A Tradition of Change?
As Presbyterians, we are part of a Christian tradition that understands the necessity of change. The Latin phrase, ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei (the church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God) is not just about our history; it’s about who we are today as followers of Christ.
Instead of looking only to the past, as Reformed Christians we discern God’s will in the present, and as faithfully as we are able, we seek to align ourselves to where God is leading us in future as well. Thus, every time we gather we open ourselves to God’s Spirit who guides, comforts, confirms, corrects, and even surprises us as we seek God’s will.
When it comes to church life however, we know this better in theory than in practice. In theory, it is easy to affirm that God is present and active in the body of believers, leading and guiding us toward God’s future. In practice though, it is much harder to agree that anything we do actually needs to change, or be reformed; and even if we do actually agree that something needs to change, it’s interesting (but not surprising) to see how quickly God becomes “unchanging” as we take steps to implement that change.
Many of the churches in this presbytery are in some stage on this continuum of change, so I understand why there is some angst. However, we miss what this unsettling situation has to teach us if we think that this is only about the closing of churches (and the presbytery management of property). The struggle here is not about the end of churches, it’s about the struggle of our congregations to live faithfully in the present and to reshape themselves for a sustainable and fruitful future.
Two Action Steps
Seattle Presbytery is taking two steps to respond to this challenge. First, it is opening itself up to learn and be surprised by what God is doing in PCUSA congregations across the country. Enabled by grants from the Presbyterian Foundation and Seattle First, the staff is convening a nationwide conversation with PCUSA congregations who have made meaningful changes from decline toward a more fruitful and sustainable future. We will then use these insights to enhance our current grant program to better support congregational revitalization, redevelopment, and new church development in our own presbytery.
Second, in keeping with this deep look at congregations, we will also evaluate our current presbytery properties with an eye toward the larger missional framework of the church (The Great Ends of the Church, F-1.0304), the missional goals of our congregations, and the needs of the communities in which they are located. The goal of this effort is to better align the management of our properties with the long term mission of the presbytery.
As always, if you have something to offer that would help us in these efforts, don’t hesitate to share: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. Scott Lumsden