Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Formation, and Evangelism Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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This past weekend I visited the Palo Duro Presbytery, which extends from the panhandle down to north central Texas. They invited me to preach and to lead a conversation about the proposed new translation to the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the many statements of faith in the PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions. (This book would be more salacious but a lot less helpful if it were actually a collection of confessions of what Presbyterians have done wrong over the years, rather than this compilations of what we believe.)
While the presbytery is very large geographically, its membership is relatively small—about eighty commissioners were there for the meeting, although ninety or more is a more typical number. One of the advantages of presbyteries this size, of course, is the chance to be more relational than those with many more commissioners.
Palo Duro took advantage of this opportunity for relationality in a couple of very specific ways that are worth considering for presbyteries of any size. First, they started their meeting with worship, like many presbyteries do. However, less than an hour after the close of worship they did Bible studies around round tables with assigned seating. This enabled the teaching and ruling elders (pastors and elders in the old parlance) to talk together over a non-controversial set of scriptures before the meat of the meeting began.
At once these conversations helped presbyters get to know new people, form a spiritual community committed to encouraging faith in Jesus Christ, and do some background exploration of what it means to confess our faith before the conversation about the specific confession (the Heidelberg Catechism) which we would be discussing the next day.
The second way that Palo Duro took advantage of its size and the potential for close relationships was the discussion and vote on the new translation for Heidelberg itself. I presented for about a half an hour, and then (at the same pre-assigned tables for Bible study) they discussed and then asked questions for clarification.
Then, instead of moving to discussion on the floor, they continued to discuss their opinions about the proposed translation at their small tables. When it came time for them to report back to the larger group what they had talked about, most of the tables stated instead that they felt ready to vote. This process avoided the heated discussion that often comes on the larger floor by letting folks’ arguments be expressed and heard at the smaller tables.
I have not often been a part of a presbytery meeting which focused so much on Bible study (in addition to worship) or which used discernment around smaller tables rather than through voting in plenary. These approaches taught me alternatives which could prove helpful to other church bodies.