Presbyterians who adhere to traditional standards are working together on two new fronts.
“Praying, listening, trusting” was formed in June 2020 for the purpose of praying for six months in order to discern God’s direction for those in orthodoxy. “PCC-Covenant” came together in the fall in recognition of a need to work with one another and the wider denomination “with integrity, humility, trust, grace and hope.”
Both movements have the active support of the Renewal Fellowship (RF) board of directors as well as Presbyterians Standing for Apostolic Love and Truth (PSALT) along with many others who are not connected to either group.
“Praying, listening, trusting” has held twice-monthly prayer meetings with a total of 25 people taking part at various times. PCC-Covenant attracted a combined 140 registrants for its two initial gatherings on Nov. 14 and 16.
Neither movement sees itself as an actual group or organization. In fact, “Praying, listening, trusting” isn’t even a formal name; rather, it’s a title one of the organizers came up with when creating a Facebook page in order to communicate and share their Zoom link.
Nor are they narrowly focused on the proposals before General Assembly to redefine marriage and formally accept ministers and elders who are in same-sex marriages.
While Remits ‘B’ and ‘C’ may be a catalyst behind unity, there is general agreement that The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) is moving away from such foundational truths as Biblical authority, the uniqueness of Christ as Lord and Redeemer, the work of the Holy Spirit, the sovereignty of God and the need to adhere to those things as disciples of Christ that are outlined in our subordinate standards and ordination vows.
Those in orthodoxy find themselves in four main camps:
- Remain in the PCC, also known as “stay and pray”
- Depart from the PCC, individually or in groups,
- Work towards the creation of separate theological courts in the PCC to allow revisionists and those in orthodoxy to establish their own theology and practice while sharing pension and benefits,
- Discerning which path to take.
The two new movements respect those different directions yet seek unity of spirit within orthodoxy.
Praying, listening, trusting: The idea came from Rev. Jonathan Hong, of Toronto Korean Presbyterian Church, in a discussion with Rev. Jon Wyminga, of Cariboo Presbyterian Church in British Columbia.
“Jonathan and I talked about the situation concerning human sexuality in our denomination and how we will proceed,” Wyminga recalled in May 2020. “As we reflected, we recognized that the COVID-19 situation has given us a whole extra year to reflect and prepare before any final decisions are made. While a year of more delays creates some problems, we recognized that this could be a great gift from the Lord. Instead of spending all of that year engaged in debate and planning about what to do Jonathan and I discussed the idea of dividing the next year into two six month periods. The first six months would be exclusively dedicated to praying for God’s direction. The next six months would then be a time of prayerfully planning and implementing that direction.”
No personal plans or agendas would be discussed or shared.
They launched the first gathering by Zoom Meeting on June 18 with nine people participating. Gatherings take place every other week and are led by Rev. Jon Wyminga and Rev. Shannon Bell of Cariboo. Prayer was centred around a group study of Gordon T. Smith’s book The Voice of Jesus, led by Rev. Dr. Christine O’Reilly of Knox Thedford, Ontario. Approximately two dozen people had taken part by late November.
The book study has provided a “a good foundation as we engage in discernment in the coming months,” said Jon. “We’ve drawn several people from across the country. I think we’ve had some very meaningful times of prayer and we’re developing a growing sense of trust and openness within the group. I believe it has become a place where some people feel like they fit who don’t feel that way in other groups. I think these last things are particularly important since, in other settings, I am concerned of rifts and distrust developing among those who may agree against the remits but disagree in the specifics of their response.”
Much time has been spent in “repentant prayer,” says O’Reilly. “Repentant prayer for the ways we have wounded one another, regardless of theological stance; a deep desire for humility; a trust that God is at work. We have prayed for those who believe differently, that they would be blessed. We have prayed for one another to be encouraged and listen for the voice of Jesus. We have been drawn together by this desire to pray and listen and trust God. We have been humbled and found a spirit of grace to move forward as we discern what the Spirit may be saying to us and leading us to do. There is no anger, gossip, backbiting or a sense of complaint or enmity with anyone. There is a sense that we all need to move forward in freedom and to be able to be at peace; to bless one another with grace, no matter what ‘side’ or ‘direction’ people are committed to.”
The group moves into its second six-month phase in January. The plan is to continue praying for all parties, for the PCC and for one another as GA 2021 draws near.
“We do not know what GA 2021 will bring. COVID-19 is going to bring profound change to the PCC regardless of remits, and so the PCC cannot and will not ‘stay the same’, ” O’Reilly says.
PCC-Covenant came together in September under the leadership of Rev. Doug Cameron, a retired PCC minister.
“We are deeply concerned that Evangelicals, Conservatives, Orthodox, Traditional (ECOT) members of the PCC need to work and worship together regardless of what they may decide to do in the aftermath of the next GA,” he said in a September 2020 statement.
He and others of like mind reached out to RF and PSALT with a proposal to hold virtual town hall meetings “to encourage [those in orthodoxy] to walk in a manner worthy of Christ” and discern what those paths might look like. With the support of both groups, the first town hall was focused on encouraging participants “to walk worthy of the Lord, and to begin dealing with any unresolved bitterness, anger, unforgiveness in our hearts so that we don’t carry it into whatever new work God may lead us into post-GA 2021.”
The centrepiece of PCC-Covenant is a statement which calls on those in orthodoxy to “hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards in our speech, in what we post, and in how we act.” The covenant urges us to exhibit “Christlikeness in our behaviour and in our communication.”
The Covenant recognizes that there is a lot of underlying tension in the PCC, which has often erupted in conflict. The covenant recognizes this and calls upon everyone to “walk and talk in a manner that honours Christ and is in keeping with the scriptures. . .” (Go to PCC-Covenant.ca to view the Covenant. The website includes an opportunity to sign off in support.)
O’Reilly, who is one of the signatories of the Covenant, said “there is a strong emphasis on the need for all parties to have a commitment to forgiveness sought and received, and move forward with humility and healthy spirituality, not anger or bitterness.”
“A huge underlying theme . . . is our need to seek forgiveness for the sins we have committed: our anger, disrespect of others, the ways evangelicals have at times baited their opponents and not behaved well; how we have too often loudly said what we oppose, and not offered hope as to what we are for,” she added.
The next town hall meetings are Jan. 21 and 23. The agenda will include breakout rooms for the four camps.