Mindfulness helps you be present in different moments. Polity is one way Presbyterians care for each other over time.
The two themes are the focus of the third set of “Along the Road” podcasts, with the shorter ‘Nourish’ broadcast on mindfulness intended for ruling elders and deacons, and the polity discussion of ‘Encounter’ voiced for mid council and other church leaders.
Download the episodes directly from the Mid Council Ministries pages of pcusa.org or podcast providers.
Nourish: Mindfulness (12 minutes)
In the third Nourish episode, host Martha Miller talks about mindfulness with the Rev. Michelle Thomas-Bush of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Thomas-Bush, Associate Pastor for Youth and their Families, tells Miller that mindfulness is not just about being present in whatever God-given moment you find yourself. It’s also about being intentional with how you exist in a moment. Mindfulness “can be prayerful or a prelude to prayer” and is increasingly influencing church conversations and community outreach around the country — and with that the work of ruling elders and deacons. “It helps you be more mindful of the Spirit moving in your midst.”
Miller and Thomas-Bush discuss simple steps a person can take toward mindfulness. “One simple practice is to use your fingers to practice breathing,” Thomas-Bush says, the focus on small body parts helping to relax your entire body.
Miller points out how important mindfulness practices are in a world where devices can call us out of any moment. Thomas-Bush encourages mindfulness during times of crisis, sharing the S.T.O.P. approach—Stop whatever you’re doing, Track your breathing, Observe what’s happening around you, and Proceed with kindness.
She also urges a daily practice of mindfulness. “It is a habit you can create. It needs to be a part of your daily rhythm.”
Encounter: Being a Church of Rules and Polity — Faith, Theology, and Welcoming (51 minutes)
In the third Encounter episode, host the Rev. Manuel Silva-Esterrich talks with the Rev. Tricia Dykers-Koenig and the Rev. Alex Evangelista about how Presbyterian polity influenced where God called them to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and how polity in 2022 seeks to recognize all voices throughout the denomination.
Dykers-Koenig, Associate Director of Mid Council Relations in the Office of the General Assembly and recent General Assembly parliamentarian, talks about growing up in the Methodist Church before joining the PC(USA). During college she learned that polity — the way churches organize themselves — was a major difference between the denominations. “Presbyterians organize themselves as groups. Making decisions as a group sounded better to me.”
Evangelista, a Salvadorean immigrant who grew up Baptist, had his own educational epiphany, realizing during seminary his “desire to be a part of a connectional church” that showed communal discernment and was able to connect with churches of different traditions nearby. An early ministry role at Nuevas Fronteras in North Plainfield, New Jersey “was an experience that showed me how polity can be a tool of empowerment — bringing diverse people together.”
The group discusses polity as a form of worship, and the reasons Presbyterians need a Book of Order, not just a Bible.
Dykers-Koenig says that the Spirit can speak through anyone, but that Presbyterians have a sense that lifting up more voices leads to better decisions. “We use 'Robert’s Rules of Order' to protect all voices. Parliamentary procedure is a rule, not a weapon.”
Evangelista pastors at Church on the Mall in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, where communal discernment is emphasized and taught. “Being co-partners in ministry means not all the work we do belongs to Pastor Alex.” It is shared endeavor.
The group talks about democracy in church governance and times when the Spirit can seem to conflict with group inclinations.
Dykers-Koenig says that commissioners at General Assemblies (like others elected to church committees and commissions) are meant to listen to the Spirit, as opposed to simply representing the wishes of their home presbytery, for example.
For anyone concerned that the PC(USA) has too many policies or the wrong kind of rules, the guests urge working to change them. Dykers-Koenig discusses how Reformed Christians embrace change as a constant. Evangelista celebrates “the permissive nature of the Book of Order” and discusses the polity foundations of antiracism work, including the Book of Confessions.
Silva-Esterrich asks the guests to reflect on any “good trouble” they have gotten into polity-wise. Dykers-Koenig shares about her experiences as a 1991 General Assembly commissioner, which motivated her to advocate for a more inclusive church with regards to ordination and marriage standards for LGBTQIA+ Presbyterians. “If you want to change the system you need to know how it works.”
Evangelista says that the Presbyterian emphasis on order “helps us be faithful in how we care for each other.” He discusses his experiences at last summer’s 225th General Assembly and its work on expanding child-protection policies regarding sexual abuse.
Silva-Esterrich closes the episode by linking polity to the holy mystery of church work, and adds his own acronym to Thomas-Bush’s S.T.O.P.: “Along the road you will encounter people very different from you. Our road is Christ’s example. Our steering wheel is the spirit, our G.P.S. God, Protector and Savior.”
The fourth Nourish and Encounter episodes are also available now. Listen to a discussion with the Rev. Dr. Chip Hardwick, Executive at the Synod of the Covenant, and Advent reflections with the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, at the Along the Road page.