As Presbyterians set out for dramatic changes to turn around its decline in membership, church leaders say the outrage that erupted from a controversial vote last year has subsided.
"My gut tells me two things – the level of anger and confusion and mistrust that I think we all experienced after last year's General Assembly has moderated greatly," said Joan Gray, moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, "and I sense new energy coming up 'from the bottom' of the church."
The 2006 General Assembly, the denomination's highest governing body, had approved an "authoritative interpretation" of the church's ordination standards, allowing greater leeway for homosexual ordination. The PC(USA) has been in conflict over ordaining gays for decades and the controversial measure prompted a growing number of congregations to leave the denomination.
Over a year later, church officials do not feel a mass exodus of congregations is as threatening today.
"We had the anxiety that hundreds of churches would be leaving, and that there would be masses of unconstitutional ordinations – neither of which has happened," Gray told the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly during an Oct. 2-5 meeting, according to the Presbyterian News Service.
After the emotional reaction to last year's vote, Gray believes the denomination's "decent-and-in-order genes" have kicked in and sees Presbyterian congregations across the country engaging in a new direction for the growth of the church.
Bob Wilson, vice-moderator of last year's General Assembly, has been meeting committed Presbyterians in the pews and found that they are positive about the future of the PC(USA).
Meanwhile, dissident Presbyterians are planning to gather for an Oct. 28-30 convocation where many congregations will either vote to remain within the PC(USA) or realign with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) – a much smaller and more conservative denomination. The New Wineskins Convocation, to be held in Fair Oaks, Calif., is scheduled to inaugurate the New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery that the EPC recently created to accommodate the increasing number of Presbyterian churches seeking membership.
Baptisms, meanwhile, have continually decreased in the PC(USA) in recent years, including the largest membership dip of 2.05 percent in 2005.
Controversy within the PC(USA) isn't just around homosexuality. Conservative Presbyterians had begun leaving the PC(USA) when the General Assembly in 2001 did not affirm the singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ.