(By Daryl Nerl, The Morning Call). The highest elected leader of the mainline Presbyterian denomination in the United States urged worshipers on Sunday to seek reconciliation in a schism that has fractured the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, PA.
“Have two people go out to a home and sit and have a discussion,” the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson told church members during a question-and-answer session that followed a worship service he led.
“You have been in a relationship with these folks for years, and you are still in relationships with many of them,” he continued. “Remind them of the times that you have all been together and what it’s meant in the life of this church to be a part of the fold.”
In June, the majority of the 2,600-member congregation voted to leave the mainline denomination to join the more conservative denomination called ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. That decision was contested by the Lehigh Presbytery and the national organization Nelson leads, setting off a legal battle for control of the church building and the 31.5-acre campus.
Nelson, the stated clerk for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), led the worship service for Presbyterians for Unity, the portion of the congregation that wishes to remain with the mainline denomination.
He told them that memories of shared history, stories and longstanding friendships might enable the congregation to heal its rift.
“Help them to understand that you need them, not simply for the growing and the development of the church, but in the continuation of a community of people that have been in and out of each other’s homes and each other’s lives, who bear secrets and hold stories of each other and have been on trips together and worked together,” Nelson said.
Contacted afterward, the Rev. Marnie Crumpler, senior pastor at First Presbyterian, had a different view of reconciliation.
“I think there are longtime friendships between people in both groups and, so as far reconciling friendships, I think that’s important,” Crumpler said. “But I think if reconciling means coming back together as one church, I think we’re already an ECO church, and we’ve already made a decision to be an ECO church.”