Earlier this year as I met with my EP colleagues in the Presbytery Leader Formation residency, we were each sharing about our presbyteries, and I said, “I’ve got twins!”
My two presbyteries are of the same approximate size and weight (Monmouth has a few more churches, New Brunswick has a lot more pastors). They both share DNA, but they have very different personalities. One is the over-achiever, one is the heart-warmer, one is the artist, one is the intellectual, both are smart … and, to this proud “mom”, both are “above average” on all scales that matter.
I’ve told my colleagues: Even though New Brunswick is technically the smaller of the two presbyteries, it operates like they’re much larger; I describe them as the “program church” Monmouth is larger, but, I find they operate more like a “family church”. Each has it’s own eccentricities and advantages.
New Brunswick brings a cosmopolitan, urban flair, to our family. The influence of the seminary is palpable in their analytical, critical, and intellectual capabilities. They have a deep heritage … a long history of being influencers and on the cutting edge … this leads to a confidence in their orthodoxy and orthopraxy that flirts with arrogance, but gives them a firm foundation in who they are and who they’ve been. They are organized and detailed. Like a well-oiled machine, they “do” presbytery well and have, in my opinion, one of the best functioning COM’s and CPM’s in the country . They are highly intelligent, resourceful, and individually as much the influencers as ever. They are a presbytery overflowing with leaders, and teachers, and mentors, and pastors. They care about each other, but are finding that they don’t really know each other well. They care deeply about the PCUSA and the presbytery, but the legal struggle of the recent past has left its mark … deep hurt for some, skittishness for others … distrust is not yet overt, but growing. And, while they may, at times, seem apathetic, I don’t believe apathy is part of their DNA; rather I’m convinced they’re corporately experiencing a reluctance to put their whole heart forward because they are acutely aware of the vulnerability that opens us up to.
Monmouth, on the other hand, is “Jersey Shore” … not at all like the TV show, but in their “down-to-earth-ness” and deep family ties. Their heritage is also strong but solidified in relationship and shared experience. They are determined, persevering, and have a lot of energy around being presbytery. They have a passion that has led them, at times, to open hostility. That hostility and hurt, I’m convinced, is rooted in how much they care about scripture, the church, the marginalized, and each other. Their hearts are full, and they are determined to do the right things. That determination has had them at odds with each other during some very difficult times. I hear that, I see that trust is difficult, because they’ve been hurt, and because they care. Monmouth is a presbytery of highly talented leaders who have wonderfully imaginative ideas, and, they have a heart that beats for the church, for Christ. This allows them to share an authentic hope for the future that sometimes seems like nothing but pie in the sky dreaming, but it gives them strength, nonetheless.
Working with both of them keeps me constantly appreciating them … each of them, and it gives me a much larger grasp on the possibilities out there. not only do I have the experience of the different ways things WERE done in my previous presbytery, but I know how they ARE being done next door. And, I’m always seeing possibilities for collaboration … not so that the two become one, but so that we can fully support and complement each other.
Double the Work
I’m not going to sugar-coat anything though. As parents of multiples always tell you, the work, the sheer amount of work, can be overwhelming. My colleagues keep shaking their heads, saying things like, “twice as many presbytery meetings? Double the COM meetings? Council meetings?” Yup. And that means I can’t do everything alone. More and more, each leader will need to step and do their part. By now you probably have begun to notice some of the things which are falling to others in the presbytery. I’m relying quite a bit on committee chairs, COM liaisons, and the office staffs. We are, however, a community, working together … and I’m convinced this will continue to be much more of a blessing than a burden.