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Changes ahead for Menlo Park Presbyterian Church
Original post made
on Feb 25, 2014
One hundred and forty years ago, the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church first took shape in a small building on Santa Cruz Avenue. Now, MPPC is looking for a new home -- both spiritually and physically. Make that homes, plural.
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posted Tuesday, February 25, 2014, 8:46 AM
Posted by Fashion,
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2014 at 9:17 am
I understand the general feeling of distaste which comes from publicly airing what is typically a private concern. That said, this decision is too critical to be brushed aside, or to proceed without interested parties having the opportunity to air their concerns, or state their position. Had MPPC provided a forum in which members and attendees could air their thoughts openly with one another as a general body, this discussion would likely not be taking place. It is enormously regrettable that the church did not provide an internet home for commentary, avoiding any public conversation.
I am not in favor of the church leaving PCUSA, nor frankly, am I in favor of the church focusing time, money and effort in a "five year/five campus" expansion program. I am not in favor, in any sense of the word, of spending a staggering $9M to facilitate this congressional divorce. The human heart should hurt at the thought of how much good could come from money of this sort being spent for those in need.
The membership level of MPPC under the leadership of Walt Gerber appears to have been approximately the same level, if not higher, than what we see today, many years, many divisions, many "satellite campus" programs later. There are a number of things which have changed, some positive, some negative, It is my opinion that principal among them is the feeling of unity, the sense of purpose, the common drive for humility and compassion which were hallmarks of the MPPC congregation of ten years ago. What has changed is the stability of the leadership team, the cherished traditions of the service, the unshakable bond of joy which went hand in hand with walking through the doors of one of the most life giving, life sustaining churches in the Bay Area, and arguably in the country.
I respect the talents of John Ortberg, and there is no denying his capability in many important areas. He is an intelligent, creative guy, an excellent speaker, and a prolific author. He is also a man who clearly sees himself as the leader of a movement far beyond the scope of the treasured church he now pastors, and a man whose ambition, both personal and professional, is beyond dispute. I do not begrudge him his goals in any sense of the word. I do, however, firmly resist his desire to remake MPPC into a church which suits his agenda, and one which I do not believe reflects the basic tenets which have governed us so successfully, and so lovingly, for decades.
There are obviously several driving forces behind the desire to leave PCUSA, and it is clear that PCUSA is in glaring need of reformation, revamping, and quite likely an overhaul of leadership. I understand the concerns which have been raised by Ortberg and his leadership team as justification for the departure, but I flatly disagree that departure is the solution. MPPC is one of the brightest stars in the PCUSA firmament, and at a time when Presbyterian churches are fleeing the organization, this church could fill a critical gap in capability. John Ortberg could direct his multiple talents to fixing what is broken, repairing what no longer works, bringing a new face to an organization badly in need of assistance.
It is apparent to the most casual observer that mainstream denominations in America are on a dramatic, and perhaps irreversible decline. We have seen leading denominations, including the Methodists, the Episcopalians, the Catholic church, and the Presbyterian church all racked by strife, torn apart by fundamental disagreement on any number of subjects. The "go to" solution for most of these organizations has not been to work with passion for reconciliation and progress, but rather, to essentially take their toys and go away. There are no winners in this type of divisive, tragic behavior. People for whom the church is, as it should be, a lifeline, are left broken hearted at the relationships severed, the bonds torn apart. Denominations lose the collective, prodigious power of unity, while small, disparate, splinter groups pop up here and there, all touting their particular version of the "right path". People who are outside of the church either shake their heads in disgust, or feel, often justifiably, that their perception of organized religion as both damaged and damaging is perfectly correct.
It is time, in my opinion, to stop this hemorrhaging tide of damage. It is time to remember that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us. It is time to stop focusing our efforts on aggrandizement, and remember instead that those who lead by example are, as they should be, the true beacons of light in the world.
MPPC is not called to be on the front page of the papers for suspected discrimination against any group of people. It is not called to be a point of concern for neighboring churches due to expansion efforts. It is not called to be a platform for this pastor, or for any pastor, to overlay personal goals on a church whose charter was written by larger hands.
Rather, we are called to justice. We are called to, and for, social outreach and compassion. We are called to take the astonishing blessings of our location, our wealth, and our talents as what they are; gifts to be used to and for the benefit of the communities we serve. We are called to protect those most vulnerable, to shelter those in need, to care for the sick, to provide for the homeless. We are called to bring the word of Christ in living, breathing, vibrant display to those not familiar with His message. We are called to welcome, to embrace, and to celebrate every person equally, leaving the duties of judgment to the God we serve. We are called to stand as a unified body, joyful in our faith, faithful in our joy.
We are losing our way. This needs to be the last time in which our church plays out unaccustomed discord in such a painful, bleeding fashion. I don't know what tomorrow's vote will bring, and we can only hope that every single person voting does so with thoughtful analysis, great courage, humility, and a sincere desire to return MPPC to the loving, united body it was for so many years. If the vote goes to join ECO, then I hope we will bind up our wounds, and move forward to make the organization a source of joy and comfort in a world so desperately in need. If ECO proves contrary to our fundamental beliefs, then I hope we stand with courage in opposing any charter, any instruction, any direction which erodes our foundation. If the vote goes to remain in PCUSA, then I hope that Reverend Ortberg either accepts the challenge to embrace the decision wholeheartedly, or makes the decision to find a platform more in keeping with his personal goals and philosophy.
The one thing I do know is that the power of God permeates this church, and has from the first day of existence. Menlo Park Presbyterian has changed lives for generations, provided a spiritual home for thousands of people, and become a cornerstone of outreach and leadership in the Peninsula Bay Area. It is a wonderful church, made up of decent, good, caring people. It has been a living, vibrant symbol of all that is good, all that is responsible, all that is caring, all that is beneficial in a denominational gathering. It will remain as such, simply because so many people believe now, as they have believed for years, that the God we serve is, and must always be, the defining force of all that brings us together.
The working definition of being a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. To follow this man is to understand that we are called to serve, called to stand, called to love, called to shelter.
Nothing can shake that foundation. This church belongs to God, and He, thank goodness, remains as He was, as He is, as He will always be; perfect in His love, steadfast in his fidelity.
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