Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Getting the story right . . .

Our Pastoral Letter:

The Presbytery of Carlisle, in official meeting on April 9, 2015, approved two action items by clear majority votes: 1) we voted to dissolve the pastoral relationship between the Rev. Wayne Lowe and our Faith Church; 2) we elected an Administrative Commission to function as the council of Faith Church, replacing their session. Immediately following the meeting, Rev. Lowe formally renounced the jurisdiction of our PC(USA). Our Administrative Commission has already fully engaged with a committed group of people at Faith Church who are motivated to move forward together.

Unfortunately, these actions have been wrongly characterized in recent publications. On behalf of our Coordinating Council, we believe it is important to get this story right. In our opinion, getting the story right was not important to the Harrisburg Patriot News in their recent article concerning our Faith Church; neither does it seem important to the website which has copied the Patriot News story.

Our actions concerning Mr. Lowe and the Session at Faith Church were not in response to their strongly held theological convictions. Many Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders and active members of the PC(USA) hold conservative and evangelical theological convictions. Many people within our presbytery who voted in favor of these action items hold such convictions. The characterization of our actions as some mighty battle in the culture war between liberals and conservatives is wild hyperbole and simply wrong. Evangelical pastors are not being “forced out the door” as the Patriot-News alleged. 

Our action was motivated by the observed dysfunctional exercise of pastoral authority and leadership in Faith Church. People were silenced, and verbally bullied, which resulted in open dialogue and discernment being stifled. A disdain for the PC(USA) was set by the pastor and a few leaders without conversation and discernment across the congregation. In a phrase, mutual forbearance (see Book of Order F-3.0105) was crushed resulting in a fractured congregation.

The conclusion that the congregation at Faith Church was fractured and divided was not arrived at casually. Our Committee on Ministry, after extensive review of the situation which included several conversations with Mr. Lowe, members of session as well as members of the congregation, concluded that this division was a result of dysfunctional pastoral and session leadership. Consequently, the Committee concluded such pastoral leadership was not equipped to lead the congregation to reconciliation and healing. This conclusion was the basis of our Committee on Ministry recommendations to the Presbytery; the Presbytery agreed by a large majority.

Today there are over 200 Protestant denominations in the United States, of which our PC(USA) is one. Our denominational structure is based on a foundational commitment to mutual forbearance, tolerance and a commitment to holding different convictions together in one church. This style and culture of church is not for everyone. Mr. Lowe’s decision to renounce jurisdiction and to leave the PC(USA), even though that was not the action of Presbytery, suggests that he has determined that the style and culture of PC(USA) is not for him.

This has been a difficult time in our Presbytery. We are grateful for the careful discernment of our Committee on Ministry and the orderly deliberation of the whole presbytery at our special meeting. We are grateful for the work of our Administrative Commission moving forward with the congregation at Faith Church into a new day.

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3: 20, 21)