Presbyterian Heads Optimistic of Future Despite Challenges

With three controversial decisions on homosexuality, gender and divestment behind them, the two top figures of the Presbyterian Church USA wrote a pastoral letter urging the church to trust the "Presbyterian process of doing things," rather than focusing on volatile disagreements.

"The unity we seek for the church—and the unity we experienced at the assembly—is not just about coming to an agreement," stated the June 25 letter from General Assembly Moderator Joan Gray and Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick. "It is also about being with each other in the healthy struggle to discern God’s will.

"It was that healthy struggle we witnessed at the assembly, and in that struggle we were blessed," they wrote.

Commissioners to the 217th General Assembly last month approved dozens of proposed statements and studies, including a report on sexuality that conservatives warn would open doors to the ordination of homosexual individuals and a study on sexuality that accepts the feminine view of the trinity.

According to the Presbyterian News Service, Kirkpatrick and Gray wrote the pastoral letter "knowing their decisions would be interpreted - and misinterpreted - in a number of ways."

The letter reflected earlier statements by the longtime stated clerk, who said he is "painfully aware" of the challenges that lie ahead.

"We have been painfully aware that in some ways our greatest challenge was not preparing for this assembly but preparing for what happens after this assembly," he told delegates after a slim majority vote on the sexuality report.

Kirkpatrick also said he was aware of the potential impact of other hot-button decisions surrounding the doctrine of Trinity and Israel/Palestine peace initiatives, but expressed hope that Presbyterians will learn about "other items that did not make headlines."

"We hope, over the months ahead, you will hear about the other items that did not make headlines — new church development, Christian education, evangelism, older adult ministries, homelessness, globalization, international mission, multicultural issues, disability awareness, and military chaplains, to name a few," they wrote.

Ultimately, the leaders said they believe "God's Spirit was with us" and that the assembly will act as a "blessing to the whole church."

"We are convinced that God has a future for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We invite you to join us as we move with renewed enthusiasm to doing God’s work in the world," the letter concluded.