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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

How is it when you come together?
July 7, 2011

There is no standard length of time for which the “honeymoon” lasts in new relationships, especially new pastoral relationships. I’ve had some friends for whom a pastoral honeymoon has lasted for about a week, give or take, while others seem to retain the glow of new love for years. Having been pastor to presbytery for more than a year and a half, I see plenty of signs that we’ve moved from honeymoon into the nitty-gritty of forging the kind of partnership that will be life-giving for the long haul. One such sign is that I now get a stream of comments after presbytery meetings about how we might have done something differently – and thereby better – at the meeting. While their wishes vary wildly, most of them wish that our meetings would be shorter – but even then, the suggestions of what to cut out are all over the map.

If we receive such responses to presbytery meetings, one can only imagine how folk react to meetings of the General Assembly. One of the consistent complaints is that General Assemblies are far too much about business and politics, and far too short on inspiration, teaching, and fellowship. Ever since our General Assemblies moved from annual to biennial frequency, the church has cast about for ways to gather in non-GA years for the purposes of inspiration, education, and fellowship. In 2009, and then again this past week, nearly 2000 folk gathered from around the country in a non-GA year conference known as “Big Tent” to worship, learn, and strengthen our bonds in Christ. Several of us from Pittsburgh Presbytery were privileged to participate.

Of course, not everyone was happy with the meeting. I heard some complain, “Why did we bother to gather, anyway? We didn’t do anything (that is, we didn’t do any business), so what was the point of all the effort and expense?” Go figure.

What we do when we come together both reflects and shapes who we are as a body. If our gathering is characterized primarily by business deliberations, our relationships will be primarily business-driven and issue-oriented. If during our gathering we engage in robust worship, we will be more attentive to God, and will seek more to do God’s will than to enact our own. If we spend time together in conversation and table fellowship, our life together will be marked more by bonds of friendship than by connectional chains.

Paul asks the church in Corinth, “How is it when you come together?” (I Corinthians 14:26, KJV) He goes on to list various characteristics of healthy church gatherings – each one brings a gift to the table, the intent of all is to bless the rest, nobody tries to dominate, and everything is in good order. In everything, a major consideration is whether what we do strengthens relationships within the body of Christ.

At “Big Tent” I met with a group of executive presbyters who were asked, “What is happening in your presbytery that is transforming your life together for the sake of the Gospel?” One EP told how they have changed their meetings of presbytery so that they no longer gather in rows, but around tables, even during worship. If a primary purpose of our gathering is to strengthen our relationships, such a move makes sense. In the case of that presbytery, being gathered in that configuration has been relationally transformative.

I’d like to pose a similar question to you: Where have you experienced transformation in your gathering as a congregation? And a second question: How would you like to see our meetings of presbytery reconfigured so that we might become stronger in our identity as God’s people working together to carry out Christ’s mission in our world? Please take time to drop me a line with your response to either or both of these questions.

That we may be our best for Christ’s sake,

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

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