Welcome to the Family
Nathanael said to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
It’s September, and we are looking forward to our Presbytery meeting on September 15th at Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena. As I have mentioned, this meeting will be a great celebration of ministry—the ministry of several of our churches as they are calling new pastors, the ministry of our presbytery as we receive new members, and of course the ministry of these servants of the Lord as they come into the San Gabriel Presbytery family. The planning team for the meeting has worked hard to design the docket to be efficient and creative, so that there is enough time for the Presbytery to ask questions of the potential new members, and movement between subjects to keep your interest. We are trying to keep the other business as streamlined as possible—in fact, Lt. Daniel Menza from the Navy, whom I mentioned in an earlier column, had a slight conflict in timing, so he will be coming in November rather than September. We have managed the docket so that we still expect to end the meeting by lunchtime, and welcome all to stay for lunch to welcome our new members in a more relaxed manner. We expect to send the Presbytery packets out later this week.
Recently, the attendance at Presbytery meetings has been quite low, and this has raised some concern on the part of Presbytery leadership and staff. While I expect we will have more people in attendance because of church members coming in support of their pastor, we have wondered how to encourage more participation from our ruling and teaching elder commissioners. We are also aware that several Presbytery members have expressed a desire to develop better relationships within the Presbytery, and we continue to consider new ways to facilitate that. We are hoping to be more proactive in welcoming especially these new members of Presbytery, as some of our newer members have mentioned that they still feel detached from the Presbytery.
The Bible gives many accounts of how Jesus encounters people, and ways that they welcomed him, for good or for bad. Sometimes crowds greeted him like a rock star. Often he is seen eating with friends and strangers, church leaders and outcasts. On several occasions, he is observed by church leaders with a critical eye. On the occasion referenced in John 1:46, Jesus was just beginning his ministry, and he approached Philip, who then invited Nathanael to come meet Jesus. And, like many of us, Nathanael made a preliminary judgment on the new minister based on his background, yet he was open enough to give the new guy a chance.
How do we give these new folks a chance? I hope we will have some time at the meeting to share ways that our congregations welcome new members and new pastors. For pastors, we now have different ways by which a new pastor comes to a church, and this has caused some confusion. Most congregation members often assume that the pastor is called by the church and the church alone. With installed pastors, the congregation votes, and with temporary pastors, the session approves and presents the pastor. But it is the presbytery’s responsibility to establish and dissolve pastoral relationships, and to be “Pastor, Counselor, and Advisor to Its Pastors and Congregations.” So we often need to explain to church leaders that the pastoral covenant is like a three-legged stool, requiring the concurrence of church, pastor, and presbytery.
So we as a presbytery have the responsibility to authorize the pastoral leaders of our churches, to welcome the pastors as members of presbytery, and to support and encourage the healthy relationship between pastor and congregation (as well as care for the church during times of pastoral transition). We leave it to the congregational leaders to plan for welcoming their new pastor, and I always ask the church to take great initiative in receiving the new pastor and their family. I believe that how a pastor is first received into the church can set a tone for the whole pastorate, and a pastor’s first call can set a tone for their whole ministry. Of course God can make anything happen as God wills it, but I want church leaders to fulfill their very important role in establishing a mutually caring and respectful ministry partnership.
And we as a presbytery have an important role in welcoming new members to the presbytery family. Several new ideas are being considered to help them get to know the presbytery. But as far as I know, any relationship needs time and energy to flourish, so I encourage you all to attend presbytery meetings, to make an effort to talk with others you don’t know, and to come to ordination and installation services. There will be several ordinations and installations scheduled this fall, and each represents a milestone in the life of the pastor and the congregation. As they are services of the presbytery, I hope all of us can attend these times of celebration for our pastors and our churches.
We at San Gabriel have been striving to plan meetings where we worship God, learn from each other and guests, and act as discerning leaders for the responsibilities entrusted to us for this place. In 2019, we are suggesting that two Presbytery meetings be held on Tuesday evenings, in order to address scheduling conflicts on Saturday mornings. I ask that you give us your feedback and ideas for building relationships and increasing Presbytery participation. You are the Presbytery, and without you we are lacking in the wisdom and grace that God intends for us.
I hope to see you on the 15th. And blessings on the pastors and churches as we welcome each other into new chapters of ministry.