of the General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley
May 23, 2022
Sitting in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church, Wetumpka last Thursday enjoying their extravagant hospitality as they hosted the presbytery meeting, looking out at you all both in person and on-line, I got to thinking about the “C” in Presbyterian. It’s silent. Sometimes it’s not even included in the spelling of the word but it’s there.
There’s a c in Presbyterian which stands for connectional. It is a hallmark of our Presbyterian polity and theology. We are individual congregations yet we are connected to one another as a presbytery, to the other presbyteries in our region through the Synod of Living Waters, and to the General Assembly which makes over-arching decisions for the whole PCUSA. (At our last presbytery meeting we commissioned the delegates, chosen by the presbytery to deliberate the issues before this year’s General Assembly coming up in June and July.) We are better together. We can do more and make a wider impact. There is an African saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Here are just a few microcosm examples of our connectional nature on display at our last presbytery meeting:
- We worshipped together and shared communion brought together by Word and Table. In that worship service we also took up an offering. The offering supports the care and nurture of our candidates for ministry (50%) and the general presbyter’s ministers’ discretionary fund (50%) which provides emergency assistance when needed by our Minister members and CRE’s. Just coming out of a Commission on Preparation meeting earlier today the collective wisdom of that group from all over the presbytery offered the guidance and perspective no one church could offer on their own. And the funding – no one congregation makes these kinds of funds available but together we’re able to support the preparation of future ministers for the whole church and help out the emergency needs of those within the presbytery.
- We were led in discussion by our Anti-Racism committee which helps the presbytery fulfill its Matthew 25 commitment toward dismantling structural racism. We definitely need the diversity of the presbytery to do this crucial work.
- We commissioned a CRE. Again, the presbytery, through its Commission on Ministry trains and prepares Commissioned Ruling Elders for pastoral leadership in our churches. About 9 of the churches in this presbytery are led by these gifted, trained leaders.
- The Commission on Ministry also assists churches in times of pastoral transition, or in times of trouble, and are on hand to celebrate the victories in individual congregations. They make sure the church has a moderator for its session in times of pulpit vacancies and use their creativity and their commitment to help ensure pastoral leadership or to consult when an issue is beyond the resources the congregation possesses. They provide for discipline for the sake of the whole church (the South Baptist Convention would not be in the trouble they are now if they were a little less congregational and a lot more connectional) The COM is working alongside all the churches for the health and welfare of the whole church.
- The Main Event provides trainings, curriculum development, and educational opportunities to equip and empower our leaders.
- In mission we collectively support the work of the Presbyterian Home for Children, the Living River Retreat on the Cahaba, raised $100 to retire medical debt in the black belt, support schools and hospitals in the Congo, and build Habitat Houses.
- And, of course, our tech team not only provides support for our presbytery meetings (our first true hybrid meeting went off without much of a hiccup due to their diligent efforts) but also provides tech support to our churches upon request. We received a grant of $28k from the Synod for tech purposes and the tech team has set up a grant process by which churches may request funding for their own tech needs.
I close with these words for the Foundational Principles of our Book of Order. The church is the body of Christ. Christ gives to the church all the gifts necessary to be his body. The church is to be a community of faith, a community of hope, a community of love, and a community of witness pointing beyond itself through word and work to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus its Lord.
I really enjoyed being with you all at the presbytery meeting last week. Our connectional nature was everywhere on display. Thanks be to God.
As ever in prayer,