There was a White Paper and then a letter which invited “like-minded” persons to join them in Minneapolis in August for a meeting. The letter famously called the PC(USA) “deathly-ill” and was signed by only male pastors of tall-steeple churches, which caused a bit of furor and merited a clarification. The Fellowship of Presbyterians, as they call themselves, continued to release videos and prompt debate in lead up to the conference which just concluded this last week in Minneapolis.
The Fellowship, despite being young, is well supported. Over 1,900 people attended the gathering in Minneapolis, none of your hosts here at Two Friars and a Fool were present, but we followed the twitter conversation (#mn2011) and have taken the time to roundup reactions from a variety of participants:
David Berge, who gave some of the best Twitter commentary on the event:
Almost 2000 evangelical Presbyterians showed up in Minneapolis for the Gathering because we are hungry for something new. Endless conflict is exhausting, debates in which both sides restate their positions ad nauseum are futile, and wars of attrition have no winners. The passage of 10-A was just a further signal for evangelicals in the PC(USA) that the Presbyterian experiment as it is currently being conducted in our denomination is failing. The Gathering was the catalyst of a new experiment in Presbyterianism that goes by the name of The Fellowship.The Gathering wasn’t about forming a new denomination, but fomenting a movement. A movement that aims to be more relational and less regulatory. One that sees orthodoxy as a standard to which we joyfully aspire, rather than the lowest common denominator on which we can agree. One that seeks to nurture the next generation of ecclesial entrepreneurs, not train chaplains to comfort dying congregations. A movement that believes we work best together when we share core convictions and a common purpose. One that sees structural unity as a necessary but insufficient expression of what it means to have union in Christ. The Gathering wasn’t the beginning of an angry schism, but a first step in the process of life-giving cell-division.
Two things are clear to me: 1) in a year, our denominational landscape will look very different than it does today at all levels. A new denomination will exist that doesn’t exist today, one that is connected to the PC (USA) in ways still to be determined and yet separate and distinct from it, with it’s own theological platform and standards, judicatories, etc. At the same time, new presbyteries and orders within presbyteries may exist that don’t today. Life as we’ve known it since 1983 is about to end.
2) the leadership of the PC (USA) recognizes this and is determined to walk with The Fellowship folks in bringing it about. I can’t recall how many times Gradye Parsons was singled out for praise from the platform in Minneapolis (he and Moderator Cynthia Bolbach both were given time to address the gathering). Gradye and the rest of the staff in Louisville were depicted throughout the gathering as partners and not as opponents, which, honestly, surprised me. That will trouble many, but I think it’s a sign of acumen and awareness on the denomination’s part that something new really does need to happen for the PC (USA) to continue as a viable culture-shaping force in the 21st century.
Carolyn Poteet live-tweeted almost everything every speaker at the gathering said. Her reflection on the experience:
My first experience with the twitter world was as a commissioner to GA last summer. I realized how many people who weren’t in the room still wanted to be in the conversation. With GA, they had the luxury of a live web feed. I had heard that the Fellowship had tried hard to do a live feed for #mn2011, but they weren’t able. I knew what a huge audience that would leave hanging, so I thought I could help, esp judging by the popularity of my seminary notes #ifIhadchargedperpageIwouldhavenostudentloans.
I made a conscious decision to aim for quantity & readability of information over offering a running commentary. There are more than enough people on Twitter offering commentaries. At this conference especially, the need was to get the speeches out so people could process the info on their own. I wanted all sides to have more than soundbites with which to make decisions. I am an evangelical, so my first audience was for my friends at home who weren’t able to come and needed this information to make wise decisions for their own congregations. But my second and equally important audience was to everyone else interested in this conversation – would people listen to headlines or listen to the heart of what people said? Time will tell on all counts. Soli Deo Gloria.
While the media is of course one to polarize an issue, it seems like the Huffington Post is able to say what I haven’t heard many from The Fellowship of Presbyterians fessing up to: it’s about 10A and LGBT folks. Yesterday the Huffington Post ran an article titled “Presbyterians Meet to Consider Leaving Church Over Gay Clergy, Other Issues.” It’s hard to imagine if this Gathering would have received the almost 2,000 folks present if 10A hadn’t passed. Maybe it would have, obviously we’ll never know, but clearly this is the primary issue that is causing the rift in our denomination, and it seems a bit dishonest to make it about other things (we just want to be more missional, we just want to get back to the Essential Tenets & Reformed Distinctives).
But while some of us outsiders remain skeptical of the Fellowship, it must be acknowledged they proposed some creative ideas. Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw suggested that we need to look Roman Catholic Religious Orders like the Jesuits for inspiration for how we can structure our polity, and Vice-Moderator Landon Whitsitt seemed won-over by the end of the gathering:
Want to know what Aric, Doug and Nick think? Check out our reax below.