To many Presbyterians, polity is synonymous with rules—“things that confine approaches to ministry,” said Jihyun Oh, Director of Mid Council Ministries (MCM) in the Office of the General Assembly.
But Oh and others in MCM view polity as much broader than that, and more generative than restrictive. Beyond providing governance for Presbyterian leaders and councils, polity is a source of encouragement and inspiration to those reimagining their work in ministry.
“Polity is theological and ecclesial,” Oh said, “especially in the F- section of the Book of Order (‘Foundations of Presbyterian Polity’). We want to make polity come alive, and for people to see it’s not just about rules. Polity is your friend.”
That amiable conviction is foundational to Mid Council Ministries’ new podcast, “Along the Road.”
Available beginning in mid-October via Buzzsprout, podcast apps and the MCM section of pcusa.org, the podcast episodes will feature and support the work of ruling elders and deacons at congregations and mid council leaders at presbyteries and synods. Using a range of content types including interviews and devotional-style pieces, the podcast will share ideas about diverse approaches to ministry and seek to inspire new ones.
The podcast is a pilot project with a planned run of six months and a new episode each week. Releases will alternate between a shorter “Nourish” format (10 to 15 minutes) and a longer “Encounter” format (30 to 45 minutes).
Omar Chan, MCM Project Manager, is helping to coordinate the podcast effort. He said that the first episodes will be available in English, with translated versions added later.
The podcast team aims to connect parts of church life that are often seen as separate: mid-week activities and Sunday worship, for example, or the foundational values of the PC(USA) with the exercise of faith in different communities. The podcasts build off previous conversational resources MCM has put together, including the Leader Formation webinar series.
The podcasts will also invite listeners to ponder and explore strategic values in their councils and wider communities and to hear about instances of joy in ministry and how Presbyterian leaders are living into their calls. Another goal is to put human faces--and voices--to the work of MCM.
Hosting and producing the episodes are Martha Miller, Manager of Ministry Education and Support, and Manuel Silva-Esterrich, Manager for Call Process Support.
The shorter Nourish episodes will have a primary audience of deacons and ruling elders and help listeners “be inspired, hear the stories of others and practice the tools of faith and leadership,” Miller said.
“The podcast will offer a few minutes in the midst of your day to connect to your faith, enhance your leadership skills and provide an opportunity to explore how your life as a leader links to your other daily experiences.”
Early episodes include interviews with Oh on the importance of ecclesial formation and with Michelle Thomas-Bush, Associate Pastor for Youth and Their Families at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, on the spiritual practice of mindfulness.
“Church leaders are hungry for more resources to support them in their call while also having so much to share with others,” Miller said. “We hope these discussions will nourish listeners along their roads.”
Silva-Esterrich’s longer Encounter episodes will have a mid council audience in mind, including executive presbyters, stated clerks and other presbytery and synod staff.
The first episode features a conversation with two other MCM leaders: Tim Cargal, Associate Director for Ministry Leadership Development, and valerie izumi, Assistant Stated Clerk and Manager for GA Nominations.
“We talk about the difference between the call and the ministry,” Silva-Esterrich said, “and how that difference can provide local churches a better way of developing leaders. We also talk about our own experiences—our own testimonies and ideas others have shared with us.”
Silva-Esterrich hopes each Along the Road podcast will help connect church communities.
“Our intention is to have an encounter with church leaders on different topics that will help them use our polity and processes, as well as the theology to be found in our various resources, for the everyday church,” he said.
“The conversations are so practical and identifiable we lost track of time,” Silva-Esterrich said about the first Encounter episode. “And so will the listener.”
In planning the podcasts, the MCM team has discussed the many shifts reshaping church and society during the pandemic and in the years before. With polity as a throughline, the episodes will explore ministry approaches that respond to this moment in the life of the church and to Presbyterian history, including polity changes.
In addition to highlighting stories about times when things have gone well, the episodes will share moments in ministry when initiatives haven’t worked out as planned at congregations, mid councils and denominational headquarters. Set-backs can be teachable moments for those encountering their own obstacles, and an important part of keeping the course during any journey—road, life or podcast.
--“Along the Road” episodes will be available beginning October 19. Visit https://oga.pcusa.org/section/mid-council-ministries/mid-council-ministries/ in early October to find out more.