The PCUSA has been desperately in need of change for decades. Membership decline is alarming. Theological dysfunction has spawned a spate of special interest groups—on the left and on the right—who strive to move the denomination in their direction. Repeated crises drive congregations out in numbers that, at any one point in time, seem negligible but taken altogether should be alarming. After all, they represent thousands of members seeking another denominational fold. Re-imagining, Justice/Love, PUP and their ilk have inflicted a cumulative credibility crisis.
But there is hope for change. News items today (9/27/06) show cracks in the façade of normalcy. Some of the information is old news—falling income, inter-judicatory confusion, and the ubiquitous penchant for restructuring. In all of this is a new theme, though. The crisis seems to have hit a tipping point.
The first sign is in the middle judicatories.
“As middle governing bodies, it has now become perfectly clear to us that presbyteries and synods across the church are also facing significant instability and destabilization arising from a number of concerns. All of our missional, financial and institutional forms are seriously challenged. Yet, our present denominational structures provide no place where these concerns may be fundamentally addressed.” Presbyteries, synod ask GAC to hold consultation on their ‘viability and stability’The second comes from the national office.
A five-year, $40 million campaign to raise funds for new churches and more overseas missionaries is in danger of having to shut down early because not enough operating funds are available, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly Council Executive Committee was told today.
“We only have enough operating funds to last through February of 2007,” Mission Initiative: Joining Hearts and Hands (MIJHH) campaign director Jan Opdyke told the group today. “Pledges are being kept, but donors are choosing to designate their money rather than give it unrestricted, which is where our operating funds come from,” Opdyke said. PC(USA) - News Service - Mission Initiative campaign financially squeezed
The third sign is an old one but, considering the first two, with greater significance.
“But in some ways, this gathering in Louisville is sort of a hybrid meeting: the old structure still barely in place but the new one not quite born yet. The three division directors are scheduled to end their jobs Oct. 1, but are still presenting reports at this meeting and Valentine publicly thanked them for their dedication. One item was presented with the explanation: 'This is something that would have been reported to the SLT (staff leadership team) if we still had one.’” Viability of presbyteries and synods may be studied
The saddest part of this, for me, is that the perceived crisis is about money. It will probably be addressed only as such and that will be a serious mistake. It will be a mistake because the financial crisis comes from deeper problems. PCUSA theology is so pluralistic (not just diverse) that there is no spiritual center in the denomination. The PCUSA has turned a deaf ear to its constituent congregations—particularly those like the Kirk who were on the brink of leaving, then did. There are perhaps hundreds of other congregations at the point where the Kirk was a few months ago. Despite theological confusion and a lack of trust from the pews, the leaders of the PCUSA see all the above problems strictly as a financial crisis, as evidenced in the cited articles above.
I don’t recall any previous crisis of such severity in the PCUSA or its predecessor denominations. The denomination is on new and shaky ground, and any number of things could result from the current crisis.
- The PCUSA could continue its belt-tightening for the next couple of years, just postponing inevitable bankruptcy.
- There’s a high likelihood that the PCUSA will become even more aggressive regarding money. Departing churches will pay premium rates for their property. Churches that leave their property will see each “true church” dissolved and the property sold. This is dependent upon the PCUSA having enough money in reserve to litigate.
- Per capita payment will become an absolute requirement at the congregational level, rather than a voluntary offering.
- Special interest groups, like the newly-founded Presbyterian Global Fellowship, will be lobbied to provide financial support for missions dear to their hearts, freeing PCUSA funds for administrative costs.
- Someone will suggest that the PCUSA unite with several other failing denominations. This will guarantee a steeper decline for all involved.
- The denomination is most likely to appoint a 2-year task force which will debate just what should be done. That task force will ask for an extension after the first two years.
- The Washington lobbying office will remain open and funded.
I do hope that the PCUSA is renewed--first spiritually, then financially and structurally. The fact that the Kirk left the PCUSA doesn't mean that we hope it gets worse. The best thing that can happen for the Kingdom is faithfulness on anyone's part.
Keep praying--keep the faith.