Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Future Will Rise Out of a Barren Past: Day 1 Reflections of Pastoral Leadership Gathering

This week I am attending the Pastoral Leadership Gathering, hosted by Arch Street Presbyterian Church and Broad Street Ministry. Pastors and other church leaders from a variety of churches, predominantly from PCUSA communities, have traveled to Center City, Philadelphia to be a part of facilitated dialogue and intentional conversations related to community formation. A key element to the gathering is one of the more influential books I have read within the last few years, Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. However, the first day was all about setting the tone and beginning the conversation. While I was grateful for the opportunity to walk the streets of Philadelphia, a sort-of exegetical exercise of the City of Brotherly Love," and to have significant conversations with new and old friends in various ministry contexts, it was Susan Andrews' sermon as a part of opening worship that, for me, really got the event started. Andrews is a former Moderator of the PCUSA and now general presbyter of the Hudson River Presbytery in New York. As a fairly new Presby, I was unaware of who she was when she began to engage John 1:35ff in light of the gathering's thematic intentions and missional implications. However, her message was clear, convicting, and nothing short of prophetically engaging. Here are a few snippets of the sermon (beware, she doesn't mince words):
  • "The brokenness of the institutional church has superseded its beauty."
  • "The old [paradigms] has died and the new has begun to rise…"
  • "The call process is not about rules, but about relationships; not about regulations and doctrine, but about reimagining new possibilities."
  • "Leaders are disciples who begin with the question, "What are you looking for?"
  • "A future will rise out of a barren past."
Andrews even incorporated a prophetic litany of indictments on the institutional church that challenged our obsessions with policies and procedures, committees and doctrines, mission giving without missional living, capital and stewardship campaigns, etc. It is important to note that these were not cynical remarks from a disenfranchised, Gen-X, emergent church leader; rather, they were honest reflections from a seasoned and gifted veteran who has begun to lament over the institution she has spent so many years trying to "prop up." She challenged those who gathered in the old sanctuary of Arch Street Presbyterian Church, where many have gathered, questioned, and explored before, to ask tough questions, consider new possibilities, and to "come and see" fresh opportunities to incarnate kingdom life in the communities we live and serve. This may mean surrendering old paradigms for the sake of the gospel, the love of our neighborhoods, and the hope of the world. Dare we place institutional standards before the needs of our communities and the mandate of discipleship? If so, these institutions will surely die…

Again, I am reminded that there are beautiful conversations taking place within the PCUSA. Unfortunately, these conversations often take place on the margins of the denomination and often fail to enter into the midst of real congregational discourse, spiritual formation, and local church and community structuring. My hope and prayer is that the gap between conference and congregation would be effectively bridged in the days ahead. Even more, I am grateful for my friends who are exploring this missional turn and paradigmatic shift with me in Center City over the next few days, reminders that we walk not alone…

More to come tomorrow…