14 That is why I kneel before Abba God, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 And I pray that God, out of the riches of divine glory, will strengthen you inwardly with power through the working of the spirit. 17 May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, so that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 will be able to grasp fully the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love and, with all God’s holy ones, 19 experience this love that surpasses all understanding, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 To God—whose power now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine—21 to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, world without end! Amen.
The Inclusive Bible,
Priests for Equality
I am a sometimes elder-commissioner to the Presbytery of San Gabriel. In the Presbyterian Church (USA), elders are the lay leaders of the church, commissioned by the same ordination vows as those taken by members of the clergy. Teaching Elders and an equal number of Ruling Elders are voting members of the presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly of the PC(USA).
(Until very recently we called them Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, but now they’re called Teaching Elders — while elders are called Ruling Elders. This is actually a return to old nomenclature of the church.)
Anyway… I was sharing a little story with one of my friends there about an experience that I had at the 219th General Assembly in 2010:
I sat in the press section of the committee that was charged with issues pertaining to Marriage and Civil Unions — which is to say, “what do we do about the gays and lesbians who are getting married?” This was part of my work as web minister and social media coordinator of That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS), one of the inclusive church organizations of the denomination. I was sitting next to Jim Berkley of The IRD and the Presbyterian Layman during the session. The committee broke for lunch and everyone left; I too was preparing to leave when I got a phone call asking if I could do a little project during the lunch break. I agreed to do so. When people started filing back into the room, Jim Berkley took his seat. He made a remark to the effect that I must have found a quicker place for lunch than he had. I told him that I’d stayed there to work, skipping lunch. He then reached down to his briefcase on the floor, pulling out a Butterfinger and a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups — and he asked which one I’d rather have. I opted for the Peanut Butter Cups, and I thanked him.
Now, Mr. Berkley and I are at opposite ends of the theological spectrum; as far apart as two people could be. But God managed to find something that we had in common, and provide us with an opportunity to break bread (of sorts) together.
At the presbytery meeting yesterday we had a presentation and discussion of a “gracious dismissal” policy (which my fingers keep wanting to call “gracious dismal”) that will be voted on at a special meeting on September 27. There are several churches who have voted to leave our presbytery — but not the denomination — so this policy would not apply to them wanting to transfer, rather than to be dismissed. Nevertheless, it’s still a separation, something that is out of sync with the Apostle Paul’s “love that surpasses all understanding” he writes to the church at Ephesus about.
If some of the churches of the denomination choose to go other directions, opportunities such as the accidental (even if brief) friendship and communion that Jim Berkley and I were able to share will not arise. I admit that presbytery meetings and other such gatherings make me extremely cranky, I value diversity of all kinds. I have appreciated conversations with a conservative colleague who is also a cancer survivor. I honor the fact that another conservative serves as the president of the board of an organization that I love.
We are called by God to love one another as we love God. If God is our spiritual parent, then we are all siblings — whether we like it or not.
I haven’t decided how I will cast my vote, because I can’t see my way through to formulate other, better options. But one thing I am certain of is that God calls us to stay together and work on it as part of one family.