Presbyterians from all rungs of the theological spectrum gathered at the First Central Presbyterian Church in Abilene, TX for prayer, repentance and reconciliation, on March 17-19, 2005.
Despite vast differences on theological and social issues, right-of-center groups such as the Presbyterian Coalition met with their more liberal counterparts like the Covenant Network to celebrate and share unity in Jesus Christ.
Polity is not going to answer these questions (that divide us), said the Rev. Mark Brewer, a conference participant and pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles to Presbyterian Church news. We have godly, intelligent men and women on both sides of all the issues. Coming together in prayer is the answer. I really believe that. This is the stuff that is going to keep the denomination moving ahead.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), like most mainline denominations, has struggled in its efforts to facilitate communication between the traditional and progressive members of their church. Some PC(USA) members adhere to strict Biblical interpretation on the issues of salvation, ethics, sanctification, abortion and homosexuality, while others hold more liberal views.
The recent three-day conference, sponsored by the Presbyterian Coalition, was meant to reconcile the different groups under a banner of repentance and prayer.
According to conference programmers, repenting to God and confessing your sins is the first way to grow closer to God.
Confession is the statement of an agreement with Gods word about our sins, said the Rev. Jerry Andrews, the Illinois pastor who helped plan the conference as moderator of the Presbyterian Coalition.
The event included Communion, worship, fasting, guest preachers, plenary sessions, small groups and spiritual exercises that featured a form of church prayer sometimes used by John Calvin in Geneva, according to PCNews. Members of the Covenant Network helped plan the conference as well, along with leaders of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, the National Hispanic/Latino Presbyterian Caucus and the National Korean Presbyterian Council. Others were present from a range of ages and groups such as Presbyterians for Renewal, Presbyterians Pro-Life, and the Outreach Foundation of the PC(USA).
The audience for this event is the Almighty, Andrews said to PCNews. We are assured that the word we hear belongs to Him and the prayers that we say are indeed heard. Thats the only exchange thats vital to the success of an event like this.
Other preachers included the Rev. Craig Barnes, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and pastor of Pittsburghs Shadyside Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Cynthia Campbell, the president of McCormick Seminary in Chicago, a member of the conference planning team and of the Covenant Networks executive committee.
Also in attendance were high-ranking PC(USA) officials including the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk of the denominations General Assembly, and GA Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase.
Kirkpatrick led the group in prayer.
Gracious God, you remind us of the gospel that we are all a part of one body of Christ, Kirkpatrick said in the prayer. Forgive us in believing and acting as if the Presbyterian Church (USA) is the church, rather than one part of your global body. Forgive us when we believe and act as if our local congregations are the whole of the church of Jesus Christ. Forgive our failure to be about your work in the world.
Meanwhile, Banes encouraged the 75 attendees to not to go to the left or to the right, but to stay focused on the center: Jesus Christ.
We dont have tomorrow. Jesus has that, Barnes said. We dont have yesterday. Jesus has that too. All that we have is this moment and a critical decision of what will we do at this moment. What will we do about Jesus expectations to bear fruit of the gospel?
We never get a year off from having to bear fruit, Barnes said. We never get a day without Paul. Spending our days worrying about other Presbyterians is a waste of the day. And wasted days are pretty disappointing to Jesus. Apparently, its enough to make him curse.