Another General Assembly (GA) is behind us, and at it more decisions taken. One that captured time and attention this year was the vision statement. A critical priority of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) will be to renew local congregations, GA 140 discerned.
But what does that mean? What does that look like in the year between Assemblies, on the ground? What could it mean to take this wisdom of GA 140 (and previous GA’s) seriously, with concrete signs that point in that direction?
1. The next General Secretary
One way to take GA 140’s wisdom seriously is in the appointment of the next General Secretary of the Life and Mission Agency. The outgoing secretary has served well and faithfully. Now there is a transition. This leadership change in the overall programs of the PCC through church offices happens, what, once every 10 or 20 years? Now would be a good time for the search committee to be seeking someone for the next stage of the journey who aligns particularly with a clear wish and desire of the wider church – a focus on renewing local congregations and missions. Someone who will especially want to see this happen, and enhance what that means for the national staff and committee momentum as they minister. The job description has already been circulated and the search process begun as of this writing, but why not pause the process, take a deep breath, and consider an updated vision for the position that captures GA 140’s wisdom more clearly.
2. Leadership between Assemblies
Another way to take GA 140 seriously would be for the Assembly Council Executive to look at the membership of the Assembly Council. We could ask whether geographical representation on that important leadership body within the church best brings the wisdom of GA 140 to a critical priority of the PCC. I am uncertain it does. Why not take what the Executive sees as growing churches in each region of Canada and then invite the pastors and elders from those congregations to lead us and share their experience as they form a different or modified Assembly Council? A more Canadian compromise could be for the Assembly Council to form a round table from those pastors and leaders, and have their experiences of renewing churches influence the biannual meetings, decisions and policies.
These are ideas. Let’s make decisions at GA and see them through in concrete ways, or not make any at all.
Another way to put GA 140’s wisdom in place would be how Presbyteries work with the Life and Mission Agency to close congregations. Recently in Lincoln, England, instead of outright closing a church that wished it, the bishop asked another church that was experiencing renewal and growth to send some people to restart something in that building. They brought their wisdom and basically re-planted a church in the place where one Christian community had come to the end of a cycle. Instead of selling buildings, maybe we keep the buildings and ask the most thriving congregation in our Presbyteries at that moment to start a church in the same place.
4. Training Pastors
Another great way to take GA 140’s wisdom seriously would be in how we train ministers. Why is it, for example, that 7 years of University Education prepares someone to lead and renew a local congregation? Maybe we should say from here on in: “Tell you what, you go ahead and start a local house church of 30 people, and then we’ll ordain you.” Is seven years of school, inherited from the European Reformation /German University model what we need? Right now, with the priority GA 140 has determined for the next several years, does sending a student away to seminary in its current form really prepare them to grow local congregations? St. Augustine sat at the feet of Ambrose, bishop of Milan, for a good part of his training. Hands on. Instead, we usually remove students from the setting in which they were called, put them in academic lectures, never send them back home and trust that is effective. Start a house church somewhere, we’ll train you along the way, then we’ll call you Reverend.
We might also be sure to ask ourselves how seminary Principals and Professors we appoint relate to this new priority, now that we have it.
We could leave GA 140’s wisdom on priorities as a motion adopted in June 2014 and consider our work done. On the other hand, there are ways to put that wisdom in place and among us, if we wish, in God’s grace.
5. Local Congregations
These are all ideas outside the day to day ministry of local congregations. While their merit is plain to me, I think GA 140’s wisdom is also for local leaders in local churches. They need to be free and inspired to renew and innovate, in the Spirit of the living God who creates and re-creates.
The Rev. Dr. Greg Davidson is a pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Beaconsfield, Quebec, with a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from the University of Cambridge. He was on intermission during the Fall of 2014.
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