For some, this is the culmination of a life-long struggle, and the change brings joy and relief. They feel the affirmation and support of their denomination in their calling as leaders in the Body of Christ, or elation for those they love and respect whose calling is recognized and upheld by this change. For others, this is a great sadness. It goes against their understanding of scripture and they feel a loss of trust in their denomination and alienation from what they hold to be true. All of these people - those celebrating today and those mourning - are our sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ, and I find myself in the discomfort of simultaneously celebrating with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. We all long for belonging, connection, support, integrity and wholeness. For some, this change contributes to these things, and for others, this change takes away these very same things.
It has been my privilege to know faithful followers of Jesus, whom I admire and respect, who come out with different understandings of what following Jesus means in many areas. It is also a delicious frustration of our faith that God has not just handed us a list of bullet points that answer every question or universally explain how to do this messy thing of being human, loving God and living faithfully. Instead we get God in flesh: a sweaty, hungry, complex human being, loving and healing, teaching and fully sharing our place. And we get a scrapbook of faith: stories and pictures and poems and descriptions and messages and snapshots of God's constant faithfulness through generations of human beings wrestling in their own times and places with the same needs and struggles we have today. Neither of these is very clean cut or easy to explain or grasp. (God seems to enjoy paradox and ambiguity).
This means that for as long as there have been and will be a Church, God, who is "above all and through all and in all" will embrace in God's abundant welcome different understandings, interpretations and applications of Scripture, but continue to weave and grow us together in "one body, one hope, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith and one baptism." (as gorgeously expressed in Ephesians 4). We are reconciled to God and each other not by our own great faith or beliefs, but by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. I was drawn to the PCUSA because here I found a denomination that wrestles through difficult issues together - that allows one another the freedom and support to come to differing interpretations, conclusions and expressions of faith in Jesus Christ, within a commitment to listen to the voices of the past and of those next to us.
I believe that in this covenant life, rather than by one certain, airtight answer or another, God's Spirit most often works in the tension in between, the messy discerning, the challenge of different voices and experiences, the places of doubt where we need to meet God and not just talk about God. And that for however "right" any of us may be, we are also just as "wrong", and we need one another on this journey of faith. Most importantly, I believe we are guided by the Holy Spirit, and that Christ is still present, with us and for us, and we meet Christ as we are with and for one another. This is God's Church, and God's ministry that we participate in; it began way before us and will go on far after we are gone. We seek to faithfully join in here and now.
So, as unsettled and uncomfortable as it may be, I pray for the courage to continue celebrating with those who celebrate and mourning with those who mourn. I pray that our little congregation may have the openness to live in God's hospitality and continue to extend that mutual and authentic welcome to others - regardless of their beliefs. And I pray for the compassion to continue seeing one another as human beings, beloved sisters and brothers, chosen by God and knit together into this one, messy but beautiful Body.
I invite you to come - in your joy or your grief, and in everything else besides - and sit with us together in the discomfort of the unknown (where the Spirit loves to act!), as the denomination moves forward and we seek - as God's people have always done - to faithfully follow our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.
|"Reconciliation" by Bert Monterona|
For more: The Presbyterian Outlook has links to a number of extremely helpful explanations and resources related to this vote and its implications. It also as an often-updated page with Several responses to this vote from various groups.