Congregational Discernment Consultation

Appointed in July 2005, the Consultation is comprised of nine Christian leaders from eight distinctive traditions from eight states around the country. They met five times over two years at different sites around the nation seeking to broaden an understanding of how corporate decision-making can be approached effectively as a spiritual process of discernment rather than as a political one with winners and losers.

All of our participants are ordained (recorded) ministers within their traditions, and all have served in pastoral capacities locally, as well as within regional or national denominational and/or ecumenical venues of leadership. All have also been working on congregational discernment within their own settings and will bring something to the table in terms of how things work and don't work within their particular traditions and polities.

Chuck Orwiler (DMin) is senior pastor of First Denver Friends (Evangelical Friends) in Denver, and he has worked for the last four years on developing a congregational discernment model of prayerful decision-making within his church and within Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting. Orwiler was present at the Discerning the Leadership of Christ Conference and served effectively as a consultant at that meeting. He is recognized regionally and nationally as an articulate Quaker leader, and he has been conducting ecumenical discussions among pastoral leaders in Colorado on how to move toward unity in congregational decision making.

Sister Sherryl White (CSJ, PhD) is a psychologist and director in the Consultation and Facilitation Services in the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph (Catholic) in Baden, Pa. In that capacity, she conducts many consultations and seminars around the nation, helping groups discern ways forward in corporate decision. The Sisters of St. Joseph is a female counterpart to the Society of Jesus within the Catholic Ignatian tradition, and Sister Sherryl White is a leading figure in the process of recovering a sense of how to put into practice key elements of the congregational discernment process.

Victoria Curtiss (MDiv) is the associate pastor for missions at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. In addition to 25 years in active ministry within the Presbyterian Church, she has been a leading member in the General Assembly Theological Task Force on "Peace, Unity & Purity of the Church" and has been the leading figure in that 20-member consultation in emphasizing a discernment-oriented approach to consensus decision-making. Curtiss has written a significant treatise on how corporate discernment provides a viable alternative to Roberts Rules of Order within Presbyterian polity, and she provides consultative services among Presbyterians in helping them understand how to put such wisdom into practice.

Jessica Moffatt (MDiv) is pastor and senior minister of the Bixby First United Methodist Church (United Methodist) in Bixby, Okla. She has been using consensus decision-making within her church over the last several years, and some amazing things have been happening there. Initial discussions about styles of worship have led to the expansion of the church's ministry into developing a new campus (including a major educational enterprise) and a retirement center on a nearby campus. Having engaged in international ecumenical work and peace mediation work, Moffatt is involved on the regional and national levels within the United Methodist Church, providing leadership in the reorganization work of the conference. She has applied and adapted the consensus works of James Fenegan and David Lawson toward congregational discernment processes in effective ways.

Pete Hartwig (DMin) is senior pastor of the Charlottesville First Assembly Church (Assemblies of God) in Charlottesville, Va. As a pastoral leader from the Pentecostal tradition, he has worked extensively in campus-outreach ministries at Princeton University and at the University of Virginia, also representing Chi Alpha interdenominationally. Hartwig has explored corporate discernment within Pentecostal polity so as to explore ways of holding in tension popularistic approaches to spiritual authority with more biblical and nuanced measures. He is vice president of Global Renewal and has adapted team models of leadership while still preserving essentials of biblical and traditional approaches.

Frederick Schmidt (PhD) serves as director of Spiritual Life and Formation and associate professor of Christian Spirituality at Perkins Theological Seminary. He also is an Episcopal priest, serving as Associate for Education at the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. In addition to serving in many other pastoral and administrative settings, prior to coming to SMU Schmidt served as canon educator and acting program manager at the Washington National Cathedral. In addition to participating in Episcopal decision-making venues locally, regionally, and nationally, he has just written a book on spiritual discernment, What God Wants For Your Life (2005), which will lead to other important discussions on congregational discernment.

Mark Ellingsen (PhD) serves as associate professor of church history at the Interdenominational Theological Center (Lutheran, ELCA) in Atlanta and has served extensively as a pastor or as an interim pastor within the Lutheran tradition. Ellingsen is an authority on matters of polity and decision-making during the Reformation era, with specialties also in discernment and ecclesiology ranging from Augustine to Black Ecumenism to the American interdenominational scene. He has published a dozen books and more than 300 essays, and he has served extensively within diverse cultural and denominational contexts, including African-American urban settings, Minnesota Lutheran settings, and Strasbourg (France) ecumenical settings.

Cleophus LaRue (PhD) serves as the Francis Landey Patton Associate Professor of Homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary (Baptist, NBCA) in Princeton, N.J., and he serves the Baptist Church locally, regionally, and nationally. LaRue has published two books on black preaching in America, and he has published many essays on preaching and effective ministry. He is in high demand as a speaker and has given distinguished lectures around the nation and also internationally. He has preached in more than 300 churches around the nation, and he is working on several book-length projects involving preaching and spoken ministry as aspects of Christian leadership and imagination.

Paul Anderson (PhD) serves as professor of biblical and Quaker studies at George Fox University (Friends) in Newberg, Ore. Anderson has published more than 160 essays, and his book on the Christology of the Fourth Gospel includes analytical treatments of early ecclesiological developments. He is editor of Quaker Religious Thought, and his response to the Vatican regarding Petrine Ministry (on behalf of the Faith and Order Commission, NCCC) was published in One in Christ (January, 2005). He has also developed outlines of how Quaker decision-making process works effectively and is the director of the George Fox University Congregational Discernment Project.