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"Houston, we have a problem".

Those five words, expressed on April 14, 1970, by moon-circling astronauts, mobilized the folks back home at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Due in part to Texans' can-do mentality, a few rocket scientists in Mission Control huddled together and patched together a solution. Result: the Apollo XIII explorers returned safe and sound.

Problems have arisen in many a place since then, prompting many of us to echo those five words, as if to say that Houston has become "us" wherever we are. But echoing the astronauts' assessment has not guaranteed successful results.

Still, in the 100 churches of the Presbytery of New Covenant that fill and surround the country's fourth-largest city, the can-do mentality prevails, even when facing conflict.

Many of the conflicts affecting Presbyterians in and around Houston have arisen far away. The denominational legislative actions ruffling feathers in Bush country originated in presbyteries east, west or north. Advocates for divesting funds from petroleum companies do not hail from the land of Exxon Mobil, BP and Chevron. The push to divest from corporations doing business with the Israeli government didn't arise in the city of mega-synagogues that match its megachurches. And even the launch of new denominations gained traction there but arose elsewhere.

Nevertheless, their experience at solving distant problems--it's 240,000 miles to the moon--has prompted the New Covenant Presbyterians to roll up their sleeves.

When some conservative leaders initiated a plan to launch the ECO denomination, the presbytery developed with great care a "reconciliation and dismissal procedure." Many other presbyteries did so, too, but where some of the others' policies are stringent and even threatening, the NCP policy is filled with grace. It looks pretty lenient compared to most. Still, it requires a lengthy discernment season, a strong quorum of members to vote, a two-thirds majority and significant financial settlement to leave.

Several churches have followed the process and exited stage right. Some by very close vote--First Church Kingwood left last year after garnering 68.5 percent.

A few weeks ago, 3,130-member First Church, Houston, produced 64.5 percent support for departure (36 votes short of adoption), leaving stunned pastors and elders whispering, "We have a lot of work to do." They do. Those whose votes come up short on either side of such a divided vote feel heartbroken. Invariably, some lose their faith. But the presbytery is working intently to facilitate the healing, as it did to facilitate the discernment. (For more about the vote, read a complete report on pres-outlook.org).

The presbytery also has been building bridges with the city's Jewish community, as the move to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard has headlined recent General Assemblies--the upcoming one as well (see pages 12-15). They haven't abandoned the concerns for Palestinians, but have invested themselves to do visionary bridge-building among those two peoples (pages 16-17).

Of course, a can-do mentality cannot solve all ills. The NASA engineers were informed by advanced studies in astrophysics; they were saturated with an inventor's knowledge of each spacecraft component, and they were motivated by friendships: They loved their moon-orbiting colleagues.

Many folks in the Presbytery of New Covenant--starting with General Presbyter Mike Cole and Stated Clerk Lynn Hargrove--have mixed their can-do mentality with a thorough study of Bible, theology, psychology, sociology and business; they have engaged hands-on with the congregations in their care, no matter what style or ideology or ethnic mix identifies them; and they have been loving their charges as friends.

It takes wisdom, compassion, humility, faith in God and trust in the power of grace to fight fire not with fire (a dumb idea!) but with water, turning conflicts into conversations.

Houston still has its problems. But Houstonians are finding solutions, too.

--JHH
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Title Annotation:EDITOR'S OUTLOOK; Presbyterian churches in Houston, Texas
Author:Haberer, Jack
Publication:The Presbyterian Outlook
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Mar 17, 2014
Words:620
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