A group of 24 leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recently signed a letter seeking reconciliation between the mainline denomination and a conservative breakaway group.
Signers are calling on Presbyterian leaders to "build bridges" with disaffected congregations and urging those thinking about leaving the PC(USA) to "slow down and recognize that there are several viable signs of unity."
The letter, released last week, originated with the Rev. Paul Watermulder, who serves as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame, Calif.
"The presidents of our PCUSA seminaries are considering the issues this letter raises and will individually respond in their own ways sometime after their meeting next week," said Watermulder in an interview with The Christian Post.
"We ask you to put aside whatever slights, wounds, misunderstandings and injustices may have been felt in the past. We ask you to become even more creative in finding ways where none before were seen to exist."
Signers of the letter included attendees to the Fellowship of Presbyterians' "Orlando Covenanting Conference," which concluded last week with the creation of a new body called the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. ECO was created not as an "alternative" to the PC(USA), organizers have clarified, but as an entity in which disaffected Presbyterians can get back to reaching people for Christ.
ECO President John Crosby stressed that they are not "against" the PC(USA). Nevertheless, the new evangelical body was formed amid ongoing concerns over the liberal direction of the denomination, including the lifting of the ban on partnered homosexual clergy in the PC(USA).
Watermulder and others who signed the letter calling for reconciliation efforts acknowledged the sense of "increasing estrangement" some congregations have "reached a breaking point with the recent changes in ordination standards." They recognized in the letter that some feel betrayed and alienated by the PC(USA).
The Rev. Mike Cole, general presbyter for The Presbytery of New Covenant in Houston, Texas, was one of the signatories.
He told CP, "I signed on to assure evangelical Presbyterians that those who interact most with them in the presbytery are committed to continuing the dialogue."
"My hope is that if grace prevails the Kingdom will be advanced and the peacefulness of the dismissals will serve a significant witness to the world about how Christians can separate but still be united."
Cole was one of those who signed that had also attended the Orlando Conference, along with over 2,000 other guests representing an estimated 500 congregations.
"Worship was outstanding and the opportunity to 'rub shoulders' with Presbyterians from across the denomination was refreshing, even though some are clearly committed to leaving the PC(USA)," said Cole.
"I'm saddened by their possible departure because the Church of Jesus Christ is at its best when we seek ways to work together and focus on mission and ministry."
The Orlando conference was organized by The Fellowship of Presbyterians, a group of conservative Presbyterians who had decided to break away from PC(USA) over the denomination's growing acceptance of homosexuality and other theological differences.
The conference included many attendees who represented congregations that sought to remain with PC(USA) or even hold joint membership with ECO and PC(USA).
This is not the first call for reconciliation to come from PC(USA) in response to the actions of The Fellowship.
Days before the Orlando Conference, eight elders from PC(USA) sent out a letter and video hoping to encourage congregations who stayed with the PC(USA) and asking those planning to break away to reconsider their decision.
The most recent effort at reconciliation comes as the ECO establishes its first president, Crosby, pastor of the 5,000-member Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, California.
Crosby will serve as an interim president as the ECO continues to solidify its structure and message. Later this year, ECO's board of directors will elect an official president.