The recent letter from 232 Presbyterian elders and ministers makes reference to the pain and anguish felt in response to the decisions taken at our General Assembly (‘Unprecedented hurt and anger after 2018 Presbyterian general assembly’, July 6, Letters).
I hope that letter does not give the impression that only those 232 care about people’s pain.
The day-to-day pastoral work of ministers and elders involves caring for many people going through the pains of sudden illness, suicide, adultery, addiction, the death of a child, the breakdown of relationships, and many other sorrows – including the many complex issues surrounding same sex attraction and Christian discipleship.
I would hope that anyone who is aggrieved, concerned, or angry about the decisions of our church would be able to go to their elder or minister and find a listening, compassionate ear and warm words that lead people closer to Christ – and to one another.
Such face-to-face conversations are the best way to deal with troubles and build bridges and I hope that the signatories of the letter will be spending more time on such essential conversations within the church than on public statements to the media.
The letter itself does little to help such conversations as it contains no detail that would shed light on people’s concerns and does not engage at all with the great deal that has been written and said already in our subordinate standards, the Code, existing pastoral guidelines, council reports, and discussions at the Assembly.
The letter raised many questions that require such conversation. How does the church respond to the pains people feel in a way that honours God and reflects his good plans for us?
What constitutes an ‘unnecessary narrowing’ of acceptable views (as the letter from the 232 signatories states)?
Which ordination vows made it ‘necessary’ to write that letter (as they stated), and are the more than 6,000 ministers and elders who didn’t sign being unfaithful to their vows?
I hope they will enter into conversation with the wider church with a willingness to explain their concerns, but also to listen themselves.
Rev Jonathan Boyd, Minister of Hyde Park and Lylehill Presbyterian Churches, Templepatrick