Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Presbyterian Polity Crash Test

Many of you recall about a year ago when we prayed for our fellow congregation in Newark.  Your clerk remembers all too well the 5+ hour meeting in which we as a presbytery voted to place an Administration Commission at the church.  For those who are confused, AC (for short) can be placed in churches and presbyteries for several different reasons, but the one the presbytery voted to in June 2013 was an AC that gave original jurisdiction, essentially taking all authority away from the session. 

This may seem extreme.  And I assure you that the Committee on Ministry did not offer this option to the presbytery with joy but instead a heavy heart.  But we are a member of the PC (USA) which means we are larger than just the few churches.  And in this case, this allowed the church in Newark to bring the Presbytery up on charges - charges of irregularity, both in the process and the decision making. 

Last week I along with 2 colleagues traveled to Albany to represent the Presbytery to Synod along with several representing the session at the Newark church that were replaced with the AC. After a very long day for the trial and another long day of waiting for an answer the Synod found in favor of the Presbytery and the AC at Newark can now move ahead with original jurisdiction.  For the last 10 months much has been in limbo as the decision was waiting to be made. 

Surprisingly, the Bible has several passages that would discourage us as Christians from going to court with each other and to work out our differences.  And yet, so too often we are the first to go against our fellow Christians - our courts and lawyers are full of lawsuits. 

Yet, when we are in conflict, especially a church in conflict with itself, it is easy to triangle your conflict to beyond your group.  This is what happen in this case.  Once one side just got too personal, the other side began to entertain the conflict and before anyone could stop the forward movement of the conflict - it was at a high level and no matter what happened - more conflict was in the future.  Perhaps this ended last week when the Synod found in our favor and everyone can begin steps to move forward.  Hopefully we all learned from this.

Our reading for this Sunday is from Acts 7 and the martyr of Stephan.  We often focus on the murder and the actions of the crowd.  Clearly the crowd had a preconceived idea that Stephan was guilty as they were easily turned.  And we could focus on all the details of the martyr but then we would missed the glory of God.  You see, even in the midst of his martyr Stephan, offers forgiveness to the crowd.

I believe we have learned from this, I believe that Newark can move on for this.  I pray that all those hurt by this can still find the glory of God in the midst of our angry.  I pray that we don't have to go to trial again.