Issue Number 17
What is the Reconciling Dialogue Project?In the Reconciling Dialogue Project, Presbyterian Promise will try to live out its goals of being both prophetic and pastoral. In our call to be prophetic, we will continue to challenge church and society's discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. With the Reconciling Dialogue Project, we hope to strengthen our nurture of a more pastoral environment for LGBT folk and their families, and of an environment of reconciliation. It is incumbent on us as Christians in community to do this. Inattention to these endeavors may be part of the cause of the denomination's stalemate, fatigue, and continued miscommunication around gender and sexuality issues.
Our work with Plowshares Institute focuses on transforming conflict, energizing our individual and congregational abilities to communicate and empathize deeply, and finding ways to nurture pastoral empathy and vigor. Working with Plowshares, and sustained by God's grace, we will develop conversations that enable the sharing of individual stories and help us to identify and accept our differences. From these conversations, based on our individual experiences of vulnerability and faith, we will work to create "safe places" that strengthen congregations and enable them to accept diversity across the painful realities of misunderstanding, alienation and oppression.
We believe that participating groups will begin to appreciate and be more prepared to address the issues of neglected ministry and gender-related injustice in our churches and communities. We are excited to imagine that the Project may be able to develop models that will be tested in this first year and may prove to be adaptable for use in other situations and other places. We hope that we may provide a process and environment here that others will want to emulate. We feel strongly that we have something important to contribute to the Presbyterian Church USA and to our own movement that has worked for decades for justice and love.
Specifically, the RDP will develop models that include:
Why Plowshares?When Presbyterian Promise advertised for a coordinator for the Reconciling Dialogue Project, we anticipated hiring an individual. Indeed, we received responses from some very gifted people who have worked diligently for a more welcoming church. But the spirit of experimentation and hope that led to the Project's pastoral and personal approach was honored by the arrival of applications from organizations that had extraordinary records of mediation and conflict resolution. Their work provided evidence of transformational peacemaking. With surprise and gratitude, the search committee met with these organizations and recommended to the Presbyterian Promise board that we contract with Plowshares Institute to carry out what we feel is important and prophetic ministry.
What is/who are Plowshares InstitutePlowshares Institute (PI) has worked primarily in the international realm, serving as a catalyst for social change by collaborating to design programs that build skills in conflict transformation. They work where people disagree strongly, where dialogue has become nonproductive, and where people take up arms to resolve the situation. Their impact has been such that the organization was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 by members of the South African parliament. The nomination declared that the Plowshares training aided both the negotiations that did away with apartheid and the reconciliation process that followed.
Located in Simsbury, CT, the Institute is led by Rev. Bob Evans, a minister member of the Presbytery of Southern New England, and Alice Evans, an elder at First Presbyterian in Hartford, CT, one of Presbyterian Promise's sponsoring churches. PI knows PSNE. Elizabeth Vélez and Matthew Bennett complete the Plowshares team. For more information see: www.plowsharesinstitute.org/
Plowshares has worked on LGBT issues before, and was attracted to the Reconciling Dialogue Project by what they saw as the possibility of doing something new, worthwhile, and transferable. We welcome them as friends, colleagues, and partners. To fulfill its role with integrity, PI will take no stance on the ordination issue that focuses so much of the controversy in our denomination. Their expertise lies in helping create and nurture transformational communication and healing.
The Reconciling Dialogue Project in the broader Perspective:One of the persons responding recently to the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity Report put it this way: "I think we're seeing the Presbyterian version of the 'Washington Bubble' — the disconnection of leadership from the membership. . . . We can't expect someone else to solve our problems for us. No small group of people, no matter how faithful, is going to fix us. In order to make the church whole, the whole church must do the real work."
In the next year, in partnership with Plowshares Institute, we intend to begin to "do the real work" here in PSNE among our brothers and sisters in Christ. This work carries on the work we've been engaged in, but in new and hopeful ways, with partners who bring refined and powerful gifts that may help us move beyond the stalemate that stymies us. We will strive to make the Reconciling Dialogue Project an experiment that emphasizes the pastoral dimension of our movement's work and explores the possibilities of justice-making through reconciliation. Perhaps, God willing, our project will be a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to permeate and transform us, to flow freely "high surging where it will."
We are requesting that commissioners study and pray over this request and its accompanying rationale and be prepared to discuss and vote on it at the November meeting. It is our hope that by November a number of other Sessions will have taken similar action.
The General Assembly Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity believes that the unity of the Church will be best served by making no constitutional changes in regard to ordination.* We totally reject that conclusion. It is the moral equivalent of the argument made before the civil war that the Presbyterian Church should make no statements on slavery because it would split the Church. Witnessing to the truth and opposing injustice are more essential to our spiritual welfare and to the purity of the Church than preserving unity at any cost.
Further we believe that passage of this overture will ultimately promote peace and reconciliation within the Church. There can be no reconciliation while some of our brothers and sisters are excluded from ordained service because they act on their sexual orientation and refuse to hide this fundamental fact of their lives.
There can be reconciliation when every Church is free to discern whom God has called to serve as elders and deacons, and when every Presbytery is free to discern to whom God has given the calling and gifts for service in ministry. No Session, Congregation or Presbytery will be compelled to ordain homosexual persons, or to accept such persons into service in their particular Church or Presbytery nor will any governing body be prohibited from doing so.
If we can learn to respect the judgment and actions of our brothers and sisters in Christ then the whole Church can be united by the huge body of faith and convictions which Presbyterians hold in common and which are highlighted by the report of the Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity.
We urge every Presbyterian who shares our vision of an inclusive Church to request their session to join in support of this overture, and work for its passage in November.
The full text of the action of the First Presbyterian Church session follows this article.
*To read more about the report of the Task Force on Peace, Unity and
Purity go to
Terry Davis, Pastor
We further request the Council to distribute this action to the Commissioners at the Presbytery of Southern New England's stated September meeting for information and to schedule debate and action on this for the stated November meeting.
Proposed Overture for the 217th GA (2006)On issuing an authoritative interpretation clarifying standards for ordination, and deleting G-6.0106b:
The Presbytery of Southern New England respectfully overtures the
217th General Assembly (2006) to do the following:
Reconciliation is the hope of this overture. Despite all the passionate rhetoric, rumors and innuendoes, we believe reconciliation through clarification and resolution was the hope of those who drafted and ratified what is now G-6.0106b. Sadly, G-6.0106b has failed in its purpose. If anything, it has deepened the painful divisions experienced by men and women of good faith.
Reconciliation must be our hope. Reconciliation is not a compromise of true belief. It is the possibility God has given us. We are God's people, brothers and sisters. As God's people, we have no choice. We are family. Anything that makes reconciliation harder must be overcome.
Reconciliation is God's promise to us. All have sinned. None deserve God's love. It is not ours to use God's gifts to cause the alienation of any of God's people. Reconciliation is not ours to withhold. It is God's gift.
Reconciliation will not be achieved by winning votes. Yet this overture must pass before the work of reconciliation can begin. Removing G-6.0106b will not heal our denomination; it is a step toward that end. Removing it will affirm our trust and love for each other. It will affirm that we trust each other to act for the good of the whole church when we ordain and install leaders.
Reconciliation is our hope in God. In calling for the passage of this
overture, we lay claim to hope. G-6.0106b and its related interpretive
statements create a situation where some have power over others. Many dare
not speak the truth of their experience of God. Many live in fear that
their truth will cause others to exclude them from their livelihood, from
their church community, from their family. People of all theological perspectives
know this fear. Many experience G-6.0106b and its interpretations as denying
the reality of God's reconciling grace. We still see as if in a dim mirror.
In humility, we need to learn all we can from each other. We need to move
beyond our past efforts, however well intentioned, so we can reason together
and again show the world how Christians love one another.
"A Season of Discernment: The Final Report of The Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church"Essential to the work and core values of That All May Freely Serve is the belief that there can be no second-class membership for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people in the full work and worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The National Board of That All May Freely Serve is sincerely grateful for the efforts of the Theological Task Force as it has thoughtfully and prayerfully written its report. Our response to the Theological Task Force and its work offers respect and appreciation for their achievement but disappointment for what was left unsaid and undone.
That All May Freely Serve holds up the Task Force's affirmation of the constitutional provisions of G-6.0108 a. and b. These provisions are firmly rooted in "The Adopting Act of 1729" and the "Plan of Union of 1758." The principle and practice of "scruples" is steadfastly based on the right and responsibility of the governing body that ordains and/or installs a candidate. That governing body is the ultimate deciding body in judging whether or not the candidate has departed from the essentials of Reformed faith and polity and thus worthy of being ordained and/or installed to an ordained office.
Our polity makes it clear that the General Assembly establishes the ordination standards that are to be held in common across the denomination. In alignment with that fact, we uphold the principle of Presbyterian polity: presbyteries and sessions are given responsibility and authority, as succinctly summarized in G-6.0108, to decide what candidates may or may not be ordained and/or installed by that particular governing body. That All May Freely Serve cites Amendment G-6.0106 b. as an aberration set within the context of this rich and historical principle of Presbyterian polity. For this and many other reasons G-6.0106 b. must be deleted without delay.
What disappoints us is that the exclusionary practices of this church continue to be tolerated as part of a timeline for the promise of peace, purity, and unity. Such a position at any level of our government or in any recommendations is tantamount to accepting the inherent violence in the exclusion of the LGBT faith community as an acceptable price to pay. That All May Freely Serve can never acquiesce to any recommendation, amendment, or other provisions that prolong marginalization of our LGBT family. We work and pray for an awakening in our church that finds its prophetic voice with a resounding "No!" to any practice that continues the oppression and dehumanization of our LGBT brothers and sisters.
Still, we stay and work tirelessly for a season of justice sooner, rather than later. We welcome and invite full and open dialogue with our brothers and sisters who may share different views. However, we ask all to hear us when we say there can be no pause in our work until G-6.0106 b. is deleted from the Book of Order. We are bound by our conscience, our calls, and the lives of those we serve to reject any moratorium in the furtherance of this mission.
There can be no rest for us until our LGBT family worships and works in this church with the same rights as our heterosexual sisters and brothers. Peace, purity, and unity can only be achieved when the doors in this church are taken off their hinges opened widely so that all may freely serve. Only then will we be able to embrace one another in the wonderful diversity of our Creator and be faithful servants to the baptism we share as members of the Body and Church of Jesus Christ.
Press Release: September 5, 2005
Barbara Wheeler, the President of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York and member of our denomination's Peace, Unity and Purity Task Force, will describe both the four year long process of dialogue among leaders from across the political and theological spectrum of our denomination and the report the Task Force has issued.
First Pres invites you to join in this conversation on
Monday, November 28th at 7:30 PM.
We are all most grateful to Brian for his leadership, enthusiasm and hard work. He has served as Co-Moderator for almost two years and has been on the board since 2003. We will sorely miss him! We wish Brian, Carol and Cala Godspeed!
And an InvitationWe will miss him particularly as we begin the Reconciling Dialogue Project. Presbyterian Promise has more work than ever. Have you ever thought about volunteering some time? We particularly need meeting organizers, fund raisers, and plain old event go-ers. Your commitment can be for a few hours — or a lot more. Please think about your gifts and your call and let us know! Write to us at PresbyPromise@att.net
Monthly chapter meetings will take place on the third Tuesday of every month, starting on October 18. The New Haven chapter may be reached at 203-907-0518 or via e-mail at email@example.com. If you're interested in helping us build the new chapter, or just want to find out what PFLAG is all about, please join us on September 20!
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