When I was ordained as an Elder, I was sixteen years old and had a wide-eyed idealism about the church and in particular about the Presbyterian Church (USA). I remember willingly volunteering to attend presbytery meetings. I enjoyed the system that was our Presbyterian polity. I recall the excitement of seeing Robert’s Rules being used to advance a point and thought it was a wonderful expression of how humans could disagree and yet come to a decision.
Over time that joy became muted by frustration. Like many, I knew that “our” way was still the best, but the flaws become more evident. I would roll my eyes and tune out each time one of the Presbyterian Peacocks unfurled their feathers. You know the peacocks, the folks who have something to say about everything and do so in such bombastic ways that they are like a majestic peacock looking for a mate.
I also have to admit that there were also times when my joy of being Presbyterian was almost snuffed out. During the contentious times of division over ordination and marriage I all but stopped attending meetings. I couldn’t stand to see the church that I valued and loved tear itself apart. The bitterness and contentious nature of meetings seemed like anything but kingdom building.
Yet today I sit on the other side of the equation that is presbytery. As I ready myself for my first presbytery assembly as a staff member, I ask myself what is different today? I am thankful that a lot has changed both within myself and the PC(USA). I personally have changed my perspective on what it means to be part of this wonderful animal that is the church. I have changed my frustration into action. One of my commitments as I have entered this work is to be mindful of what the purpose of this connectional system is all about. I want to ensure that the frustrations of my past inform how I work with pastors and congregations. How can I make an impact on the church at large? I also believe that the church has changed. Through the pain of the past we have come to a new place in relationship with one another and God. As William Chapman said of the Book of Order, “There is blood on every page.” I believe we are in a time of renewal and transformation that was brought about by the painful work we have done.
I was asked by someone, “what the Sheol (not the word actually used) does it mean to be the Associate General Presbyter for Congregational Vibrancy?” Honestly, I’m still working on what it means but over the past two months I have thought a great deal about it. I keep getting drawn to the last word of the title, VIBRANCY. To me the opposite of vibrant is dull or muted. A dull, monochromatic church doesn’t sound so great. It reminds me of the life Dorothy was living in Kansas. Prior to the storm she lives in a dull, sepia tone existence. In her dream state she encounters, for perhaps the first time, a vibrant idea of life. I believe that the church is entering into a time of embracing the fact that God is turning up the colors of our life together. This couldn’t happen at a better time. As political division, global warming and racial tensions dull the world, as Christ disciples we are called to bring light to the world. We are to be vibrant witnesses to the loving Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that for us, unlike Dorothy, we are not in a dream land but can truly become vibrant with God’s help. I beginning to see my job is to help congregations become a little brighter in their ministry settings and perhaps help them to discern what it means to be a vibrant Body of Christ in the world.
You can find William Chapman’s book “History and Theology of the Book of Order, Blood on Every Page“, on Amazon