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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Why the Church?
October 7, 2010

The Shelter, Nurture, and Spiritual Fellowship of the Children of God

Our Book of Order lists six “great ends” of the church in a formula adopted by the United Presbyterian Church of North America more than 100 years ago. In this series, I am exploring what it might mean for our presbytery to be purposeful in working toward these “great ends.” Today we explore the second on the list, which is “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.”

One of our biggest challenges as a presbytery is to remember that presbytery is a “church” first and foremost. While the three components of this second “great end” pertain pointedly to local congregations, let us consider how they might shape the life and ministry of the regional congregation known as “presbytery.”

The shelter of God’s people involves their protection. The church is called to be a place of refuge for those who are under attack. It is a natural magnet for the persecuted. Ancient Israel had cities of refuge where any could flee to escape the wrath of their accusers. (Joshua 20:1-9) Geneva was such a city during the Reformation, providing shelter for international religious refugees. There a young Scot fled when his life was threatened because of his religious views – John Knox returned home to Scotland several years later to launch the revolution that became the movement known as “Presbyterianism.” Imagine presbytery as a place where those who are seeking to ascertain their God-given calling can find shelter to explore possibilities beyond what they’d ever dreamed. Imagine small clusters of pastors finding confidential space within their circles for unburdening their souls. Here lies the mission of our PEAL team – to offer a safe place for church leaders in seasons of struggle to reach for help without fear of reprisal. If that may be you just now, please do not hesitate to contact our PEAL team.

Presbytery is faithful to its charter as “church” if it seeks to be a body of Christian nurture. This means essentially just one thing – we fulfill our baptismal vows by strengthening the understanding and living of each other’s faith. I promise to uphold the faith of others at their baptism, just as others did for me at my own baptism. We are a community that challenges all of us to grow as disciples of our Lord Jesus. That means the presbytery is a teaching/learning community at core. This weekly letter is but a small attempt on my part to live out my commission to lead this community in faith formation. Much more needs to be done. Presbytery meetings ought to be known more for their work of education than for their work of regulation. Imagine presbytery as a teaching/learning community at every level – from meetings of the whole presbytery to meetings of congregational committees. Every single gathering of the church, from “two or three” to full presbytery meetings, is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to nurture our faith.

Spiritual fellowship is more than sharing meals together. But it includes at least that much. One does not live by bread alone, Moses taught, but one does not live without bread either. When presbytery gathered last month at Crestfield and we sat at tables together, we became more deeply connected to those with whom we were seated. As the church breaks bread together the Holy Spirit unites us in spirit and purpose as the body of Christ. This includes the sharing of “ordinary” meals, but refers especially to our coming to the Lord’s Table together. The wellspring of our “spiritual fellowship” is our being united with Christ at the Lord’s Table, and thus with all who are there united with him. “Fellowship” is our English for the Greek koinonia, from which we also get the word “communion.” It would have been impossible for the early church to imagine koinonia apart from table fellowship. The presbytery that eats together will grow stronger in its work and witness in Jesus’ name. Eating together once a year is hardly sufficient to our need for strength to be truly Christ’s ambassadors.

Each of these – shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship – is intimately bound up with the others. They are all facets of one diamond, the core of which is that we are becoming a band of disciples that together can turn the world upside down in our witness to the wonder of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.

Growing with you,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery

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