Monday, December 5, 2016

Report to the Presbytery December 6, 2016

Report to the Presbytery of Carlisle
Dismissal of the Hawley Memorial Church

Today I encourage you to approve the dismissal of the Hawley Memorial Church. Our Commission on Ministry has already acted to dismiss their Pastor Carl Batzel pending our action today.
Once again today, in official meeting, we consider the dismissal of one of our congregations to the new denomination, the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). We have done this before. We dismissed the Upper Path Valley Church and their Pastor Meagan Boozer; we dismissed the Lower Path Valley and Burnt Cabins Churches and their Pastor Donna Ryan; we dismissed the Port Royal and Mexico Churches and their Pastor Crystal Lyde; we dismissed the Shippensburg Church and their Pastor Mike Miller
            Many of you will also remember that we did NOT dismiss our Faith Church, despite the request of the session at the time. In seeking to leave our Church, the Session at Faith Church caused enormous conflict, and more than half of the congregation left with their Pastor Wayne Lowe to form what is now a new ECO congregation. Our Faith Church today, although smaller, is thriving with remarkable energy and enthusiasm. I am grateful to their Interim Pastor Steve Lytch and their new session members.
            My friends, I believe we have reached the end of an era. My belief is confirmed in conversation with my colleagues in presbyteries all around Pennsylvania. There are still several dismissal conversations in process in neighboring presbyteries, but generally, I believe, the era of church dismissals is behind us. After today’s action we will not have any active Conversation Teams, and we have not received any official requests from any other session to begin our dismissal process. I am not aware of any of our congregations that are discussing dismissal at this time.
            My friends, I believe we have done this right. I believe we should be proud and grateful for the way we have acted through this season of deep conflict and turmoil. We wrote, we debated, we approved, and we acted on repeatedly a policy, and a spiritual stance, of gracious dismissal. This was and is the right thing to do in Christ Jesus. Like many of you, I know all the arguments for a different path, a different tone in these conversations. In many sleepless nights, I have played out those arguments in my mind. Today, without any doubt, I am convinced that we have done the right thing with our policy and our practice of gracious dismissal. And I am very grateful to almost countless numbers of leaders in this presbytery who have participated in this discernment and these practices, and especially the members of all the Conversation Teams we have had over these years.
            Now I see three great challenges before us:
            Our first challenge is to live into this very new language in our Book of Order: Nothing shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session  believes  is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.
            Our second challenge is live into this very old language in our Book of Order; one of the historic principles of our church: “We also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which (believers) of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty of both private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”
            Third, if I am correct that we are now moving into a new era, we need to ask ourselves as a Presbytery in a very deep and thoughtful way, “What are we going to do now?”
            I ask you to support the recommendation of our Conversation Team and our Council and approve the dismissal of the Hawley Memorial Church.