What is “Presbytery?”

New Brunswick State of the Presbytery (part 2)

When the  Mission/Vision team began meeting and talking with people about the mission of the presbytery, the first question we were confronted with was, “so what do we mean by “presbytery?”  And the answers were varied: at first we heard people talking about the presbytery meetings, the office, the staff … or our committees, specifically the COM.  We longed for something more, though.   It was our connectionalism … yet “connections” seems too functional; it wasn’t enough either.  We were striving for something deeper, more God-centered.  Eventually, we settled on “community” … a community of congregations (which is a community of disciples, no?) and clergy … pastors, chaplains, teachers, prophets, etc. … teaching and ruling elders in relationship with each other because of our relationship with Jesus Christ and our common history and heritage of the PCUSA.

Community is neither easily defined nor easily lived.  Community takes time, and it often means doing stuff we don’t like … or have no practice doing.

I was involved in an emergent church community in Texas.  We were striving to be a missional community — one that was focused on supporting each other as we grew in faith and witnessed that faith in our neighborhoods.  One evening, a fellow pastor (a church planter I was coaching of a Vineyard Church) was at the house.  While he was there my phone rang, and a member of the church called and asked me to go shopping with a few of the women the next day.  Now, you need to understand; I do not like shopping.  My idea of a good shopping spree is an hour on Amazon.com.  If I can’t buy it online or at the grocery store, I don’t need it.   I reject the consumerism, I think fashion is trivial, I’d rather walk in a park than in a mall.  No, “shopping” is not my thing, and certainly not a “fun” way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  As I was trying to explain my no-shopping preferences to my friend on the other end of the phone.  The Vineyard pastor shouted from the other room, “it’s not about shopping, it’s about community.”

I wish I could tell you that I put my own preferences aside and went shopping with the women of our church community.  But, no, I didn’t.  Community is hard!  Truth be told, I’d rather cocoon in my home, watch “Breaking Bad”, or stay connected to my 1000+ “friends” on Facebook.  The Rev. Jin Kim, pastor of the Church of All Nations, Minneapolis, accused me of not being able to form true community, because “Americans have no experience with community.”  We value individualism and independence.  We believe in the right of privacy … yet we struggle with a deep lonliness.

Community, however, is the very nature of God.  God is one, in three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of life.  “Let us make humankind in our image, male and female …”  We were created for togetherness.  Jesus is God made flesh in order to be one of us, one with us.  The heart and hearth of the early church was community … churches met in homes, early Christians lived in a commune-like arrangement in which people sold their property to join the community.

Community grows when we “dwell” with each other … when we eat together, when we have shared experiences, when we walk with each other, when we work with each other.  It was in the breaking of the bread that the disciples recognized Christ on the road to Emmaus.  This is why the ministries like our own Bethany House of Hospitality, and the new Lawrence Road House of Hospitality, are an important part of our ministry together.  We can’t base community on merely one hour of worship a week, or five presbytery meetings a year.  We need to be in relationship with each other, learn each other’s stories, hear each other’s needs and fears and passions.  Being community is a way of making room for the Spirit in our lives.  As we make room for each other, as we give up our time and preferences for each other, we open ourselves for the indwelling of Christ.

New Brunswick State of the Presbytery (part 1)
Community: a Web of Relationships (part 3)
What Do We Hope to Do? (part 4)
How Will We Do It? (Guiding Principles) (part 5)
How Will We Do It? (Some Specifics) (part 6)

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