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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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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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Skaneateles-area Residents, Lost Boy Celebrate Decade of Making a Positive Difference

(By Ellen Leahy, Auburnpub.com) This is a story of one church and two villages working together to change the world. It’s the Skaneateles First Presbyterian Church in the village of Skaneateles, New York, and the village of Duk Payuel, in Duk County, Jonglei State, South Sudan.

These “sister villages” came together 10 years ago to provide health services and famine relief as well as to raise awareness of the plight of the Sudanese people, who have been and are currently engaged in war.

The sisterhood between the two villages evolved when the First Presbyterian Church [Presbyterian Church (USA)]  welcomed several of the so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan refugees into their congregation — Andrew Chol, Jacob Majok, Santino Ajak and John Dau. The church helped in their resettlement in Syracuse and served as a spiritual home.

The Rev. Craig Lindsey said he received a call from Interfaith Works asking his congregation to sponsor four South Sudanese refugees for their first three months of resettlement in Syracuse.

“We’ve sponsored refugees since World War II,” Lindsey said.

Prior the helping the Lost Boys, all of these individuals had been from middle-class families and had some idea of how the West operated. But the South Sudanese were tribal people who had never seen modern conveniences, systems or structures.

Lindsay passed a clipboard around the congregation one Sunday and asked who might want to sign up to give a day to these young men. It would involve going to pick them up in Syracuse, to bring them to church in Skaneateles, perhaps some socializing with family, help on errands and then back home again. He said everyone got involved and soon the late Ann Nichols rose to the top as their adopted grandmother and Jack Howard (now in his 90s) became their grandfather, while Lindsay was simply known as “Pastor.”

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Visit the web site of the The John Dau Foundation

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Easton’s PCUSA Church Closes Its Doors for Final Time

After a century and a half, much of it spent without a permanent minister, a small Easton, Missouri, church is officially closing its doors.

“It’s been bittersweet trying to get through this,” says Connie Kerns, a member of Easton Presbyterian Church, “but sometimes you have to make a change.”

Easton Presbyterian Church officially ceased Sunday, July 9, with a ceremony held at a neighboring church in the small community. Dwindling membership and a building in increasing need of extensive repairs made it time to close the church, members say.

“In the last 10 years, we were welcoming, but when we didn’t have a full-time pastor, it was hard to offer a lot,” Kerns says. “We had an excellent Sunday school, but people like to be preached to from the Bible. Our Sunday School was very good, but it was hard to attract people with the age of the building.”

This year marks the 150th anniversary for the church, which was started in 1867 by approximately 16 people who gathered with the intention of creating a Presbyterian church in the community. The following year, they reported a membership of 103 to the Presbyterian General Assembly.

Around the same time, “block 18” in Easton was deeded to the church trustees and a church building, built at a cost of approximately $800, was constructed.

“At some point in time, there was a house, a church manse, built on the church property, too,” Kerns says. “From the deeds, that looks like that might have been built in 1907.”

Despite the early success founding the church, historically, it was difficult to secure a long-term pastor, Kerns says. 

“In reading the minutes, it just seems like the church always had a problem keeping a pastor. They would have one for a couple of years, he would go to a bigger church, people moved away,” she says. “It just never grew. It just didn’t really take off.”

The Union Sunday School at the church helped sustain the congregation. Although intertwined in the church, it wasn’t strictly Presbyterian in denomination and was open to everyone, Kerns says.

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University of the Ozarks Signs Covenant with PCUSA Church

(University of the Ozarks and First Presbyterian Church of Clarksville entered into a covenant allowing the church to hold weekly services in the university’s Munger-Wilson Memorial Chapel.

The covenant, which recognizes the longstanding partnership between the two institutions, was signed in June by University of the Ozarks President Richard Dunsworth and Pat Farmer, clerk of session for the church and a UofO professor emeritus, a news release states. Farmer, who taught theater at the university from 1987 to 2011, said a declining membership prompted church members to look for alternative venues to hold weekly services.

“As is the case with many other mainline churches who are declining in membership, First Presbyterian, Clarksville, was financially unable to maintain its 100-year-old building,” Farmer said. “Knowing that the church is the people and not the building, the congregation unanimously voted to leave its historic home and to start a new and exciting chapter in our life as we discover what it means to be a church without property.”

The church held its first Sunday service in Munger-Wilson Chapel on June 4.

Dunsworth said the agreement is a celebration of the partnership in ministry and service the two institutions have had for more than 150 years.

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PCUSA Stated Clerk Urges Ben & Jerry’s to Strike Agreement with Vermont Dairy Farmers

‘Milk With Dignity’ designed to ensure sustainability, improve conditions

(From the Office of General Assembly Communications.) In a public letter to the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II, has implored Jostein Solheim to honor his commitment and sign onto the Milk With Dignity program so that the anticipated transformational gains may become a reality in Vermont’s dairy industry.

In his letter to Jostein Solheim, Nelson writes: “… you have the ability to dramatically improve the human rights of Vermont farmworkers and ensure the sustainability of Vermont dairy farmers by joining this program.” The Milk With Dignity program was developed by Migrant Justice, a human rights organization of Vermont dairy farmworkers.

Migrant Justice has been urging Ben & Jerry’s to work with them to end farmworker poverty and dangerous working conditions and to ensure the sustainability of small Vermont dairy farmers through the Milk With Dignity program.

This program was modeled on the extraordinary success of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, which uses the power of retail purchasing to elevate human rights in the U.S. tomato industry and defined a new paradigm of Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) that could be replicated.

The WSR paradigm has also been used in the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Safety and was lifted up in the most recent 222nd General Assembly (2016) policy on ending slavery in supply chains.

Ben & Jerry’s has distinguished itself for its commitment to social justice and had, in 2015, agreed to the Milk With Dignity program in principle. But to date, the company has not signed a formal agreement that would make Milk With Dignity a reality for farmworkers struggling to survive in difficult working conditions or small Vermont dairy farmers endeavoring to stay afloat in a competitive market.

The full text of Nelson’s letter, dated June 23, 2017:

Mr. Jostein Solheim
Chief Executive Officer
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc.
30 Community Drive
South Burlington, VT 05403-6828

 

Dear Mr. Solheim:

 

I am writing on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to implore you to honor your June 2015 commitment to enter into a legally binding agreement to join the Milk with Dignity Program developed by Migrant Justice.

 

With a stroke of your pen, you have the ability to dramatically improve the human rights of Vermont farmworkers and ensure the sustainability of Vermont dairy farmers by joining this program, whose Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) principals have already been proven uniquely effective elsewhere.

 

The 1.4 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) has worked in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers since 2002 to help bring, now, fourteen corporations into the Fair Food Program. The program has been internationally recognized for its comprehensive and swift gains in farmworker rights even as it has helped corporations establish true risk management by eradicating what had been endemic human rights abuses.

 

When our church’s efforts began with the farmworkers, we were hopeful and dedicated but had to labor in faith for that which was not yet seen. It is hard to describe the joy that has come from seeing these hopes turn into true rights, realized by thousands of human beings, our sisters and brothers, who had been too-long denied.

 

I share this because Ben ‘n Jerry’s is positioned to inaugurate similar gains in the Vermont dairy industry. Indeed these gains cannot be done without you, because in the Milk With Dignity Program your purchasing would buttress these advances by agreeing to only purchase milk from suppliers that agree to, and are in good standing with, a rights-based code of conduct that has been designed by and for workers.

 

I urge you, do not delay any longer. Every day is a day that farmworkers continue to suffer, farms are stretched further, and your customers grow more impatient. Sign in fact what you have already agreed to in principle, so that these anticipated transformational gains in human rights and sustainability may become a reality in Vermont’s dairy industry.

 

The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

View original article here.

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Appeals Court Hears Oral Arguments in PCUSA Defamation Case Brought by Roger Dermody

(By Leslie Scanlon, The Presbyterian Outlook). FRANKFORT, Ky. – A three-judge Kentucky Court of Appeals panel heard oral arguments June 26 in Roger Dermody’s appeal of a state court ruling in the defamation lawsuit he filed in May 2015 against the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Roger Dermody

Dermody, the PCUSA’s former deputy executive director for mission, was one of four men who lost their jobs with the denomination in 2015, following an ethics investigation involving the 1001 New Worshipping Communities program.

Dermody’s lawyer, Stephen Pence, argued before the Court of Appeals judges that while the PCUSA claims that Dermody violated its ethics policy, he did nothing dishonest or deceitful – which is what “people in their common, everyday language” think of as unethical.

While the denomination might say that Dermody violated its ethics policy, it’s defamatory to say “he had actually engaged in any unethical conduct,” Pence said. “He did not. … There was no dishonesty. There was no deceit.”

Dermody and three other PCUSA employees – Philip Lotspeich, Eric Hoey and Craig S. Williams – lost their jobs in 2015 following an investigation involving an unauthorized $100,000 grant sent to a nonprofit corporation set up in California. All of the money was repaid, and Linda Valentine, former executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, has said none of the four acted for personal gain. The 1001 program is the denomination’s effort, endorsed by the 2012 General Assembly, to create 1001 new worshipping communities from 2012 to 2022.

Representing the PCUSA, lawyer John Sheller told the appeals court panel – presiding Judge Glenn Acree, along with judges Sara Walter Combs and Debra Hembree Lambert – that Dermody was not involved in setting up the corporation, but supervised those who did.

In September 2015, a state court judge in Louisville dismissed Dermody’s lawsuit, granting the PCUSA’s request for a summary judgment in the case. In that ruling, Jefferson Circuit Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman wrote that for the court to determine whether Dermody had committed an ethics violation, as the PC(USA) determined he had done, would require the court to interpret church doctrine and policies. And that’s not allowed, she wrote, under what’s known as the “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine and ministerial exemption,” through which the courts decline to become involved with matters of internal church governance.

In appealing that ruling, Dermody is asking that the case be sent back to state court for a jury trial.

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222nd General Assembly Amendments Roundup

(By Stephen Salyards, The Presbyterian Outlook). The cycle of [Presbyterian Church (USA)] General Assemblies bring with them a certain rhythm. And as we reach the midway point between the last GA and the next, we mark the completion of the presbyteries’ amendment voting process and the publication of a new Book of Order with the approved changes.

All 16 constitutional amendments proposed by the 222nd assembly in 2016 were approved by the presbyteries by large margins. The new provisions will take effect on June 25, 2017 – one year from the adjournment of the assembly.

And so, we have new constitutional documents – some with small and subtle modifications, others with large and sweeping changes.

Directory for Worship

The most extensive change is the revision of a whole section of the Book of Order with the approval of a revised Directory for Worship (DFW). The rewriting of the DFW was a decade-long process, so it also reflects the philosophy behind the earlier complete revision of the Form of Government section and creation of the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity section. Specifically, the revision provides for a “shorter, better organized, more accessible, and thoroughly Reformed” document, as the rationale associated with the General Assembly action puts it. It goes on to say that the new DFW “seeks to foster freedom and flexibility, with openness to a broader range of worship styles and cultural expressions.”

The new DFW is roughly one-third shorter than the previous version, though it remains mostly parallel in structure. However, the concluding three chapters (which discuss personal worship; worship and the community of faith; and worship and the ministry of the church in the world) have been combined into one chapter that is more narrative in nature than the previous version. The new DFW is intended to emphasize guidance rather than be viewed as a rulebook. For example, the previous sequential formulation of W-3.3603 (which included four baptismal vows, the affirmation of faith and two promises of the congregation) has been replaced by a narrative section:

“W-3.0405: Candidates for Baptism or their parents shall renounce evil and profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Those who are being baptized upon profession of faith declare their intent to participate actively and responsibly in the church’s worship and mission. Together with the congregation they profess their faith using the Apostles’ Creed, the baptismal affirmation of the early Church.”

Along with the revised DFW is a proposed change to the section in the current version that discusses the theology of the Lord’s Supper. However, since the new wording has already been incorporated into the newly adopted DFW, this amendment is redundant. But since this is a significant change in wording and theology, it is worth noting that it addresses who may receive the Lord’s Supper. The rationale for the amendment also discussed our theology of the table versus the usual practice when the sacrament is administered. The previous wording explicitly stated that the invitation “is extended to all who have been baptized” and to baptized children according to their level of maturity. The new wording opens up the invitation saying:

“All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended.”

Teaching elder vs. Minister of Word and Sacrament

An amendment with the name “Ordered Ministry Titles” may seem like a bit of wordsmithing to some, but to others it is a discussion at the heart of our Presbyterian polity.

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