I had a long conversation with the session about our denomination's polity. We were in a kind of gray zone in 2009, following the release of the "Peace, Unity, and Purity" task force report. From their final report (accepted by the General Assembly in 2006 and available here), a description of that commission's mandate:
The plan that the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church adopted for its work was in keeping with its broad mandate to help the church discern its identity for the 21st century, as well as the specific charge to address four issues that have been the focus of controversy and conflict: biblical authority and interpretation, Christology, ordination standards, and power.
|'Vine and Fig Tree' window.|
Union Presbyterian Church, Endicott, NY
In 2009, the PCUSA was living in the light and/or shadow (depending on how you saw it) of the report. This meant, among other things, the strong recommendation that governing bodies (church sessions, presbyteries, synods, and the General Assembly) spend time in discernment together, placing a primary value on unity (not uniformity), and to try to use all available methods of communication/ listening prior to judicial processes, which were seen as a very last resort, to be avoided if at all possible.
That's a long-winded way of saying: it was a time of trying to live with our diversity. Even (maybe) a lesbian pastor.
By the time the session meeting was over, we had a tentative plan on how to proceed. We would try to get help with the polity issues from someone outside the congregation. (* Thank you Covenant Network and TDK. You were awesome. *) We would seek to have opportunities for the congregation to talk, with and without me present. We would try to offer some small group options as well as larger "town hall" type gatherings. I would visit people who wanted a visit, and I would reach out to anyone who had gone quiet.
As I drove to meet my partner and my daughter for a late dinner, I remember the feeling of fatigue that washed over me. I was emotionally drained, but I was also filled with a very quiet joy: I had the session's support. Unanimously. That's not to say that they were of one mind entirely-- on every LGBTQ issue, let's say. But there was strong agreement that we would try to go forward together. I was their pastor.
With each step along this path I had returned to the Ash Wednesday daily lectionary reading that had made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
As we work together, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! ~ 2 Corinthians 6:1-2
As I drove home, those verses kept echoing in my head. And tomorrow I would begin to learn how the staff and the rest of the congregation would respond.