Since worship had nothing to do with the boring or controversial business that would come later to the Assembly, there was the perception of unity. The last time I attended a worship of this type was during my tenure as Moderator of the Presbytery of Giddings/Lovejoy. I cried then, too!
I was able to return one week later with Colleen Chinen, and she experienced the General Assembly up close and personal. This experience of seeing so many Presbyterians in one place was truly inspiring. Maria, Colleen, and I had a positive experience of our church at work in worship.
Some of the issues of potential controversy were decided with a degree of moderation. The resolution to divest the denomination's portfolio from carbon-producing oil companies was not approved. The confession of Belhar as added to our Book of Confessions (the first confession written for and by African Christians) and the resolution to apologize to the LGBTQ community for past sins was also changed to be a form of regret for the church's past behaviors but not an outright apology.
Both the left and right wings of the church appeared to have dodged the bullet on these issues. For the first time in a long while, the local church will not be buffeted by the waves of controversy following a GA.
While I am pleased we were there, I noticed the absence of cohorts I enjoyed in 2003. Conservatives and moderates are now much fewer in number in our Church and the absence of their contribution to our body politic was palpable. I, too, have felt the sting of a "new day" in our Church by those who know me and now have the voice to reject my concerns about the narrowing theological spectrum of our Church.
I also came away with a profound impression that the local church is most responsible for global and local mission. General Assembly budgets are shrinking to catastrophic levels in worldwide mission and domestic programs. Hefty changes are coming in GA per capita and they veil the reality of the Church's membership losses. There is no emphasis on new church development; instead, the 1001 New Worshipping Communities project is the substitute. While this program is very exciting from a fellowship perspective, it is not intended to produce Presbyterian Churches. Clearly mission, not discipleship or baptism, is the national church priority.
So while I miss the days of a more inclusive theology in my denomination with its robust presence of conservatives, moderates, and liberals, I am excited about this era of betting everything on the local church, where we can do exactly what we are called to do at Steel Lake.
In fact, it made me wonder about the purposes of the General Assembly, Synod, and Presbytery, if you follow the logical end of mission beginning and ending with the local church. Steel Lake has always been forced to make decisions with conservatives, moderates, and liberals of our community in mind. The General Assembly no longer has to do that and, in fact, has decided to cross boundaries of constituents regardless of the damage. It is now much more at home with a progressive agenda and clearly its leadership has no need to curb future actions out of respect for a robust conservative and moderate presence. There is no politically viable conservative or moderate voice in the PC(USA).
Churches who leave the denomination, however, are not in touch with reality. Leaving to be with people exactly like us gets us into the same problems we left for. I don't believe any church gets further ahead by leaving. I believe the structure of the national church will change as it runs out of money and as the local church funds what it believes is necessary to accomplish its mission.
It sounds selfish, but Christian faith has always been based on self-interest. Jesus calls us to transcend our personal needs and meet the needs of Christ. Disciples, however, follow Jesus because he asks us: "What do you want?" "Who are you looking for?" Jesus seeks our self-interest and fulfills it. Only then are we able to see that meeting his needs actually gives us personal fulfillment we never imagined.
I envision our local church of the future to be less concerned about where we practice our faith and more concerned that we practice it in the community. I see a future worship service of people who don't fit in anywhere else but find total acceptance with us.
A Church of many voices coming to follow the one Voice who leads them all. I look forward to that day toward which we build every day.