On Sunday, July 27, we had a special presentation prepared by the Session about the Fellowship of Presbyterians. Eighty-six of our members participated in small group discussions and 64 of them took the time to fill out a response form which gave us a snapshot of what the congregations thinks. Forty-two respondents were emphatic in saying “Yes,” they are “concerned about the decline of the Presbyterian church.” And 33 said they were in favor of joining the Fellowship. For now, the Session has made no decision regarding joining. We are trying to bring to you information about this organization. To that end, we expect to publish more information in our Newsletter and provide opportunities to talk. Let the elders know what you think.
Got A Question?
Following our special service of July 27 when we focused on the Fellowship of Presbyterians the Session met to discuss what we heard in the small groups and in written comments many of you made. We appreciate the feedback and decided we need to keep this conversation going. There will be special articles in the Newsletter and at least one other congregation-wide special event at the end of October on Reformation Sunday. Another way we hope to inform you about the Fellowship is that each Sunday we will be presenting an answer to a question you ask. If you have a question or comment about the Fellowship of Presbyterians, please fill out the blank cards placed in the bulletin and put them in the offering. We will try to respond on a regular basis.
Here is a sample question which has been asked many times of the pastor and the elders in different ways.
Q. If First Presbyterian Church of Oneida joins the Fellowship of Presbyterians, are we leaving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?
A. The plain, simple, answer is, No.
The Fellowship of Presbyterians is a group of congregations and pastors who have chosen to remain within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and dedicate themselves to “building flourishing congregations who make disciples of Jesus Christ.” The Fellowship of Presbyterians is not a new denomination. It may be described as a renewal organization, or as an association, which seeks to strengthen congregations and pastors. Currently about 350 congregations in the P.C. (U.S.A.) have formally joined the Fellowship and others such as the Session of this congregation are considering the question.
Here is an excerpt from a message by Jeff Meyers, the pastor of North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. His congregation has joined the Fellowship of Presbyterians instead of leaving the PC(USA) in response to recent controversies. He writes:
Every church and denomination has its dark side. Unfortunately, what someone thinks is a dark side someone else calls shade. Good, bad, better, worse are relative to (your) perspective, experience, and context. Jesus didn’t say a lot about those factors but rather told us how to live in the midst of them when he instructed us to love God, neighbor, and even our enemies. … If church history teaches us anything, it is that church controversies come and go. You may have been a winner this time around, but don’t gloat because the next decision may not go your way. In the ebb and flow of church politics the question becomes, "Can we love one another in the process of exchanging reasons, disagreeing, and just being plain different from one another?"
While fashionable throughout church history, leaving one’s church and denomination doesn’t seem to resolve the question about whether we can follow Christ’s command. Wherever we go there will be another controversy waiting for us. If we keep running from God’s call to love those people we disagree with we will eventually end up at the First Church of One. While coming to a consensus at that church might be easy, it will probably make the potlucks kind of a drag. … we need to see (the Church) as a community to love, teach, push and challenge us.
If we are to respond to Christ with the same love and grace that he has shown us, then it means we will need to love those people with whom we disagree and even those who want to do us in. We must come (to church) to serve and not to be served.
Jeff Meyers is Teaching Pastor at North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA.
He holds a BA from the University of Washington and an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary
where he was awarded the Fellowship in Religion and Society.