Oh Lordy . . . why on earth would I want to take this one on? With the intense emotions and strong opinions about this "issue" one thing is clear, any time families split, regardless of the reason or fault, it is difficult on all involved.
I know the issues are complex. But let me see if I can take a stab at starting up some conversations (friendly I hope) by picking out some major themes and offering some kind of response.
On the New Wineskins Movement: [Official Site] Some are calling this a "split", others a "schism". Numerically speaking it is not a high percentage of churches who are choosing to leave, but one cannot deny the influence and effect that this movement has on the PC(USA). To simply discount these folks as a small voice would be disrespectful, but also to give the movement too much voice and power as they leave would be irresponsible. A balance must be struck between trying to gracefully end a particular relationship and ensuring a healthy future for the larger denomination.
On the Idea of Leaving: I would never, ever, ever expect a community or individual to stay in a relationship where they feel as though they are not valued, heard or in the worst case are feeling abused in anyway. As a particular body of the Christ, we do have a responsibility to try and work through tensions, but there may be a time where one must choose to dust off one’s sandals and walk. As one who is part of the majority, it is difficult to hear that brothers and sisters do not feel welcomed or that the rest of us are "straying", but each must follow their conscious as guided by God. If it were the other way around, I can’t imagine the level of angst it would take for me to leave, so I must trust that the decision to leave has been made with great care and discernment.
On a Grace-Filled Separation: As a child of divorce I know what it it like to go through tough family break-ups. While there are certainly some divorces that can be handled with care and dignity, the vast majority I suspect are filled with acrimony. When such an intimate covenant is broken, there is grief, anger, disbelief, blame, etc. Sometimes these feeling and reactions are just too much for the relationship handled well or gracefully. It should be NO surprise that the New Wineskins situation would generate the same feelings at both personal and institutional levels. Regardless of who is at fault, an intimate, God-connecting covenant is being broken. For some reason we expect both "sides" to act in the best interest of the other. A good hope to hold onto, but as broken and feeling human beings, not all that realistic. Still, we can strive to some kind of grace by trying to meet each other half way on issues such as property, pensions, finances, etc. And while I have hope that this can be done, like divorces that must move towards third-party mediation this just may be the path of pain/struggle that is inevitable when covenants are broken.
On Property: Okay, now I may get into real trouble 😉 Basically it seems as if there is an all-or-nothing mindset all around. If you are a New Wineskin’er, you want to keep it all and if you are a PC(USA)’er you too want it all. Well, clearly someone is going to lose that one. I think this is where we need to meet each other half way if we are to find any semblance of grace in this situation.
Understanding that there are arguments on both sides about why each should retain the property in it’s entirety, How about these as some possible options:
Per Capita Gift // Congregation keeps the property and gifts three, four or five years of per capita to the Presbytery to offset the decreased funding that would occur.
Buy-Out // One side buys the other out for 1/2 the appraised value of the property much like a house during a divorce.
Other options // ????
On the Remnants: What about those who voted against leaving? The silent victims in all of this I would think. While we understand the power of the majority, we have always honored the voice of the minority. My challenge to the Presbyteries and New Wineskins folks would be to treat these folks with the dignity that each would hope to be treated by the other. I can’t imagine the compounded struggles these folks must feel. To find a congregational home for these folks should they choose not to go with the rest of the community should be a priority for all involved.
So there you have it. These really are Sunday evening musings given to spark some conversation so I can learn more as well as create some space for conversation.
What do you all have to say?