It was a good day. A day where I truly felt, even though others might have questioned, that I was saying “yes” to God’s will on my life. It was a day that came after a long season of reflection and consideration. It was a day where I made good on a decision that I knew would shape me the rest of my life. It was the day that I gave up my church membership. And I haven’t been a member of any church since that day March 21, 1993. That was the day that I was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA.
Most church members, including Presbyterians, don’t much catch the significance of this little piece of polity. Pastors are members of Presbyteries not churches. While we all “serve” a church, we “belong” to a Presbytery. For pastors, the Presbytery is our “home” and the Presbytery is the “covenant community” for us. At least that’s what it says on paper. But what does that mean, really?
As I become more fully engaged in the work of the Middle Governing Body Commission, I have begun to think about more than “organizations” and “structures” but about “covenants” and “communities” and “relationships”. I have also begun to think about "mission" and "values" and what "belonging" and "membership" truly mean. And mostly, I have to admit that while my mind has long affirmed that I am a member of my Presbytery, my heart is clearly with my congregation.
I love the church I serve. I have been here over 13 years. It has truly been the answer to my prayers and God gift to the desire of my heart. Beth and I prayed for God to call me to some place where we could serve the mission of Christ and raise our children and God did. In so many ways, the church “fits” me. In so many ways, I truly “fit” it. We are a good match for each other.
But, I must remind myself, I am not a member.
My wife and teenage children are members. But I am not. It’s “their” church; it’s the church that I pastor.
Far too often I refer to SCPC as “my” church. And while it is an indication of my affection for these people, it is also, truth be told, a glimpse at my ego run amok… the church isn’t “mine” in any sense is it? It’s Jesus’ church truly and the members church, really.
I am not a member. I am the church’s pastor.
But what does it mean, really, for pastors to be members of a Presbytery? For most of us, and frankly for most of my career, not much. I gave up my membership in a church almost twenty years ago, but I have ever truly “joined” a body since? No wonder so many of us feel like orphans.
What it would take for more of us to emotionally “join” our Presbyteries?
What would it take to truly embrace the shared calling for mission, the vision of the Presbytery as a witness to the unity of the Church (as it says in our constitution)?
In what ways can Presbyteries function more like a “body” where the “members” fulfill their callings and where each pastor feels “at home”?
These are just some of the questions rolling around in my head as our Middle Governing Body Commission listens to the church and prepares to meet again next week. I’d be interested in what others of you have to say.