The Fellowship of Presbyterians hosted the constitutional convention of the new Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians this week in Orlando. This was a gathering of over 2100 people from over 500 churches in the PC(USA) who were largely disaffected by years of decline, toxic conflict, and wandering theology. The result is functionally a new denomination, though in dubbing it an “Order,” the creators have in mind to signify that an institutional past is being replaced by a more fluid, mission-oriented future.
There are two things worth noting about the gathering. The first is pragmatic. It’s a new organization that dozens if not hundreds of evangelical churches are going to transfer into. It has the practical building blocks in place or on the way: a theological core, a polity, a medical plan and a retirement benefits plan, and so forth. People with good minds have applied themselves to creating an administrative structure. I hardly need to recap what’s already online here.
But secondly, and more importantly, is not what you can put on paper. It’s what it felt like to be there. It’s the reality that this is the historical milieu in which we find ourselves. Orlando had the feeling of a launch, an initiative, an innovation, a new thing. We can read a few paragraphs in a history book about colonists gathering to constitute a country or the old days when a group of excited believers founded a now long-established church which we attend. Those historical readings can remain little more than academic. Orlando let us know what it feels like, and for many of us, that was a first. It was after John Ortberg preached about the passion for meaningful churches that reach a lost world for Jesus that the congregation of thousands sang “Amazing Grace,” and the power of the moment put a tear in my eye. This is what it feels like to be there at that moment.
John Crosby rightly predicted that the process would be “messy.” It’s almost a cute word to describe the exuberant adrenaline rush that comes with such passionate new direction. It’s messy because new ideas are bursting out all over the place. People who are passionate for mission, for meaningful theology, and for a church that is tied together by relationships rather than paperwork all united behind this cause. It felt like we were given permission to imagine. It was, in a word, fun.
Of course underlying this is all the anxiety that comes with tectonic change, but the feeling I got from most everyone I talked to was that tectonic change is unavoidable, and proactive change is better than that alternatives. The reality is that a denomination that declines for 45 years with no vision for change is dying, and freedom to pursue new initiatives is better than death by status quo.
So again, I’ll close this post like I closed the last one: let’s bless it and look for new life.