Review Article, by Tim Keller, The Gospel Coalition, By Jonathan Merritt, Religion News Service

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A Response to Eugene Peterson’s Affirmation of Homosexuality

(By Owen Strachan, Patheos). I have read and appreciated Eugene Peterson’s books for years. His take on pastoral ministry, with a focus on the theological nature of the work and a deep engagement with the beauty of spirituality, has marked me. I am not alone in this respect–not by a long shot. Even as I have disagreed with some of Peterson’s views, I have continued to read him.

Eugene Peterson

It thus troubled me greatly to read Peterson saying homosexuality is “not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.” Here is the full quote:

I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.

These are not sound words. We are called not merely to abstain from sin but to avoid giving approval to those who indulge in it (see the implication of Romans 1:32). None who practice homosexuality, and who take it as their identity, will inherit the kingdom of heaven (Romans 6:9-11). We recall Paul’s strong words: without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). This does not mean that Christians are perfect people; it does mean that we abhor our sin, fight it, and constantly repent of it.

This point bears restating. There is a great gap of a difference between people who sin and then repent, and people who sin and do not repent and even make it a positive part of their identity.

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Related articles:

Eugene Peterson on Changing His Mind About Same-Sex Issues and Marriage

The Bible and Same-Sex Relationships: A Review Article, by Tim Keller, The Gospel Coalition

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Eugene Peterson on Changing His Mind About Same-Sex Issues and Marriage

(By Jonathan Merritt, Religion News Service). When a journalist has a chance to interview a paragon of the Christian faith like Eugene Peterson, there’s a lot of pressure to pick the perfect questions. I’d asked him about why he was leaving the public eye and if he was afraid of death. I’d asked him about Donald Trump and the state of American Christianity. But there was one more topic I wanted to cover: same-sex relationships and marriage.

It’s one of the hottest topics in the church today, and given Peterson’s vast influence among both pastors and laypeople, I knew his opinion would impact the conversation. Though he has had a long career, I couldn’t find his position on the matter either online or in print. I did discover thatThe Message,” Peterson’s popular paraphrase of the Bible, doesn’t use the word “homosexual” and “homosexuality” in key texts. But this wasn’t definitive proof of anything. After all, those words never appear in any English translation of the Bible until 1946.

So here we discuss his views on this divisive topic. Peterson’s answers are measured, but pointed and provocative.

RNS: You are Presbyterian, and your denomination [PCUSA] has really been grappling with some of the hot button issues that we face as a culture. I think particularly of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Has your view on that changed over the years? What’s your position on the morality of same-sex relationships?

EP: I haven’t had a lot of experience with it. But I have been in churches when I was an associate pastor where there were several women who were lesbians. They didn’t make a big deal about it. I’d go and visit them and it never came up for them. They just assumed that they were as Christian as everybody else in the church.

In my own congregation–when I left, we had about 500 people–I don’t think we ever really made a big deal out of it. When I left, the minister of music left. She’d been there ever since I had been there. There we were, looking for a new minister of music. One of the young people that had grown up under my pastorship, he was a high school teacher and a musician. When he found out about the opening, he showed up in church one day and stood up and said, “I’d like to apply for the job of music director here, and I’m gay.” We didn’t have any gay people in the whole congregation. Well, some of them weren’t openly gay. But I was so pleased with the congregation. Nobody made any questions about it. And he was a really good musician.

I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.

RNS: A follow-up: If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?

EP: Yes.

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Related articles:

A Response to Eugene Peterson’s Affirmation of Homosexuality

The Bible and Same-Sex Relationships: A Review Article, by Tim Keller, The Gospel Coalition

Eugene Peterson on why he’s leaving public life and whether he fears death

Photo above: Eugene Peterson lecture at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington sponsored by the Seattle Pacific University Image Journal. (By Clappstar (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

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Stated Clerk Discusses the Future of the PCUSA at Big Tent

(By Jana Blazek, Presbyterian Outlook). J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), spoke to participants in a workshop session at Big Tent July 8 about his vision for the denomination and what he sees in its future.

J. Herbert Nelson

Referencing his response to the PCUSA 2016 denominational statistics indicating membership loss of nearly 90,000 members from 2015, Nelson said the denomination is “not dying but reforming,” and that Presbyterians need to continue believing that is true.

“What I’m seeing is change. Things shift,” Nelson said. And he enumerated three factors that he wants Presbyterians to consider:

  1. Reformation takes time. “The Reformation was a long period of time,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t just 95 theses tacked on a door,” as Martin Luther did at the church in Wittenberg, Germany, “and then everything changed.” As Christians prepare to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Nelson described the debates and internal struggles that burdened the church during that time of Reformation. He also referenced his sermon at the beginning of the Big Tent conference, in which he contended that the time is right for another reformation in the church.
  2. The past is competing with the future. Nelson said there is a tension between “the history we carry and bring with us versus the significant changes of the current age.” The church is struggling to keep up with changes in the world such as technology and globalization, he said, but the most significant changes are found in the perspective, hopes and expectations of church members’ children and grandchildren.
  3. Who is the PCUSA? “We’ve been through a lot,” Nelson said. As churches have departed for other more conservative denominations, there is a fear and anxiety among some who remain, he said, about what’s left and what’s next. As the denomination tries to regain its footing, it needs to have a sense of its core. Nelson said Quakers have peace as a major focus – but what about Presbyterians? “There’s no answer,” Nelson said. “We have snapshots of who we are all over the place, but we have no centering point about who we are and about our theology.”

In order to live into the 21st century, Nelson said, Presbyterians need to reflect on “what is our identity as Presbyterians in North American” – as a denomination that has endured a significant split over slavery, a meaningful reunification, and which now is searching for a new way forward.

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