In recent years, as Christian denominations voted to allow openly gay and lesbian clergy, hundreds of congregations have broken away to affiliate with more theologically conservative bodies. It is a painful process, fraught often with acrimony, recriminations and lawsuits over property.
But a Presbyterian congregation in Sheboygan County and the Presbytery of Milwaukee are trying to forge a new way.
In what appears to be a first for the Presbyterian Church USA, the denomination’s 45 local congregations have been invited to take part in a prayerful and collaborative process aimed at negotiating a reconciliation or amicable divorce.
The First Presbyterian Church of Oostburg is the first congregation in southeastern Wisconsin to petition to leave the Presbyterian Church USA following a 2010 vote approving the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy in July 2011.
On Feb. 1, Milwaukee’s Zeidler Center for Public Discussion will mediate a church-wide conversation over that request in a process that will focus not just on money and property, but mission and what it means to be part of a faith community.
“We don’t have an end game; that’s the whole idea,” said the Rev. Craig Howard, executive presbyter of the 11-county Presbytery of Milwaukee.