Conservative group reacts to new liberal ordination standards.
Almost 2,000 conservative Presbyterians are meeting in Bloomington this week to plan "a very different and more faithful future" in the wake of their church's decision to ordain actively gay or lesbian pastors.
The newly formed Fellowship of Presbyterians called the meeting to help churches opposed to the move find ways to work within or leave the Presbyterian Church USA.
"With so many critical theological differences and a denomination that continues to decline, we have to ask ourselves, is there something else that God has for us?" said the Rev. Jim Singleton, senior pastor of the 3,900-member First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In May a majority of the denomination's 173 local presbyteries voted to remove language from its constitution stating clergy must be "living in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." The Twin Cities presbytery cast the deciding vote.
The new policy lets each local presbytery decide whom to ordain as long as candidate pastors are "joyfully submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ." That language was approved 13 months ago at the 2.1 million-member denomination's national convention in Minneapolis. There are at least 75,000 Presbyterians in Minnesota.
Vote coming in January
Thursday's event drew lay leaders and clergy from 830 congregations in 49 states to the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Bloomington.
The Rev. John Crosby, senior pastor of the 5,000-member Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, asked the attendees to help create a "new reformed body" to support the work of local churches.
Crosby said in January churches can vote on a constitution and core beliefs and join the new association that would ordain leaders. He said Fellowship members could remain in the Presbyterian Church USA.
The Fellowship will not demonize the Presbyterian Church USA, Crosby said, but many believe "we cannot fix it." He said the infighting and bureaucratic rules hinder local church outreach.
He noted the body has declined over the past 40 years from 4 million to 2.1 million members.
"We do not believe the PC USA is dying because of theological differences or because of the sexuality culture wars," Crosby said. "I believe this denomination is dying because all of us ... are failing to reach a world that is passing by the living Christ."
The Rev. Gradye Parsons, the denomination's highest elected official, attended the meeting and said he hopes the attendees stay in the denomination and "make it a better reformed body. We agree the church is broken and we need to find ways to faithfully address that."
Meetings began last summer
This week's conference grew out of meetings that started after the ordination change last summer.
Crosby said the Fellowship would "diffuse power to local congregations, not have it clustered at the center." But the group would share the "theological essentials" of historic Christianity, he said. That includes the authority and inspiration of scripture, that Christ alone is the savior, and that God's kingdom is present on earth as well as in heaven, he told the attendees.
He said in an interview that taking the Bible seriously means "saying this is what we believe, culture or not."
The Presbyterian church, based in Louisville, Ky., is among several mainline Protestant groups, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ, that have liberalized their policies toward gay clergy.
The nation's largest mainline group, the United Methodist Church, has retained its celibacy mandate for unmarried clergy.
Jim Adams • 952-707-9996