An Update on the Presbyterian Church that Meets Online

Photo by stevewall on Flickr

As many of you know the past year has had me exploring many options for ministry. One of those things was to begin thinking about the formation of a Presbyterian church that meets online. It is hard to believe that we floated this idea about six months ago. My how times flies.  This project has spurred some good conversations about church, social media and community.

Like any group of folks with many projects on their plates, the leadership team has been going through the ebbs and flows life, ministry and planning. Over the past 18 months, I too have been riding the rhythms of life, engaged in my own sabbatical of wandering and discernment. So while this new community will contiue to move forward, yesterday I shared this update with our Facebook Group letting them know that I’m pulling back from driving the project.

Greetings all,

I hope folks are doing well and enjoying the Fall season.

First, let me say that I am feeling a little sheepish about not being as consistent and committed to this church online adventure that I had hoped to be. More than usual, life has been a little overwhelming and my own long-term discernment has been unexpectedly paralyzing.

That said, I am starting to see where I am headed and this has created a situation where I need lesson my involvement in some projects. It feels great to begin seeing some clarity of call, but I am also know that I have invited many folks into some things that I can no longer be part of in the same way: and for this I am sorry. So, yes, “a church online” will be one of the areas from which I will step back in leadership.

So what is next for this group? While I understand that I bring particular strengths and gifts to the endeavor, the ideas and questions from which this community has emerged goes way beyond any of us. I intensely believe that the idea of a church that meets online has huge possibilities. I will still be involved as I can, but Katie Mulligan and Derrick Weston have agreed to take the wheel and drive the proverbial leadership bus for the near future. I think they will help us to step back and take a more thoughtful approach to beginning this new community of faith. THIS PROJECT IS NOT OVER and I hope you will find a way to continue should you feel inspired to do so.

I also want to thank a few folks who walked this journey this far as part of the initial leadership team: Jennifer Owen Walsh, Jack Jenkins, Betsy Katz, Noelle Royer, Stephen Salyards, Bridgett Green, Mihee Kim-Kort, Katie and Derrick. I count them as dear friends and part of my church.

Lastly, while exact plans for future communication and social media platforms are still being worked out, for now, this Facebook Group is the place where people can stay updated, so please feel free to share this note and invite more folks into this next stage of the journey.

And my the peace of Christ be with you all!
Bruce

Now this does not mean that I have decided what is next as I am still embracing the luxury that is discernment mode. The decision to pull back from this project only means that some possibilities are being narrowed down and my call is coming more into focus. Believe me, I look forward to the day what I can post some grand announcement about my future.

Thanks to everyone who has mused about this idea with me and I hope that you will continue to stay connected and support this new church.  If you want to keep up with next steps for this project, request to join the Facebook Group, a church online | beta

Trusting God as Some Leave the Presbyterian Church (USA)

[Photo by Maja Larsson ]

I remember during the early days of planting the church that I pastored for 12 years. While I loved the work, there were stressors everywhere. Anxiety inducing questions arose all the time: “Would anyone show up?” “Would they stay if they did come?” and “Who’s going to make the coffee?” By far, though, the hardest question to deal with was, “What happens when someone leaves?”

Like most new church planting pastors, when someone chose to leave, no matter the reason, my heart and soul ached: I questioned my pastoral abilities, I grieved the loss of relationships and I always had an urge to do something to get them back. One of the things that I learned over those dozen years of saying hello and goodbye to folks is that, while there was always room for self-reflection, more times than not there was no one to blame. I also learned that when the leaving was caused by a difference in theological perspectives, there was no amount of arguing that ever got someone to stay once they had decided to leave. The best course of action was to model graciousness and understanding, even if/when it was not reciprocated.

These situations did not happen often, but over time I noticed a cycle and rhythm to the life of the church when, not not only were people going to leave, in order for everyone to thrive and grow, sometimes people needed to leave. After all, if I truly cared about their spiritual well-being and growth, I wanted them to do the hard work of discernment and then follow where God was leading them. As their pastor, my job was not about theological victory or numerical success, it was about leading in a way that everyone grew in their experience and expression of faith. Period.

In a recent piece by that was printed both [here] and [here] Fred Heuser, Executive Director of the Presbyterian Historical Society, makes a case for taking a longer view of the life of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Presbyterians are a discerning people who seek the will of God through reading the Bible, prayer and being in communion with each other and other Christians. But the discernment process has meant that Presbyterians have a long history of disagreement, conflict, schism, and reunions.

The conflict and divisiveness within the PC (USA) today is part of a broader pattern that is deeply rooted in our past. The “flash points” that have produced these conflicts may be different, but the underlying tensions that birthed them are remarkably similar.

What is new is that these conflicts and tensions feel new to us. I suspect that these tensions feel new because we are trying to understand them outside of any historical framework.

Please read the article in full [here].

One of the reasons that recent developments in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have not caused me great anxiety is that I think we may be experiencing such a cycle and rhythm of our life. Our struggle now is to move away from the many adversarial postures that exist and acknowledge that God may indeed be working through and in all of us during these days of denominations shifts.

Now of course, this does not mean that I do not care or do not grieve the loss of the denominational relationships with those who are leaving, but I also do not begrudge anyone or have an overwhelming urge to fight to make people stay when they are feeling like this is no longer a good place for them. What I am trying to do is to be gracious in the face of frequent castigation and loving as I see colleagues move into a new denominational relationship; all the while, remaining committed and faithful to my part in discerning what it means to be the Presbyterian Church (USA) today and into the future.

Yes, there are questions about property, pensions and legalities, but I firmly believe that if more people than not adopt a spirit of graciousness and understanding, ways forward will emerge that all can agree too. All of that aside, my deepest hope and prayer is that new surroundings and new relationships will allow everyone, those who remain and those who leave, to live into God’s intentions for our lives be it in the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians or wherever folks may find their denominational home.

Lord hear our prayer . . .


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