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Issue Number 18
April 2006

Contents
Reconciliation
Dear Friends
Pastor's Retreat
How very good...
Conversation
Peace, Unity, Purity
Remarks
Board
Upcoming
Contribute
Signs of Life
Contact us
 

Reconciliation – Its Possibility, Its Integrity

These two themes pretty much define Presbyterian Promise's work during the past 12 months. While we've also continued to try to witness and nurture a warmer welcome for LGBT Christians, among Presbyterians, our focus has been the Reconciling Dialogue Project. This is a pilot project explicitly meant to explore how we begin the work of healing ourselves – from the pain and growing alienation that LGBT persons feel, and that so-called liberals and so-called conservatives feel. We are all feeling it. 

We began the Project in faith that there can be healing. With the formidable skills, commitment, and insight the Plowshares Institute has brought to bear, we believe now more than ever that our faith was justified. An additional element has been the context in which the RDP works. We are not working alone – the Presbytery's Peace, Unity, and Purity group has been working in the same spirit, and with wonderful results (see John Webster's article).

While there remains a lot of pain among LGBT folk and their families, still often unexpressed and unheard, there is also a new spirit of hope and possibility abroad in the land. This issue of Presbyterian Promise News provides some detail about the work toward reconciliation in this presbytery. 

The Reconciling Dialogue Project began last September with a dialogue retreat for the Pres Prom board at Crossroads Presbyterian Church. Next we invited the wider gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to join us in conversation at First Pres, New Haven. That was an all too short but truly moving experience for those who were able to join us.

Most recently, with the endorsement of the Presbytery's Council, we invited pastors to retreat together for a day at Westminster Presbyterian in West Hartford. Here are three perspectives on that event. We begin with the Plowshares Institute perspective and follow with reflections from Revs. Ann Beams and John Sandel.

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

When people speak about the "miracle of South Africa" in terms of the transformation of a violent conflict into a relatively non-violent removal of the racist Apartheid government, Archbishop Desmond Tutu likes to remind them that, "Most miracles are accompanied by a great deal of hard work." The hard work of individuals, congregations, communities and countries is critical for "paving the way" for God's miracle of reconciliation and renewal.

As the Presbyterian guidelines for "Being Faithful Together During Times of Disagreement" point out, "every congregation has conflicts." What matters most is not the presence of conflict, but rather the degree to which we're able to deal with conflict in productive and healthy ways, and to look for the opportunities that conflict offers. As in the case of South Africa, conflict often provides an opportunity for deeper understanding of one another, stronger relationships, and transformed structures.

During the recent pastors' retreat, Plowshares Institute and Presbyterian Promise reached a significant milestone in the year-long pilot phase of our joint project on pursuing reconciling dialogue. Retreat participants commented that the day provided "important and vital skills and insights for all persons interested in the future of the Church" and that "similar training should be required for all seminary students, students under care, and pastors coming into the presbytery!"

Present for the day-long event, which focused on building pastoral skills to minister effectively in divided congregations, were a thoughtful and influential group of church leaders including seasoned clergy, recent seminary graduates, youth ministers, and other members of the presbytery, including the executive presbyter. This diverse group of young and old, theologically and socially conservative and liberal, held differing beliefs and varying understandings of what it means to be faithful. Yet what all those in attendance had in common was a shared interest in the health of the Church and their respective congregations. We gathered with a common mission of deepening our understandings of controversial issues and enhancing our abilities to be "mediating presences" among our constituencies and to minister across the divides.

During the course of the day, participants studied congregational conflicts through a case study about the Iraq war; deepened their capacities in skills of active listening; articulated positions contrary to their own - often finding new 
...reconciliation is not an impossible ideal; it is a very real possibility in the midst of anxiety, anger, and pain.
viability in other's arguments, as some participants shared; discussed tools for conducting congregational dialogue about dividing issues; examined their personal perspectives on homosexuality; and shared resources and insights about pastoring to marginalized populations.

As the General Assembly (1992) stated, "We realize that our perspectives are limited, so to help us affirm each other, enhance our community, stay open to the viewpoints of others and be sensitive to cultural diversity, we commit ourselves to [being faithful together through disagreement] in a spirit of prayer, trust, and love, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

As the Presbytery of Southern New England and the rest of the Church continue to discern God's will on a number of issues that bring us into conflict with one another, please join us in a prayer for God's grace and guidance. Thank you for your continued participation in this ministry of reconciliation.

Matthew Bennett
Plowshares Institute
 

March 15 Pastor's Retreat

Continuing education events are an important part of my professional life and I have participated in many. The best of these occur in the company of willing colleagues and master teachers. Such was the case with the Pastor's Retreat on March 15 led by the incomparable team of Bob and Alice Evans, the guiding lights of the internationally recognized Plowshares Institute. 

Entitled "Peace Skills for Transforming Congregational Conflicts," Bob and Alice introduced us to their understanding of the nature of conflict, the use of listening skills to build and sustain dialogue, and the use of the case study method to stimulate conversation about controversial topics. We tried our hand discussing issues ranging from the placement of the American Flag in the sanctuary to a 17 year old boy "coming out" to his parents. Their emphasis upon the requirements for creating a safe environment for open, healthy discussion is one that has borne fruit in their many years of consulting with organizations throughout the United States and overseas in South Africa and Indonesia.

Through anecdote and role play, lecture and discussion, Bob and Alice led us on a journey into the complex work of the ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18). They encouraged us by their example to face conflict bravely in order that we might be able to seek to understand the needs, feelings, and interests which lay beneath and fueled the behavior of those locked in conflict with one another. Teaching with the authority that only comes from a wealth of experience, they were able to communicate that reconciliation is not an impossible ideal; it is a very real possibility in the midst of anxiety, anger, and pain.

This event was part of the year-long project on Reconciling Dialogue sponsored by Presbyterian Promise. In the near future there are two very exciting opportunities for pastors and laity alike to work with Bob and Alice. During the week of June 19 Hartford Seminary is offering a week-long course entitled "Becoming Agents of Reconciliation in Congregations, Communities and Countries: Lessons from the United States, South Africa, and Indonesia." Another version of the same course will be offered at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico the week of July 17. These courses will use a resource developed by Bob and Alice when working in South Africa entitled Peace Skills for Community Mediators. Spiritual, moral, and cultural resources are included to promote understanding of conflict and the development of constructive approaches to address divisive issues. For more information please look at the Plowshares website: www.plowsharesinstitute.org. I heartily recommend both of these opportunities to learn how to engage more fully in the ministry of reconciliation.

Rev. Dr. John Sandel
Milford Pastoral Counseling Center


 

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!" 
Psalm 133:1

We are all brothers and sisters by our adoption into Christ. As 'kindred,' we hope for our churches to be places where this unity can be lived out as we worship and serve God together. But churches are also places where conflicts arise, since we come together with different viewpoints, different expressions of our faith and conscience. As we work through conflict together, at its best, it can lead to spiritual growth and new insights that build up the Body of Christ. At its worst, it can lead to a serious fraying of our bonds of unity. 

The Plowhares Institute workshop for pastors, held in our Presbytery on March 15, walked us through the first steps of working through conflict in a good and faithful way, those first steps being how to truly hear one another as we work through a situation of conflict. We practiced 'active listening' in the form of paraphrasing the 'other's' feelings, values, and position. We learned to build on areas of agreement, even as we also addressed ways in which a pastor might fulfill both prophetic and pastoral duties amongst those she/he is called to serve. This workshop was designed to help pastors address any controversial issues in their churches; gay, lesbian, transgendered concerns being only one of many that are potential 'hot buttons' in our life together. Though it is unlikely to ever find unity of agreement on controversial issues, this workshop has helped me to realize that we can, in our congregations, hold up a unity based on our common faith and mutual respect even as we take different positions.

Alice and Bob Evans were wonderful leaders, and we learned a lot. It was also very nice to enjoy the hospitality of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, and to spend some time with clergy colleagues that we see too rarely, and then usually in passing.

The workshop was sponsored by Presbyterian Promise, and endorsed by the Council. As the Council Chair, and as the pastor of Valley Presbyterian church in Brookfield, I am grateful to Presbyterian Promise for giving me this educational opportunity.

Ann Beams


 

Conversation: Annual Meeting

The Revs. Bob Evans, Paul Terry and John Webster were the invited guests at Presbyterian Promise's fifth annual meeting, held at Crossroads Presbyterian Church. For those present, a truly moving conversation ensued. Bob spoke from notes rather than a full text. We share John and Paul's written remarks.

THE PRESBYTERY'S PEACE, UNITY AND PURITY GROUP 
"Reconciliation with Integrity"
January 29,2006 

Our presbytery's Peace, Unity and Purity group was a Moderator's initiative taken with the knowledge and blessing of the Presbytery Council. Up to the Moderator's Conference at Louisville in January 2004 I had paid little attention to the General Assembly Theological Task Force and expected little from it. However, both its co-chairs, Gary Demarest and Jenny Stoner, first told us that the Task Force had decided not simply to issue a report with some recommendations, but to try to model in their life together what the peace, unity and purity of the Church might look like. They also testified that this had been a transformative experience for all of its members and 
Our job has been more existential: to place ourselves under the authority of the texts for the day in order to discern what obedience requires of us.
then asked what we were doing to prepare our presbyteries to receive the Task Force's report. I knew that we were not doing a blessed thing (note choice of words), but their attempt to model the peace, unity and purity Christ intends for the Church, and the transformatioOur job has been more existential: to place ourselves under the authority of the texts for the day in order to discern what obedience requires of us.n they had experienced as a result, challenged me. I then shared this with some friends on both sides of the ordination issue and invited them to join a group which might help our presbytery receive the GA Task Force report, not just politically but spiritually. I also asked them to commit to six meetings during the course of the year. At the end of the first year that covenant was renewed for another year. The seven members of the group come from all three clusters within the presbytery and there is one person on each side of the ordination question within each cluster. 

Our time together is devoted to personal sharing, to worship, to Bible study, and to planning ahead when necessary. We alternate leadership of worship and Bible study; the leader is free to lead as she or he sees fit. At the end of our very first meeting, during which we devoted almost all of our time to sharing where we were coming from in joining this group, we took the decision to pursue this further together rather than to immediately organize something for the presbytery. This, to be honest, was not what I had expected or planned for, but it had marks of the Spirit's leading upon it and so we have continued in that pattern ever since. We have done some work for the presbytery, bringing Jenny Stoner to last February's meeting and leading worship afterwards. My Moderator's sermon at last May's meeting was a direct outgrowth of our experience together. In November we led a Bible study for the presbytery and will do so again at the February meeting. At the May meeting we will be trying to lead the presbytery in a study of the GA Task Force report. At our last meeting we decided to expand the group by each of us inviting one person to join. 

Our group resembles the GA Task Force in that we have sought to discover and to model in our life together what the peace, unity and purity of the Church might look like. I think we would all agree that we too have been changed  

Revs. Paul Terry, John Webster, Bob Evans
after their conversation
Jones
in the process. We differ from the GA Task Force in three respects I wish to highlight. The first is that we meet privately instead of in front of the press or other spectators. This has enabled us to be closer, more spontaneous, more open with one another than might otherwise have been the case. Personal bonds are important and real; getting together is something we look forward to. Secondly, we are not a theological task force. We do not feel called upon, yet, to review the confessions of the Church and do heavy theological thinking for you all. Our job has been more existential: to place ourselves under the authority of the texts for the day in order to discern what obedience requires of us. It is a head trip to be sure, but it is not primarily that – so far. It is a gut journey, a soul journey. And third, we are under no external mandate to recommend anything to guide the presbytery in any way. So far we have simply shared out of our experiences and let the Holy Spirit do with that what God wills in this presbytery. 
 
Reconciliation with integrity? Yes, so far. Of course, I got to pick the members of the group and so I did not feel particularly alienated from any of them to start with. But reconciliation has meant a deeper, fuller knowing each other, greater trust for one another, greater delight in each other's company, a deeper awareness that when we are together doing what we do we are on holy ground. I do not feel that my Christian integrity has been compromised or even threatened, but perhaps we have not gotten to the really hard stuff yet. On the contrary, Christian integrity for me means engaging in precisely this kind of pursuit in search of reconciliation and deliverance from whatever forces of cultural or other bondage we may find ourselves captive to. 
John Webster
Remarks to Presbyterian Promise Meeting
January 29, 2006

I think the most helpful way for me to begin what I want to say this afternoon is to tell you that I wouldn't be here if it weren't for a first step that I took more than a year ago. 

That first step was to accept an invitation from John Webster, our then new presbytery moderator, to join him and a 
God is interested more in bringing us together in Jesus and less in seeing us divide ourselves into groups and parties...
few others in exploring what the biblical imperatives to live as a church in peace, unity and purity might mean for us as a presbytery, as well as a denomination, and in facing the divisive and contentious question of how we might continue together in a time when we have vastly different beliefs about matters that we consider essential to each of us. 

When I said yes to John's request I did so not because I thought it likely that some great tectonic shift would occur and that a new consensus would emerge. I said yes because I was led back in my thinking to a core conviction that I have held for many years; namely – and here I'm recalling the Apostle Paul's great doxology at the end of Ephesians 3 - that God always is doing "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us… 

I wasn't and still am not clear as to what it is that God is doing. But I can tell you that I believe God is interested more in bringing us together in Jesus and less in seeing us divide ourselves into groups and parties over perceived, imagined or real differences and embrace attitudes and actions that heap dis-grace upon ourselves and grievously wound our witness in the world. 

For me, faith in Jesus Christ inspires and compels me to live a risky life. That means moving beyond the safety and security and comfort of likemindedness with people who hold the same beliefs about Jesus, the Bible, the Church, worship styles, musical preferences and human sexuality – to name a few. If I can do this ecumenically and I can with people of other faiths, then surely I ought to be able and willing to do it with people in the church of which we are members. 

But as many of us have experienced, it's often easier to get along with people who are your neighbors than those who are members of your own immediate family. And yet, that's precisely what I believe God wants us to do. So that's why I said yes. 

And here's what I've begun to experience. I'm not sure what it will mean on the question of how our church lives obediently and faithfully to Jesus Christ with respect to who can be ordained and who can't. I haven't been persuaded that I must change what I believe and how I come to my beliefs. But I do see God at work in what to me is an odd, curious and yet wonderful sort of way. 

The question that has brought our PUP group together has not been set aside, but I believe God has moved it and us to a place where I see God speaking to me and showing me that, differences on deeply important questions notwithstanding, what matters most to God is that I love Blair, Shirley, Meg and John as much as I love Don and Jim. 

I don't believe I'm disclosing anything that is a secret when I tell you that in the months since our group has been meeting four of our members have either continued to experience or begun to experience serious illnesses personally or to close members of their families. Because these are people I am spending time with, I not only have come to be aware of their circumstances but also have come to have a heartfelt concern and deepened affection for them. Where each of these four persons is on the ordination question has no bearing on how I have come to feel about him and her in the last year or so. 

You did not ask me to come today to preach to you, so I want to be careful. I will continue to speak in the first person and you can take from my witness what God may be saying to you. But here's what is happening to me. I love the people in the PUP group. I didn't before because I didn't know them. But as I am coming to know them better and better, I am caring more and more about them. And I look forward to our times together. 

I am not going to forecast or predict what is going to happen in the coming months. That's much bigger than me or what I can do. But here's one thing that I believe I must do, and I invite you to consider it with me. Regardless of what plans God has for our church; or regardless of what we do with the church – and I think we must admit the possibility we might not get it the way God wants us to - I believe there is one thing about which there can be no ambiguity or uncertainty. God wants us to move out beyond the comfort, safety and security of our affinity groups and step out in faith to humbly meet and be willing to know and become known by those who think, speak, believe and live out their faith in ways that not only are different but even threatening to us. 

I might be wrong, but that's how I think I came to be here today. And I'm here not only because John asked me, and you asked him. I think Jesus may be in this in the same way I am seeing him at work in our PUP small group. 

Thank you.

Paul A. Terry

Our 2006 Board

Among the business at our fifth annual meeting was the election of our new board, as follows:
 
Co-Moderators   Meg Nosenzo and Richard Hasbany
Secretary Dan Blackford
Treasurer Jane Hindenlang
Assistant Treasurer Ralph Jones
MLP Liaison Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

 
Dan Blackford   Wayne Osborne
Terry Davis Greg Price
Dick Hasbany Keith Rhoden
Jane Hindenlang Janet Wade-Utay
Ralph Jones Mary Starke Wilson
Meg Nosenzo
 

Upcoming

Signs of Life
Saturday, April 22 at 4 PM 
     United Church on the Green, New Haven, CT 
     featuring Lisa Larges.

Peace Skills
June 19, Hartford Seminary
July 17, Ghost Ranch
      with Plowhares Institute
      www.plowsharesinstitute.org


 
SIGNS OF LIFE:
Growing the Welcoming Church in a Wintry World

A hope-filled worship service celebrating the gifts of the Welcoming church, 
featuring our own Lisa Larges,
 
Regional Coordinator for That All May Freely Serve

Saturday, April 22 at 4 p.m.
United Church on the Green, 
corner of Temple and Elm Streets, New Haven
childcare available

sponsored by Welcoming Congregations of New Haven

….God is still growing the welcoming church!

 


"Most miracles are accompanied by a great deal of hard work." Archbishop Desmond Tutu

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More Light Presbyterians
 
OUR MISSION STATEMENT 
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To proclaim God's promise of justice and love in Jesus Christ by organizing inclusive and inquiring churches in the Presbytery of Southern New England into a community of mutual support for the empowerment of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered persons, and for outreach, education, and Christian evangelism.

 
Visit us at
Crossroads Presbyterian Church – Waterford CT 
(860) 442-3693
First Presbyterian Church – Hartford CT 
(860) 246-2224
First Presbyterian Church – New Haven CT 
(203) 562-5664
First Presbyterian Church – Stamford CT 
(203) 324-9522
Providence Presbyterian Church – Providence RI 
(401) 861-1136
Wilton Presbyterian Church – Wilton CT 
(203) 762-5514

…working to extend the hospitality of Christ to all God's people….