We’re working hard to enact change in every presbytery and allow the Spirit of God to move in distinct ways. Here’s one example of just that!
Twenty years ago the Presbytery of Wabash Valley often shed spiritual blood with many sharp and bitter words on issues like inclusion of GLBTQ people. But most of these angry churches, over the years, have left the PC(USA).
20 years later: this presbytery is very different because of what we have been through. Nobody wants bloodshed anymore. We are learning to love each other with Christ’s grace-filled love, no matter how we may disagree on any other issues. At least we have all hoped this was what was happening in us, as Amendment 14-F came before us.
On February 10, 2015, the Presbytery of Wabash Valley invited all of its churches and all teaching elders to gather for a not-called presbytery assembly, to create a day of exploring the meaning of Amendment 14-F. About 50 people came, representing the full range of theological perspectives. Our General Assembly Vice-Moderator also graced this gathering with her presence. What unfolded was a tone of respectful, prayerful listening to information, a tone of openness to learning, and a tone of speaking honestly and gracefully without a defensive or combative attitude.
Grace was the operative word here.
On this thoughtfully organized and prayerful foundation, the Presbytery of Wabash Valley then gathered for their regularly scheduled called assembly two weeks later, on February 24, to vote on all the Proposed Amendments to the Constitution. We began the assembly, seated at round tables as usual at our Geneva Center Camp and Conference Center that also houses our presbytery’s offices. We started with a Bible Study, created by one of our pastors, on the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:20-25.) At each table, theological and spiritual discussion happened, facilitated by a thoughtful handout. We got to know those sitting alongside to us, delighting in sharing and listening deeply as we each were gracefully and spiritually stretched by the printed discussion questions. One of the thoughtful questions was, “Is there anyone the father would not run to embrace?” The closing question was, “If you were to describe how God celebrates you, how would you express it?” Humbling territory, challenging us each to try to give and accept God’s grace in a world that lives more by fear and by earning love. Grace-filled bonds happened with this Bible study. We ended in prayer, and then presbytery business resumed.
It was after lunch, that the Amendments were voted on. 14-F was last. The amendment was read. Then the moderator opened the floor for discussion.
No one came to the microphones.
We waited. Amazed. Stunned. Feeling a breathless, grace-filled spirit moving… so different than it was even a few years ago. So different from our presbytery 20 years ago! Finally one young man, a ruling elder, went to the microphone and made a poignant but not divisive speech in favor of Amendment 14-F, then quietly sat down. No one else stood up to speak.
Ruling Elder Jill Kitowski, the moderator, called for the vote to be taken by written ballot, but first firmly warned us that no matter what the vote turned out to be, no one was to clap or cheer. We understood.
The written ballot was taken.
While the ballots were being counted, it was planned for the Rev. Carol McDonald to fill the time of suspense by playing the piano, leading us in a hymn sing to join our voices and our hearts by singing our shared love of God. Powerful words were sung/prayed with one voice. Grace-filled, joyful love kept spreading among us, no matter what the results.
Then the count was brought to the moderator.
A hush settled over us:
78 votes yes. 26 votes no. 1 abstention.
14-F had passed.
No cheers. No clapping. We were immediately gathered in prayer. Grace, healing grace, permeated the room. Then a Commissioned Ruling Elder, a dear friend of mine, stepped to the microphone. He gracefully shared that he had not supported the amendment. But he was standing to publicly and graciously thank our moderator, Jill Kitowski (who had been one of our G.A. commissioners). He thanked her for coming to his little theologically conservative church at their invitation in order to worship with them, to explain about Amendment 14-F, and to let discussion happen. This CRE pastor shared how one elder after listening to her, actually changed his mind to agree with Amendment 14-F. Now my friend just wanted to thank Jill for her gracious presence.
Grace. Radical grace.
Amendment 14-F passed… but this also happened: deep healing grace and love tangibly passed into all of us. May it be so for our denomination.