Howard Griffin, the straight-laced, forward-thinking, super-organized, community-minded pastor at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Amarillo, is a Puckett neighbor and a good friend of mine. First Pres is one of the 4 Amarillo churches with which we’ve partnered this year in a variety of service and worship projects. Howard and his congregation are involved in a terribly messy situation with their presbytery and denomination. And I’m asking you to pray for them today.
It’s a complicated matter, of course. It involves much more than I can understand and certainly more than I can describe here. In a nutshell, the denomination (PCUSA) over the course of the past seven or eight years has taken steps to ordain openly gay clergy and lay officers, including adding permissive language in their by-laws and openly pushing the practice for its churches. PCUSA has also redefined marriage to include those of the same sex. And they’ve acted to officially “receive” and implement gender-inclusive or gender-neutral terms for the Trinity. Instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, PCUSA is now using language in its papers and prayers, its liturgies and services, such as “Mother, Child, and Womb” and “Rock, Redeemer, and Friend.” They’ve even used “Rainbow of Promise, Ark of Salvation, and Dove of Peace” in place of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As the denomination continues to move in ways that are increasingly out of step with the beliefs and practices of this local Presbyterian congregation, the tension has led to several moves that have positioned First Pres to pull out of the regional Palo Duro Presbytery and leave the denomination. Of course, there are money and property issues to negotiate, along with dozens of different opinions on how to respond, and more than a few hurt feelings. But it’s all come down to a pivotal vote this evening at First Pres. Tonight at 7:00 they will vote on whether or not to leave the denomination.
In an effort to avoid a civil lawsuit that would result in all kinds of headlines and press that wouldn’t necessarily reflect the glory of our God, lawyers for First Pres and the presbytery are meeting right now, hoping to agree on a settlement, kind of like an exit fee. If that doesn’t work — there are dozens of reasons to believe it won’t — then tonight’s vote will happen. It looks like they’re going to leave the denomination and then have to fight to keep their property and buildings.
So, let’s pray together about this today. Pray for tonight’s meeting, that the truth will be spoken in love. Pray that our brothers and sisters at First Pres will present their opinions with grace, that all in attendance will express the mercy and peace of Christ, and that God’s holy will be done in order to bring him glory. Pray for wisdom and discernment for their leaders, for courage and boldness for this church, and for God’s gracious gifts of leadership for Howard. Pray that God will lead this congregation through this difficult time in a way that will testify to his love and glory and be a witness to his grace and strength.