Where is the Connectionalism?

Photo by Anita Ritenour

I was in a meeting today discussing the rationale for why a presbytery should be involved in camping ministry. As a starter, a member of our team took three responsibilities of presbyteries as outlined in the Book of Order (G-11.0103) and suggested how a presbytery camping ministry corresponds to these responsibilities.

As we talked about why presbyteries should be in the business of camping ministry, we kept coming back to the fostering of connectionalism as a major rationale. Camping ministry is one of many ways that we recognize and nourish our sense of connection to the wider church. The church is much bigger than our local congregations and there are things we can do much better together than as individual congregations.

This resonated deeply with what I am hearing throughout the church. In my work with the Middle Governing Body Commission, and in a variety of conversations I have been having with Presbyterians, connectionalism seems to be one of the highest valued—if not the highest valued—aspect of our Presbyterian way of being church.

So we wondered, what could we quote from the Book of Order to support this point of our rationale? I was somewhat surprised to discover that G-11.0103 doesn’t explicitly mention connectionalism as a responsibility of presbyteries. It talks about things that we do together as presbyteries, but it doesn’t say why this is important or valued. In fact, the words connectional and connectionalism—both of which I consider current buzz words in the PC(USA)—never appear in the Book of Order at all.

So, Presbygeeks, help me out here. Where in our current Book of Order would you go to reference our widely held value of connectionalism?

I should note that the proposed new Form of Government—which I strongly support—also does not contain the words connectional or connectionalism. However, it was much easier to find some elegant language that speaks to this issue. Consider, for example, G-3.0101:

The mutual interconnection of the church through its councils is a sign of the unity of the church. Congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), while possessing all the gifts necessary to be the church, are nonetheless not sufficient in themselves to be the church. Rather, they are called to share with others, both within and beyond the congregation, the task of bearing witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the world.

Where in the current Book of Order can you find something like this?

Comments

  1. The first presbytweep suggestion is G-4.0301a:

    The particular churches of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) wherever they are, taken collectively, constitute one church.

    I considered this. But it seems like a statement of fact more than a theological argument for why connectionalism is valued.

    What do others think?

    • Jeff Lipschultz says:

      G-4.0302 Presbyterian Unity
      The nature of Presbyterian order is such that it shares power and responsibility. The system of governing bodies, whether they have authority over one or many churches, sustains such mutual relationships within the structures as to express the unity of the church.

      This one comes pretty close to what you’re looking for. So does:

      G-9.0103 Unity of Governing Bodies
      All governing bodies of the church are united by the nature of the church and share with one another responsibilities, rights, and powers as provided in this Constitution. The governing bodies are separate and independent, but have such mutual relations that the act of one of them is the act of the whole church performed by it through the appropriate governing body. The jurisdiction of each governing body is limited by the express provisions of the Constitution, with powers not mentioned being reserved to the presbyteries, and with the acts of each subject to review by the next higher governing body.

  2. joel adams says:

    I don’t know. But as the Moderator of Camp and Conferences Board of the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois, I would like to invite all the youth and adults of Chicago Presbytery to our camping ministry in Southern Illinois. What connects the Chicago folks with the Southern Folk here in Illinois are two things. The first is Amtrack. Hop on in Chicago, arrive in Carbondale and the good folks of Camp Carew will pick up your youth, call and let you know they arrived. Shoot if you want to come as a leader even better. And secondly, Route 57, will take you straight down to Carbondale, just head towards Memphis! We offer great bass fishing, the beautiful Shawnee Forest, a great lake, super counselors and much more! Sometimes when you can’t find connectionalism in the BOO, just look for places of connectionalism in your Synod. Perhaps a connection to the Unity of Governing Bodies in real time. Peace brother. I am serious. Bring em our way! Thanks for your work and the gifts you are sharing with our larger church.

  3. I think the BOO quotes you’re looking for have been provided. I recently took a group of our youth to the local Presbyterian camp’s youth retreat and was pleasantly stunned at how quickly some of them connected to youth they’d never met before. But more than just people, the experience at the camp connected them to a different thread of Biblical and theological emphasis than what they get at their home congregation. My instincts were to be wary of that, but the more I think about it, the more valuable I think it is.

    I’d love to see something of this presentation you heard, because our presbytery is lumped with six other presbyteries in trying to support two camps that the synod spun off into a separate 501 (c3) six years ago, and it’s been a struggle.

  4. Christian Boyd says:

    Perhaps we should not speak of “connectionalism”; rather lets talk about being and valuing “communion.” That has more theological and confessional backing than the term connectionalism. What would happen if we talked more about being a communion than a connection of churches and people? If we approach our ecclesiology and polity from a theological lens of perichoretic Trinity (via eastern orthodox tradition), and the Sacrament of Holy Communion as the sign and symbol of God’s intention and hope for humanity, then our polity reflects a practical theology of “communion” and not mere functional connection.

  5. Well, all of this is fine and good but how on earth does
    any of this differ from the kind of connectionalism we have with
    other Christian congregations through non-Presbyterian Camps and
    Conferences and/or should it. I don’t see anything unique about the
    PC(USA) in the way of connectionalism. And frankly I think it’s one
    of those cute little meaningless catch phrases that we toss around
    like “basic tenets of the reformed faith” that due to our inability
    to identify, list or otherwise define, pretty much remains
    meaningless… Yes? Or am I just missing something here?

  6. James D. Berkley says:

    Connectional is the opposite of independent.

    I’m amazed that it seems odd or esoteric to a Presbyterian! Have we no polity requirements for ordination? Know we no history?

    Our Presbyterian form of government carefully orders us together, not as disparate entities that just may (but may not) kind of fraternize if we feel like it. We belong together. We govern ourselves together–connectionally. We don’t act like independent little points with fierce local independence. A preacher doesn’t just walk into a town with a Bible and a dream and start a church centered on him/herself, ruled autocratically, and unhinged from other congregations. We work together, connectionally, because we belong together in the Body of Christ AND because autocracies become crazy and corrupt.

    What’s so hard about that? The concept is woven through and through the Book of Order, even if the exact word isn’t there. You won’t find “Trinity” in the Bible either, but it takes a small mind to thus think it unimportant or absent.

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