Finding Connection with the Fellowship
Next week, the Fellowship of Presbyterians will once again gather – this time in Orlando, Florida. According to the Presbyterian Outlook, one big area of discussion will be two documents that were drafted since their last convening; one on theology and one on polity.
Right at the end of the draft document on theology, entitled “Draft of The Theology of The Fellowship of Presbyterians and the New Reformed Body,” comes this question: “How can reconnection with the whole church be increased?” With the fervent hope that this will be a priority at the approaching Fellowship gathering, I offer three thoughts to consider and invite further comments from all my theological friends.
So, how can connection with the whole church be increased?
First, we should remember and hold fast to our connection in the church being grounded in the theme of Covenant that fills Scripture from start to finish. God promises to be connected with us through Noah, through Abraham, through the kings, the prophets, the disciples and—of course, most of all—through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. “Connection” could be understood as the modern word for “covenant” which is not a particularly common word in our time.
I trust we can all agree that “connection” as a human experience is morphing at light speed in our time. Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone, documents some of what we have been experiencing in the church for a long while. For example, the mechanisms of cyberspace have become alternatives to morning prayer breakfasts or pre-conferences at presbytery. Through all this, God’s example of covenant, and God’s call to us in the PCUSA to be in covenant with one another, remain. Let’s grasp these as singularly important.
Second, we should accept that connection does not mean agreement. There is a good reason the early church chose to include in Scripture the four gospels rather than harmonizing them into one story. They valued the rich texture of the four perspectives. They valued both the correspondences between all four and the differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Here is an example of the way in which connection is not synonymous with agreement.
To connect and reconnect in the PCUSA is to be in covenant with Presbyterians with whom one disagrees. That is the way of our church family and has been all along. How to connect when we disagree was exactly the question our ancestors who created Presbyterianism were desperate to answer. What they gave us was a framework like the Gospels where there are correspondences among us and variations, which add to our communion when we embrace them.
Third, we should choose to connect with our colleagues in ministry. In other words, we should choose to connect with everyone in the PCUSA. This is a choice we make in response to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who places us in this church fellowship at this particular time. We choose to be theological friends with those God has placed in our neighborhood here and now.
When I read the draft documents sent out in preparation for the coming Fellowship gathering, I get a sense that “theological friends” are meant to be like-minded folk. And yet, I also get a sense that they are preparing for disagreement even among the like-minded folks gathered there. Do others of you sense this as well?
We will connect or reconnect in the PCUSA when we knowingly choose to be theological friends with all those around us. This choice of connecting with everyone around me in my presbytery is one I continue to make, including colleagues who are involved in the Fellowship. I will not pretend that this connecting is easy. Yet, I feel that the connections I make with those who disagree with me have both challenged and enriched me. This is proof to me that this effort has been and continues to be the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of being a disciple of Jesus.
I have chosen to connect and will continue to.
I want the Fellowship to make the same choice. And you—will you choose to increase your connection with the whole church? How are you going to do this?
Reverend Janet Edwards