October 1, 2018

We Are They

When my pastoral ministry was presbytery leadership, I would often say to our congregations, "Remember that the presbytery is we; we are the presbytery."

My point was that the "presbytery," when functioning as a wider expression of the church, was not some bureaucratic entity over and apart from our congregations, some ecclesiastical monkey on our backs or some Big Brother only checking our minutes.  The presbytery is we: our pastors, our sister congregations and their elders -- our common life in Jesus our Christ.

It is true that the "congregation is the basic form of the church."  Like politics, all Christian ministry is local.  You cannot finally institutionalize or nationalize the body of Jesus; it lives and moves through relationships.  And yet a localized congregation by itself is not a sufficient expression of the Christian movement.  Churches need each other just like we need each other.  Sibling congregations need their siblings to share, encourage, and correct.

We see this lived out in the pages of our New Testament: The church in Corinth is not the church in Philippi, or vice versa.  They each need different interpretations of the one gospel message, which is why your Bible contains all these peculiar letters to churches with funny first century place names.  Yet they also need each other, learn from one another, and together with all the churches form a multifaceted expression of the community of Jesus.  At our best, it is not dissimilar to what we Presbyterians are up to in a presbytery.  Two truths are true:  Northminster is the basic form of Jesus' church.  And Northminster needs our siblings.  And they need us.

This month, we have the opportunity to practice the wider Christian expression we call presbytery.  On Sunday, October 14, we will abbreviate our Sunday morning worship so as to reconvene at 4pm for a Service of Installation led by our Flint River Presbytery.  Three elders and three preachers from sister congregations will lead us in worship and officially "install" me as your pastor.  It is a marriage ceremony, of sorts.  Vows will be taken, promises will be made, and prayers will be offered for a faithful and fruitful season of ministry -- together.  As I am now a member of Flint River Presbytery, there is a real sense in which my (new) spiritual fellowship is coming to meet with your (longstanding) spiritual fellowship, and together we are a better expression of Jesus' body.

We are particularly honored in this 4pm service to welcome as our preacher the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, currently the Co-moderator of our national Presbyterian General Assembly.  Cindy, Deb Tregaskis Bibler (our terrific executive here in Flint River), and I all became good friends in recent years through a national learning cohort of presbytery executives.  This summer, Cindy was elected co-moderator of our General Assembly and well spend the next two years traveling around the denomination representing the best of what we hold in common with everyone in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Cindy is as terrific a friend as she is a preacher, so I know we will be blessed by her presence with us.

I hope you'll make time the afternoon of October 14 to continue our Lord's Day worship later in the day and to welcome our presbytery into our worship space.  They are we.  We -- blessedly -- are they.