Solemn Assembly judged a success
Prayer rally paves the way for Fellowship Gathering
By Jason P. Reagan, The Layman, August 24, 2011
A weekend call to prayer is setting the stage for a large Presbyterian gathering this week.
First Presbyterian Church (FPC) of Greenville, S.C., held a Solemn Assembly of Prayer on Sunday to address issues of recent concern to Presbyterians nationwide in preparation for the Fellowship Gathering in Minneapolis, which is set to kick off on Thursday.
Formerly known as Fellowship (PCUSA), the Fellowship of Presbyterians is a group formed to “call others of like mind to envision a new future for congregations that share our Presbyterian, Reformed, Evangelical heritage,” according to the group’s website.
Dubbed a time of prayer and fasting, the solemn assembly originated from the Greenville church and congregations across the U.S. were invited to join.
The assembly was also called in response to changes in the direction and ordination standards of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The Rev. Brian Stewart, the church’s evangelism and missions pastor, dubbed the assembly a success and said congregations from California to Wyoming to South Carolina joined in prayer.
“All time zones were represented,” he said.
At FPC-Greenville, Stewart said the church engaged in prayer led from the pulpit and broke into smaller groups, praying for repentance, for the Fellowship Gathering specifically and for the denomination, presbyteries and congregations.
Earlier, Stewart said the Biblical basis for the assembly was found in Joel 2:15b-16: “Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly. Gather the people, sanctify the congregation.”
The main thrust of the assembly was to “pray that God would send us in the right direction,” Stewart added.
According to the church’s pre-assembly announcement, the time of prayer also focused on the PCUSA’s shift away from Biblical standards with the recent change in ordination standards allowing presbyteries to ordain homosexuals, although Stewart said the assembly would not point fingers but would seek collective repentance.
In a similar vein, the Fellowship released an online prayer guide last week.
The 11-page booklet offers suggested prayers for repentance, leadership, presbyteries, congregations and teaching and ruling elders.
“We desire, in the words of Calvin, ‘to trust in [God’s] power, to rest in His goodness, to depend upon His truth and to turn to Him with our whole heart,’” the booklet states.
The guide urges participants to come to the gathering “with hearts open to repentance and restoration, and with a deep desire for God to reveal our place in His plan and purpose.”
“We long for God’s Kingdom to flourish and we believe Christ’s promise to be with us, even to the end of the age,” one prayer reads.
In addition, the guide offers prayers that invite participants to repent in the areas of:
· “Our complacency and disengagement with our denomination;
· “The inordinate value we place on programs and participation;
· “Our tendency to regard prayer as just a supplement;
· “Treating our brothers and sisters in ways that dishonor Christ;
· “Allowing the culture to permeate the church in ungodly ways;
· “Loving the American dream more than the Savior Jesus;
· “Proclaiming the message of the cross without clarity and passion.”
According to the Fellowship’s website, the two-day gathering will draw almost 2,000 attendees from 49 states, representing more than 830 congregations as well as 70 middle governing body and denominational officials.
“The ‘gathering’ appears to have morphed into a ‘happening,’” Fellowship consultant Paul Detterman said in a recent web post.
“The gathering will not be a gripe session nor will it be a pep rally,” Detterman added.
“We won’t be lobbying one agenda or voting anything up or down – yet. We will be presenting a carefully-designed range of options, all covered by a large ‘umbrella’ of shared commitment to Jesus Christ, to God’s mission in the world, and to each other,” he said.
The Fellowship is planning another national event in January 2012.
According to its website, the Fellowship dropped “PCUSA” from its name because its “core commitment is not to renewing the structure and systems of our denominational bureaucracy, nor is our sole focus on congregations remaining within the PCUSA.”