I’m in the airport, heading home to Chicago after a meeting in Indianapolis of the PC(USA) Mid Councils Commission (formerly known in the pre-nFOG world as the Middle Governing Bodies Commission). This was the fourth meeting of the commission and the first at which we really debated two controversial matters of substance—non-geographic presbyteries and the future of synods. Our previous meetings have been more about setting the stage, learning together, and listening to the church. Now, perhaps a little later than many of the commissioners would have preferred, we are digging in.
It wasn’t an easy meeting. After working on this for a year, I was a little frustrated that we are still struggling to articulate some central concepts that are important to our work. But, I’m realizing that this is probably one of the hardest tasks we need to do. What is Presbyterianism? What is connectionalism? What can we lose without ceasing to be Presbyterian?
It was also difficult to struggle through processes—both parliamentary procedure and more free-form discussion—that enable us to engage each other and the issues we’ve been charged to address. Going into parliamentary mode seemed to work better for us—as our moderator notes, this is the “language” with which most Presbyterians are comfortable.
It also seems to me that we are struggling with being as bold and innovative as our charge mandates. I truly wonder if our commission has the collective will to think outside the boxes of our shared history and individual priorities.
One of the commissioners was right when he said at the conclusion of our meeting this morning that we needed this experience of debating against each other, voting, some of us losing, and feeling the sense of grief that comes with all of that. Maybe this will loosen not only our ability to function together as a group, but also our imaginations. I know that the process of working through two significant motions has given me much to think about, both in terms of the content of our deliberations (synods and non-geographic presbyteries) and this peculiar way Presbyterians choose to be church together.
I must admit that I’m leaving Indianapolis a little weary from being Presbyterian these past few days. I’m looking forward to returning to the comfort of my local Presbyterian church—a congregation I love; a congregation to which I feel a deep sense of call; a congregation that gives me hope that being Presbyterian is worth doing.
Being Presbyterian is sometimes difficult. I often wonder if this is the best use of our time and energy. I often wonder how this advances the gospel or helps bring about the kingdom that Jesus lived and died for.
But, as frustrated as I may get, as much as I may despair about the future viability of this expression of Christianity, I am leaving here with the same sense of call that I keep coming back to after experiences like this. I do believe that God calls us to live together with all of the glorious diversity we have been blessed with as human beings. And since I believe that human beings are collectively created in the image of God, I believe that something about this diversity and this process tells us something profound about the nature of God.
Somehow, my gut tells me that this is about the kingdom of God. My gut also tells me that there is a better way for us to do it, which is what this commission is all about.