The Session has been wrestling over the last 12-18 months with our hearts before God in light of the season of conflict Southwood experienced several years ago. As we have prayed, talked, and at times fasted together, God has shown us more of our sinful attitudes and actions as a Session that were dishonoring to the name of Christ and hurtful to many others. We have sought God’s forgiveness in this regard and are thankful that he has continued to deal graciously with us and with Southwood.
We decided that it would be appropriate to share our corporate confession with the congregation, and we made that public confession during the worship service on Sunday, April 2 (The Session’s statement is included with this article. If you would like to hear the heart behind that communication, please listen to the sermon file from that Sunday at southwood.org/audio. It includes comments from ruling elders following the sermon). We are aware that in doing so, we could unintentionally cause additional frustration or confusion to some, especially since this season in the life of our church is not a consistent focus of the life of the church today. At the same time, though, while our sin was first and foremost against God, it was also very public in nature, with many at Southwood and in Huntsville impacted by it. We wanted our repentance to be as public as our sin inasmuch as we were able to see that happen.
In our individualistic culture, it can also be confusing to consider what corporate confession of sin means. Examples like Ezra 9-10 and Daniel 9 show us that corporate confession of sin is at times important for God’s people, who are impacted by broader sin patterns “in the camp.” Corporate sins are thoughts, words, and deeds against the character and commands of God generally true of a group of people (in this case, the Southwood Session). On the other hand, individual sins are thoughts, words, and deeds against the character and commands of God specifically true of a particular person. While there are many individual sins that individual Southwood elders have confessed in other contexts, this confession is not attempting to confess the sins of any current or past elder personally but rather to confess our corporate sins against God that impacted our congregation and community.
Confession from Southwood Session
A few years ago, our church endured a season of conflict that impacted many people both in our own congregation and in the broader Huntsville community. During this season in particular, we corporately as church leaders failed to love as God has called us to and sinned against the name of God, the church in general, and many brothers and sisters we care for deeply. Rather than focusing on the glory of God and our own sin, we focused on our own agendas and others’ sin. In our zeal for being right and defending ourselves and our positions, we neglected to love well, spoke harshly to some, overlooked the concerns of others, and so wounded many.
We are sorrowful over our sins, and in particular we grieve the dishonor they caused to the name of Christ and then the pain they caused others. We desire humbly to repent to and be a part of healing for anyone still struggling with the consequences of our sin. We acknowledge that we do not know all the ways that our sin hurt and continues to hurt some, but the heart of our Session is to listen to, learn from, and aid the healing process of anyone we can. We are grateful for God’s continued mercy upon us and upon Southwood as well as for his faithfulness to work through and in spite of us to see his kingdom advance.
The Southwood Session