January 17 – Off Course?

We’ve all seen the images and read the stories of the Italian cruise ship that ran aground just off the isle of Giglio on Italy’s Mediterranean coast.  News reports blame the ship’s captain for an “unauthorized deviation” from the ship’s approved course. The ship went off course, struck a series of submerged rocks and is now listing dramatically.  At least six people have died and 29 remain missing.

The captain of the ship says the rocks were not on his chart. (Here is a BBC update on the story)

The Costa Concordia tragedy comes to mind as I travel to Orlando tomorrow for the “Covenanting Convention” of the Fellowship of Presbyterians.  Some links that may be helpful are posted below.

In anticipation of the gathering of 2,100 PCUSA Presbyterians in Orlando, the Moderator and Vice-Moderator, the two highest elected officers of our denomination, have joined six other teaching and ruling elders in issuing a letter to what the official denominational news service calls members of the “dissident” churches.

To say that the letter was clumsily written and tone deaf to the mood of  many in the denomination would be an understatement. To the extent that some in Orlando will have read it, it will serve only to galvanize the determination of those who seek to differentiate or even separate from the PCUSA.

For those who care to read it, a link to the letter is posted below along with a selection of responses. I have little to add  to what the commenters have said. It seems, though, as if our ship has gone off course. We are in dangerous waters.

Annie Dillard has great insight into the life of the church.  In her 1982 book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, she writes, and it seems somehow applicable:

Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?

The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship, correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, watching the radar screen, noting weather reports radioed in from the shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these things. Alas, among on the tourists on Deck C, drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, we find the captain, and all the ship’s officers, and all the ship’s crew. The officers chat; they swear; they wink a bit at slightly raw jokes, just like regular people. The crew members have funny accents. The wind seems to be picking up.

Pray that the wind we feel is the wind of the Spirit.


Website of the Fellowship of Presbyterians

The “Eight Elders” letter to the PCUSA

A Response by Dr. Mateen Elass, First Presbyterian Church, Edmond, OK

A Reponse by Dr. Mark Patterson, Community Presbyterian Church, Ventura, CA

My Letter to the People of LPC on the eve of our departure for Orlando

More FOP resources.