A Little Love For the (Truly) Small Churches

I have just returned from another day of preaching at a small church that is in dire need of direction, understanding, spiritual leadership, and most of all stability in the pulpit. The particular church I preached at today has not had a Full-Time pastor since 1997. They have tried to call freshly-ordained Seminary students but cannot quite “get anybody to come”. They tried the CLP route (which my Mother is one) but could not find one that would stick with them in times of trouble. They have been abandoned for “greener pastures” by more pastors than the poor Clerk of Session could count. They believe themselves to have been forgotten by their presbytery but more dangerously forgotten by God. They see the Methodists and Baptists-worse yet the word of faith gospel churches-growing but they continue to shrink as each member dies off. And they cannot understand why the word of faith churches grow but they do not. For example, while I was there today during the Joys and Concerns before the Pastoral Prayer they asked me to pray “that children would start coming to their church”. In my young and naive experience with presbyteries that have large numbers of these types of churches they have tendency to see the rural, low-member churches as nuisances rather than as a mission-area to be culled. They would rather these churches-that can barely scrap together 1/10 of the per-capita of the larger, more urban and ethnically diverse churches-disappear so that they can refocus themselves in other areas instead of spending time, resources, and money trying to support these rural churches. We focus our efforts globally and forget that our rural churches need support as well. I may be a bit biased as I come from a background of attending small, rural (less than 15 members in one case) Presbyterian Churches. I grew up defending Presbyterianism-more importantly Sola Gracia and true Salvation by Faith Alone-from attacks from the independent Baptists that I grew up with. Presbyterianism is dying in rural America. It died once from a lack of pastors, let us hope that the clergy will not allow this to happen again.

Breaking News from Pittsburgh Presbytery

Minister charged in same-sex marriage

By Mike Wereschagin
Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Presbyterian Church has charged a Squirrel Hill minister with breaking church law by performing a marriage ceremony for two women last year.

The Presbyterian Church constitution allows same-sex unions, but not marriages. If the Rev. Janet Edwards, 56, is found guilty of violating the church constitution, she faces punishment ranging from a rebuke to removal from the clergy and loss of her ministry.

“I will plead not guilty,” Edwards, a minister who is a parish associate at the Community of Reconciliation Church in Oakland, said Wednesday. “I do not believe I violated the constitution of the Presbyterian Church.”

Edwards is charged with performing a marriage ceremony “for two individuals of the same sex,” for omitting Scripture readings from the ceremony and for failing “to have the participants declare their intention to enter into a Christian marriage,” according to a copy of the charges.

A spokesman for the Pittsburgh Presbytery declined to comment yesterday.

The Pittsburgh Presbytery began investigating Edwards shortly after she conducted the ceremony for Brenda Cole and Nancy McConn, of Triadelphia, W.Va., in Cathedral Hall in McKees Rocks on June 25, 2005. The couple married legally in Vancouver, B.C., several days later.

“Marriage reflects the image of God’s covenant with creation,” Edwards said yesterday. “That love and commitment can be in a relationship between a man and a woman, sure. It can also be between two men and between two women, and it very obviously is in the relationship between Nancy and Brenda.”

Nancy McConn, 66, a retired computer software developer from Dallas, W.Va., said, “Having a spiritual marriage was so important to both of us. We’re both spiritual people.”

Her partner, Brenda Cole, 52, a clinical psychologist and Buddhist, said she was confident that if they “continue to speak the truth” — that love and commitment, not gender, matters — “the church will come to see that reality.”

The Pittsburgh Presbytery has 153 congregations, according to its Web site. The Pittsburgh Presbytery is one of the largest in the country, Edwards said, and members possess a broad range of opinions.

“I’ve received a lot of support from my colleagues here,” she said. “There are also a lot of pastors who disagree with my position.”

A pretrial hearing must be scheduled within 30 days, Edwards said. No trial date has been set.

“I’m glad I’ve been given the opportunity to participate in this discussion” about rights for gay couples, Edwards said. “The discussion has to conclude with their full inclusion in society.”

Mike Wereschagin can be reached at mwereschagin@tribweb.com or (412) 391-0927.