That title makes me cringe. One of the things you’ll hear me say over and over and over again is that the congregation is the heart of the church … the Church only exists through the work and ministry of it’s congregations. As a leader on presbytery staff, this has been my mantra; we are here to serve the congregations, not the other way around. And, I have always understood my work as presbyter to be helping congregations grow in faith and discipleship. So, I had to take a step back this week at the PCUSA Fall Polity Conference when the report came from the Middle Council Task Force (previously known as the Middle Governing Body Task Force); in the midst of the presentation to over two hundred EPs and Stated Clerks, the Book of Order was paraphrased saying that the local congregation is the basic form of mission and work of Jesus Christ, but it is insufficient on its own.* In a time when are cultural tendencies lean towards individualism, congregationalism, and independence, hearing the word “insufficient” sounds harsh to me. But it’s true: while the congregation IS the basic unit of effecting Christ’s mission in the world, the congregation is insufficient and often ineffective if it works alone.
This insufficiency is the core of our understanding as connectional church. And it’s the heart of community or koinonia. None of us is complete or sufficient on our own. We are all different members of the body working together for the common good. Rev. Tom Evans, EP in Atlanta, preached at the beginning of last weeks’ AEP forum saying that koinonia is the mortar that holds the bricks of our church together. It’s our togetherness or our “one-anothering” that is essential to the health and vitality of the Church.
At a COM meeting last month one member made a comment thinking of the presbytery as “beloved community.” If the presbytery’s primary task is to act in “beloved community” together, or in koinonia, or in a loving and life-giving relationship with each other, congregation with congregation, elder with elder … how does this effect the way we operate? Order presbytery meetings? Interact as COM? Or CPM?
I’d like to have us shift from thinking of the presbytery as “corporate” and instead think of us as beloved community of congregations, teaching and ruling elders, loving and serving both each other and the communities in which we live and to which we are called.
*G-3.0101 “Congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), while possessing all the gifts necessary to be the church, are nonetheless not sufficient in themselves to be the church.”