“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:19
Making all things new is our Presbytery theme for 2012! We face all sorts of change, which annoys, frustrates and frankly scares us. Sessions, presbyteries, denominations, families, city councils, state assemblies and national governments are all challenged with the task of thinking through tacit assumptions of the ways we have always done things, because some of what we are accustomed to has diminishing effects. That is hard work! Gil Rendle suggests, that “norms outlive the people who develop them: Norms being the hidden rules, the unspoken assumptions, the learned behavior that governs how ‘we do things here.’” We live in a different context, than that which shaped the GI, general issue, generation, where, one size fit all, to meet the challenge of the common good. Rendle suggests a working principle, that “the economical response to differences is regulation,” no longer serves us well in a new context of consumer values and pure segmented markets. He points to Dykstra and Hudnut-Beumler’s observations of denominational evolution: From constitutional confederacies (1780’s), to corporations, or at least organization that live out of a corporate model (1830s through 1960s), to regulatory agencies (1960s to present).1
In our new form of government in the Book of Order, the PC(USA) has begun the shift away from such an identity. We will still need boundaries and guidelines, which each Session and Presbytery must determine. The new thing God is doing among us is yet to be perceived, to take shape, but the language of covenant community or fellowship appears again and again in the Foundations. Still living with the old patterns, yet open to the new, our Committee on Ministry (COM) finds itself in the conversation of thinking through old mandates and how then shall we live. There was much wisdom in our familiar ways, but how can we apply that to where and when it is appropriate. It’s a godly chaos, so bear with us, and join us in the conversation!
The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity in our new Book of Order begin with a statement of God’s Mission. “The good news of the Gospel is that the triune god—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people”(F-1.01.) Wow! I’m so glad it isn’t all up to me! Thank God that God creates, redeems, sustains, and transforms. Transformation is a God thing! The gospels are full of transformation stories! The oppressive status quo is challenged. Lives are changed! The Foundations boldly confess that God in Christ “transforms all things and all people,” which includes you, me, and the church… And that “the mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church.” It appears that we are not called to a status quo keeping business. Spiritual practices, and rituals are fine, but the gospel must touch people’s lives. If we are going to join God’s radical transformation agenda, than the transformation begins with me and you. So my question is, how are you, your congregation, and your community being transformed?
At our presbytery meeting Saturday, Elder Flor Fatzke told her incredible personal story of transformation. She grew up in Mexico and met a group from the Holt congregation, when a mission team of the church visited her village. Because of the stewardship, friendship and love of a family in the Holt church, she got an education, came to Michigan, studied more, got married, and is now a young elder in the church, fully engaged in its life and mission. Her “This I Believe” statement witnessed to a life transformed, a family transformed, and a congregation transformed! Rev. Kirk Miller, pastor of Holt, First also told of the congregation’s development of a second alternative worship service and how they went about it. Transformation takes unique form for each situation. Thanks be to God!
George Hunsberger, professor at Western Theological Seminary and member of LMP, led presbytery in a discussion of the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity at Lake Michigan Presbytery’s meeting Saturday. Thank you, George! He framed some questions for small group discussion, which could be used with Sessions and small groups in your congregation. He would also welcome invitations to explore the Foundations with your church. During a report back time, one group questioned, “Isn’t it presumptuous of us to say what God’s mission is?” Maybe so, but isn’t this the calling of the church: to discern what God is doing in our particular context where God places us, and to join God in it. God is doing a new thing. Can we perceive it?
1 Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches,” by Gil Rendle, Abingdon Press, 2010, p.69. See also Multi-Generational Congregations: Meeting the Leadership Challenge, by Rendle, Alban Institute, 2002.