In Presbyterian Church tradition, regional groups of churches are called presbyteries. And when presbyteries meet, we worship together, as representatives of the various congregations. We do work and we enjoy fellowship with people we love but don’t always get to see. Even though our presbytery meetings are on Saturdays, when I am often also expected to be at track meets or soccer games (or both today!), I enjoy the time with my friends from the other churches in Boise Presbytery.
Presbyteries are not, however, gatherings of churches who share the same theological understandings. In Boise Presbytery, which is relatively small with 14 churches, we have very conservative churches and the far more progressive congregation I serve, with most somewhere in the middle, but tending toward traditional.
This lack of theological uniformity does not concern me in the least. I am convinced our strength as a presbytery is precisely because of our different approaches to the Christian journey. If Southminster lives as God is calling us and Covenant, Trinity, and First live as God is calling them, our witness to the gospel in Boise is stronger and more diverse. We don’t want or need the other 3 Boise churches to be cookie cutter models of the church I serve. They each have their own strengths, their own call, and their own witness.
Why would we seek sameness?
So, when one of the other churches in the presbytery calls a pastor, that man or woman speaks on the floor of presbytery, shares a bit of their faith journey, people ask them questions, and the presbytery votes to receive them.
I vote yes. Each and every time.
Granted, if they proclaimed the Lordship of Satan, I would vote no. (I would also wonder how that person made it to the floor of presbytery with such a faith statement.)
But if they disagree with me in understanding of the Atonement? I vote yes.
If they disagree with me about the exclusivity of Jesus? I vote yes.
If they disagree with me about ordination of GLBTQ members? I vote yes.
I vote yes because I trust the church that is calling them has selected the person God has sent to them, even when I disagree on the particulars.
I vote yes because it isn’t all about me, it’s about the wideness of God’s mercy and grace. Where in any presbytery by-laws does it state that all incoming clergy should be in lock step with one individual member of the presbytery? (nowhere, that’s where).
I vote yes because I trust God may have something to teach me when this new person becomes my colleague in ministry. Is it frustrating at times? Sure. Is it faithful to continue to seek out our common faith and witness, despite our differences? You know it is.
I’m grateful for the “yes” votes people cast for me when I joined this presbytery. I have good and faithful colleagues here, from all corners of the church. When we gather together in prayer, in worship, in work and witness, I’m reminded of the gift of being a part of God’s work in this community and in the world.
There are certainly times when I vote no at other points in a presbytery meeting. But when new colleagues are being welcomed to our midst, they can count on my “yes”, my friendship, and my prayers for their ministry in our midst.