How many years has July 10 rolled past with only Polity teachers, clerks and presbynerds paying attention? The new Book of Order would arrive with some tweaks here and there. And for help, a little insert with a key to the changes.
This year- much of the PCUSA is astir with the changes. Sure there are some minor tweaks that came through. But then the nFOG – a Major revamping of the form of government – has changed the shape and size of the G section. And within the section on ordination standards for officers, the amendment labeled 10-A made more than a tweak.
As of today, July 10, the language that assured that those outside of straight married relationships or chaste single life could not be ordained- is gone.
While the church still stands by scripture and the confessions in our constitution as guiding and instructing our lives, we are trusting the local governing councils (sessions and presbyteries) to determine fitness for service, particularly in the areas of sexual ethics. No longer is that one issue, one way of expressing our humanity, one sin (to one group), one barrier (to another) lifted above any other by its singular presence in the standard.
For many, this is a joyful morning. They see the opportunity to live fully into their life in the church and in their relationships. They no longer feel set apart, as though only part of their gifts were welcome in the service of the church’s mission. Some are looking at partners, children, siblings or parents and wondering if this might signal a new openness to hearing God’s grace in fullness, now that the church has opened its welcome a bit wider.
Still others are mourning or are angered by what they see as the beginning of (or one more step toward) the end of the church they have served. They see capitulation to culture and abandoning of values. They question the interpretation of scripture that has led to the gap between the two “sides”.
If Charles Dickens were a Presbyterian today, he might consider this another of those times that seems both best and worst.
And I suppose it is. Those who see hope are also grieving the loss of sister churches who feel they must leave. After years of struggle and staying in communion in spite of feeling marginalized, it is difficult to watch others choose to break. And yet, there is a sense of anticipation of a new thing, a new move of the Spirit in the midst of it all.
My prayer on this July 10-A is for openness:
Open hearts and minds, seeking the Spirit who brings fresh power and inspiration
Open doors, welcoming all who enter
Open ears, listening to voices we’ve silenced in the past
Open hands, releasing those things, ideas, people, traditions and beliefs that have become idols; setting them aside.
And as we stand, open and waiting, open our eyes to the mission, to the work you have prepared for us and prepared us to do. Fill us, focus us, bless us to bless others.