I didn’t attend presbytery today: living in the in-between

I didn’t attend a presbytery meeting today.  It was the first presbytery meeting in quite a long time that I have not attended and one of fewer than a handful of presbytery meetings I’ve missed in 18 years of ministry.  Based on these opening lines, you might consider me a presbytery geek. Apart from the process and the business of the governing body, a presbytery meeting represents an important part of being Presbyterian for me.

Presbyterians consider the connectional nature of the church to be an important part of our foundation.  We take seriously the Bible’s words that we are one body in Christ.  We structure our denomination in ways that remind ourselves that when we gather for communion we are a people gathered from North and South, from East and West and united by and in a common calling.

Missing a presbytery meeting is a big deal for me!

Just to be clear, I am a Teaching Elder (minister).  Teaching Elders are members of mid-councils, not congregations. When I was ordained to ministry in 1997, my membership at the Wildwood Presbyterian Church came to an end.  I became a member of Mission Presbytery in Texas where I had been called to my first congregation. After moving from Texas to Michigan (the first time) I became a member of Detroit Presbytery until 2004.  I’ve been a member of Boise Presbytery since February 2005.

I didn’t attend a presbytery meeting today and here’s why.  I am still a member of Boise Presbytery but I live in Michigan (for a second time).  There are nearly two thousand miles between Detroit and Boise therefore the distance is just too far to make attendance possible.  A component of the connectional nature of our denomination requires that we do things “decently and in order” and makes actual presence necessary to participate in presbytery meetings (a requirement at Synod and General Assembly meetings also).

Missing this meeting of presbytery was a big deal for me.  It was an important meeting because the presbytery was voting on important matters.  Boise Presbytery’s meeting included votes on proposed actions from the 221st General Assembly this past summer.  The meeting agenda also included discussion and actions regarding the future organization of the presbytery itself.  I wasn’t there and it was a big deal for me.

Before you label me an egomaniac, I am absolutely aware that I am not that important.  My presence at a presbytery meeting will not change the vote.  My words of support or opposition to any measure or proposed action will not matter to anyone but myself.

It was a big deal because I missed the opportunity to speak and the chance to cast my vote on these issues.  I could not be connected to my friends and colleagues as they sought to discern the will of God.  I missed this part of the connectional nature of the church.

I did not attend a presbytery meeting today and I am grateful for the distance that kept me from attending.  Yes, it sounds like I am contradicting myself.  I am grateful for the distance between me and Boise because it would have been awkward to have been there.

Until January 1 I was the Presbytery Executive for the Presbytery of Boise.  I was a key participant in the work of the presbytery and its meetings were an opportunity where I could be a link between the Synod and General Assembly and become a bridge between our congregations and our pastors and elders.  I saw my role as an integral part in the connectional nature of the church.  My departure from that role at the end of 2014 creates a difficult, in-between situation for me.

As the former Presbytery Executive, I need to give the presbytery space to discover its identity and begin moving forward.  My role was much like that of a pastor in a congregation.  While serving the congregation, a pastor’s voice and preferences are oftentimes the catalyst for action in the church.  When a pastor departs, professional ethics (and our polity) require the pastor to actually “depart” from the church.  Professional ethics now require that I not participate in the life of the presbytery. That I give it the space it needs to move forward.

So I did not attend presbytery meeting today but I am left in this awkward place.  I need the connectional nature of the church (from a spiritual and relational point of view) but the wisdom of the connectional nature of the church also suggests that I not be active in the presbytery any longer: a tough place to be, if you are of my organizational personality type.

I missed this presbytery meeting but I hope to soon be participating in a new presbytery.  I am actively searching for new ministry opportunities in my new community and when such an opportunity is received I will, by the necessity of our connectional nature and out of my own need to belong to something larger, seek to become a member of Detroit Presbytery.  I look forward to adding connections to my place in this connectional church.

And finally, a note to my friends and colleagues in Boise Presbytery: I missed you today and I wished I could have been there.  You had some important matters to work through in today’s agenda.  I am thankful to God for your faithful debate and action on each matter before you.  I will keep you in my prayers as you continue your work of discernment and organization.  Keep up the good and faithful work.

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