When it comes to Presbyterian Churches USA, I attend a very unique one. Unique in that it is growing. Unique in that most people who attend our church rarely know we are Presbyterian Church USA. These statements may get me in trouble, but that is the reality. If you were to attend our 9am Traditional Service you would witness more of the liturgy and vestments that would cue one in on our denominational distinctiveness. But if you were to attend our 11am Contemporary and our 6pm Contemporary/Contemplative Service you would most likely not be cued in on our denominational facets unless a pastor stated it out loud in service.
This is nothing new to denominations and churches. I know of many churches that have dropped or veiled their denominational ties so as not to turn people away. I don’t believe we have dropped or veiled our denominational distinctiveness at all….rather, it’s just not an issue for the majority of our church. Most of our church could care less what denomination we are. They come because of community, because of worship, because of the preaching of the Word. Outside of that, the majority of people don’t come into Los Angeles looking for a Presbyterian Church.
Sometimes when I am speaking in the college group and mention that we are PCUSA, I get staring looks from students as if to say, “What? Really?” Basically, it has no connection with their reality, or why they are there. In fact, if students were honest with me, most might be leary of being a part of the PCUSA because of what they have been hearing in church as of late. They are leary because of the politics involved regarding ordination, polity, etc.
What am I talking about? Are you lost? If so, no worries. It can be confusing sometimes.
Where do I fit into all of this you may ask. I originally went to Fuller Theological Seminary to pursue Ph.D. work with no intention of entering into the ministry. But then there was that pesky nine month church internship that is required in a Master of Divinity program. So I decided I wanted to work with college students and few churches had college ministries, so I decided to find one that did. And that was Bel Air Presbyterian. I called them up and asked if I could intern with them for nine months. They said yes, and six months into my internship they hired me as the full-time college director. That was in July 2002. Over those four years God has really given me a heart not only for college students, but for ministry in general. And my love and passion for the Church, which I have always been a part of, has increased even more. Despite the Church’s flaws and foibles, it is a community that I love being a part of.
So what happens when a seminary student goes through a Master of Divinity program, but isn’t pursuing ordination at the time? What happens is that it puts you way behind. The PCUSA ordination process is about three years full-time. It is a lengthy and demanding process. So here I am with a completed Master of Divinity degree and an almost complete MFT degree, but I am not able to perform any of the sacraments such as communion, weddings, baptisms, etc. Why? Because I am not ordained PCUSA as of yet. That’s not their fault, but my fault.
So why do I tell you all of this? Because I am currently “under care” in the ordination process moving towards “candidacy.” But I have been slow in this process….one, because life is busy and it’s hard to fulfill some of the requirments I have left (3 months full-time/6 months part-time hosptial chaplaincy and 3 months full-time/6 months part-time church internship experience that is different from current church experience) when I already work full-time and finishing up graduate school and am married. Also, I have had questions about the meeting of the PCUSA at the General Assembly that has just happened. I have been waiting to see what they have decided on some issues.
And if I read Mark Roberts new blogging series on the PCUSA,
The End of the Presbyterian Church USA, makes you begin to wonder about the future of our denomination.
I am a newbie in the PCUSA world, relatively speaking, so I don’t have much to offer from a techincal viewpoint of the Book of Order, etc. But I have recently been fielding more and more questions from students who are concerned about what they hear in the PCUSA. And I have also noticed that students don’t care about denominationalism and the decisions churches make at times, as long as it directly doesn’t impact their communities.
So while the PCUSA meets at the General Assembly this week for one of its most important meetings, most of our congregation is unaware and probably doesn’t care.
So as for me now. I will continue to pursue the ordination process and minister to the college students that I love. But in the midst of all this, the future of the denomination I work in seems uncertain.
I will post more on this issue, but also read Mark Roberts blog if you have questions, or are wondering about what is going on. But for now, I leave you with a quote from him:
I’m sad to say I believe this vote is the beginning of the end of the PCUSA. I’m not saying this only because I believe that ordaining people who intend not to practice fidelity and chastity is wrong, but also because any institution that says “Here are the rules but you can decide whether the rules have to be followed or not” is doomed. Consider what would happen if the United States acted like the PCUSA. Under the Constitution, people are guaranteed the freedom of speech. But what would be left of our national union if states had the authority to decide whether or not to allow their residents to speak freely, and in what circumstances. We’d soon find ourselves in unending conflicts and general anarchy. This is where the PCUSA is heading, I fear. Of course some would say, given what has happened today, we’re already there.
Today’s vote to approve the Peace, Unity, and Purity Report has begun to rupture the fragile peace of the PCUSA. It has begun to shatter our institutional unity. It has given tacit approval to the tarnishing of our purity. I’m not suggesting that the people who voted in favor of the PUP Report believe what I just said. On the contrary, they believe that their vote will further the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the PCUSA. I wish I agreed. But I don’t. Even though people I deeply respect have supported the PUP Report, I fear they’ve made a grave mistake.