One of my favorite aspects about being Presbyterian is that no matter what we are called to do within the life of the church, we are called to do it in community. We know that being called to do things together sometimes makes things a lot easier and sometimes more difficult, depending on how we like to work, but in the life of the church, we are called to “do” and to “be” church together. Jesus set that example for us by calling twelve disciples to engage in ministry with him, and even when they were asked to set out for a specific task, they were sent out, at least, two by two.
Knowing this, ruling elders are called to engage in community within the church and outside of it – yes, even outside of Session and committee meetings, although those meetings, themselves, can be great places to begin building and fostering deeper relationships and community while attending to the needs and ministry of the church.
There are many ways to build community outside of the meeting space but here are some practical ways that could be considered to foster leadership and relationship in community.
- Serve home communion – Form pairs of ruling elders and deacons to serve home communion to shut-ins who would like to receive it on the day communion is served in the congregation. Those who have participated in our congregation, while beginning with hesitation, come back with a sense of spiritual renewal. Serving communion and praying with someone who cannot come to the church is always a powerful act and particularly when serving two by two. (Book of Order, W-3.3616e) Visit https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/service-lords-day-extendedcommunion/ for more information.
- Lead in worship – Consider the ways you might assist in worship leadership, whether as a liturgist or in some other way. The visual and audio connection that comes from the voices and people inviting the Spirit into that space for that time builds connections. Engaging in prayer for the community or for an individual in the context of worship and on a personal one-on-one basis enriches your own spiritual leadership while participating in the lives and ministry of others.
- Create a Mission and Service Project Sunday – Communities of faith are increasingly taking opportunities during the Sunday worship time to periodically go out into the community and participate in an act of service as the act of worship for that day. Take the lead on one of the service project possibilities and take a group with you. The worship service does not need to be canceled in order for this to happen. In fact, the congregation I serve had 3-4 leaders taking groups out after being commissioned at the beginning of the worship service. They went to sites like Habitat for Humanity, local education programs, and members of the choir went out as a “Care Choir” to sing to our shut-ins. Following the service, those who were there had an opportunity to put together lunches for another local shelter, so that all could participate even if they could not physically go off site.
- Host a gathering with an interfaith partner – With a bit more planning involved, engaging in a program or retreat that is intentional about interfaith dialogue and learning is a great way to connect with the community beyond your church and even beyond your own comfort zone. Because of all of the headline news about extremist Islamic groups and feeling a call to action toward understanding, our congregation recently held a Women’s Retreat with a local organization of our Muslim sisters. We learned more about Islam and engaged in more intimate conversation within small groups. What was wonderful about this experience is the diversity that came from among them, and also that they saw in us! We were all surprised but grew in deeper understanding of one another.
The key in all of this is to remember to do the work of ministry together, and never take for granted the call placed on your life in this time to serve and the impact even simple gestures can have for your community of faith.
The Rev. Irene Pak serves as the Associate Pastor at Stone Church of Willow Glen in San Jose, California. Prior to this, she served as an Associate Pastor for English Ministries at Daesung Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, California. Irene also served in the PC(USA) office of Racial Justice and Advocacy for one year. She loves to read, play guitar and cello, and eat good food.
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