If the leaders of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern) have any deep concern about a possible second round of desertions by conservative congregations in the months ahead, that concern was little in evidence last month when 214 delegates met in Montreat, North Carolina to chart the denomination’s course in missions for the coming decade.

The PCUS General Assembly of 1976 had asked for the consultation and had set up a task force headed by Herbert Meza, a minister from Washington, D.C. The assignment for the consultation was to examine priorities and make proposals for the church’s mission task. Faced with a 15 per cent decline in the last ten years in the dollar value of giving for its programs, the General Assembly had specified that the consultation be “broadly representative of viewpoints and constituencies within the church.”

With that in mind, the PCUS hierarchy could hardly ignore the fact that some strongly evangelical congregations—including the large Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida—had voted to withdraw from the denomination in the weeks just before the consultation, and that other conservatives would be looking to Montreat for signs of conciliation.

There were a few. A theological preamble was hastily added to the informal outline distributed at the start of the consultation. Also added was a statement on “Proclamation” that helped balance an original list of priorities devoted almost exclusively to social action.

Evangelicals were heartened too by the consultation’s suggestion that the denomination capitalize on its “Sun Belt” location by devising strategies for planting new congregations in this rapidly growing area of the country. Urban areas are to get special attention. ...

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