On Friday June 6, 2014 I offered these words (and images) to Albany Presbytery as my first expanded conversation with them as the new Transitional Presbyter. We spent last weekend retreating on Lake George, New York at the Silver Bay YMCA. The theme for the weekend was A Place at the Table, after the beautiful hymn that we all love to bits and pieces that is in the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God. We gathered around the communion table, thought about the theological image of together that is offered to us in our eucharistic theology and also watched the documentary A Place at the Table to talk about hunger, poverty and advocacy as people of a faith. A rich and powerful time. Together.
What are some of the watch words to me about Presbytery and our life together?
Generosity–How can we reclaim generous spirits? We live in an age where we feel that all is scare. Resources are scare, the offering in the plate is less, congregations are smaller. We are tempted to engage in hoarding behavior or in worrying that there is not enough. We are failing to trust that in God there is always abundance and that to gain our life is to risk its loss. How can we think of giving and extravagance as our response to the abundance and generosity of the grace we receive in Jesus Christ? How can we live it, practice it and share it?
Risk-Taking–Another response to scarcity it to not rock the boat and to not attempt in risks. The fear of failure, fear of conflict, fear of upsetting someone looms large over our personal and congregational lives–it seeps into the life of our middle governing bodies and denominations. How can we live without fear and engage in the risks that are needed for the building up of the kin-dom of God in our local communities? I want to challenge us to live into the prophetic life of followers of Jesus Christ, to model that, to support it and to have it be a part of the life of our Presbytery.
Creativity–During our retreat we will engage our senses and engage in creative practices to cultivate our openness to God’s Spirit. We’ll try out soul collage. We will sing. We will pray. We will try out CrossFit worship. Imagine the ways your soul is expanded when you are exposed to creativity of any kind. Imagine the expansiveness it opens up in you. Creativity for me is a watch-word of how we can be “church” in a new way and engage/invite this in the life of our Presbytery.
Outward-Focus–As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to make disciples of all people. This cannot happen if we do not engage our communities, get to know them and serve those outside the walls of our buildings. At times because of our fear, because of scarcity we are afraid to do this or have fallen into the trap of believing we do not have the resources. I want to see this Presbytery as a laboratory of risk-taking, outward-focused ministry. We will be viewing the film, A Place at the Table to talk about this way of seeing our ministry in this context, in this place.
Marginality–Going outside the walls of our church is not enough. We must also seek to marginality just as Jesus did in his ministry. Jesus went to the margins of his society and rooted his ministry there. This was where he preached Good News. This is where he reminded others and offered the prophetic word to the rulers of his day of what the reign of God would look like in practice. Oftentimes our congregations are not engaged in marginal practice. How can we do this in a fresh, new way? How can we follow Jesus to the margins?
Forward Projection–As a Presbytery, we must be futurists. We must engage in being a community of learners about the trends of today that are affecting our community and witness but also what is coming in our future and how we can not just engage the trends and be academic “experts” but how can we live into our call as followers of Jesus in a new way, and to also be critical of these changes when appropriate. Being a community of learners, gathered together as part of Albany Presbytery is the best way in my mind to engage these things. We are not alone as we face these things. We have each other. We are together.
Accompaniment–This is perhaps my favorite word to describe Christian life. It comes out of my long-term work with the ministry of Accompaniment as practiced with the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia. I have learned there that Accompaniment does not mean to fix anything. Accompaniment does not mean to be an expert. Accompaniment means to walk in someone else’s shoes, to witness their ministry and to reflect together on the call of Christ in our lives. Accompaniment means mutuality, spiritual friendship, equality and respect. How can we recapture this dream of God in our lives today?