Last week hundreds traveled to Chicago for the NEXT Church event, a gathering of mostly younger people looking forward to how the Spirit is reshaping the PCUSA. On Tuesday evening a person in the balcony interrupted Dr. Diana Butler Bass’s presentation to announce that amendment 14F had received the requisite number of presbytery concurrences for approval. Many stood and cheered while others sat somberly reflecting. Giddings-Lovejoy will vote on this amendment at our April 16 meeting.
The following is an excerpt regarding the amendment from a letter issued by the Moderator and Vice Moderator of the General Assembly: Presbyteries have been engaged in conversation, discernment, and prayer concerning the recommendations from the 221st General Assembly (2014) in the nine months since Detroit, Michigan. Today, Amendment 14F (On Amending W-4.9000 Marriage) received the required majority from the presbyteries. The approved amendment to the Book of Order lifts up the sanctity of marriage and the commitment of loving couples within the church. It also allows teaching elders to exercise their pastoral discretion in officiating weddings and in doing so “… the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service.”
After this thoughtful pause, Dr. Bass continued, providing a romp through history, noting repeated patterns, echoing the thoughts of other Christian thinkers of our time, like Phyllis Trible, trying to make sense of the epoch in which we live. “Are we in a Fourth Great Awakening?” Butler-Bass asked. Our era calls for “bridge-builders and prophets” as we are transformed by God and live into “a new way of being.”
Moving forward into an unknown future, Butler Bass reminds us that previous human beings experienced dramatic shifts not unlike the one we are living through. She encourages us to say thank you to our parents in the faith, to honor our ancestors at the same time we experiment, centering through prayer, practicing hospitality, being the Body of Christ in the world.
To date I have worshiped with 31 congregations in the Presbytery—some small and struggling, others large and bustling, most somewhere in between—glimmers of vibrancy everywhere! Sixteen of our 81 congregations saw membership gains last year, while the Presbytery as a whole sustained a net loss of 251 members. (The PCUSA declined by 89,296 members in 2013! 2014 PCUSA statistics are not yet available.)
In the face of these rather dismal statistics, the NEXT Conference burst with energy and enthusiasm. “Behold! I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isa. 43:19) Diana Butler Bass encouraged us to wonder about what God is up to in our midst. The other day I took a walk up my street toward the park. Springing from a neighbor’s lawn were crocus, bright purple and yellow against the brown dormant grass. Only a few days before I had walked this same sidewalk and the crocus had not been there. Yet their small bulbs had been readying a burst of splendor on the warm second day of Spring. What treasures of new life are hovering beneath the surface in our faith communities? What needs to be encouraged with some pushing away of the old? Who needs some kindly attention, the warmth of God’s love? Attending the NEXT Church event were eleven teaching elders from Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery. I wonder… as the Spirit moves us toward the next “BEHOLD!”
The Rev. Dr. Anita Hendrix, Presbytery Leader