March 2 – The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends

I chose my college for all the wrong reasons.  I ended up at the University of California at Santa Cruz mostly because of its location and the brochures with glossy photos of towering redwoods and rolling meadows on the hills above the Monterey Bay. There was no false advertising. The place is more beautiful when you’re there than the photos can possibly show. But I was intrigued, too, by the motto of the particular residential college I applied to at UCSC: “The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends.”

In many ways the college simply could not live up to its billing, though the classroom education and the relational and intellectual integrity of my professors was remarkable; I would not trade my time at UCSC for anything. And in ways the recruiting brochures could not imagine, my college years were an amazing time of the pursuit of Truth in the company of friends – the Truth being the one we meet in the Gospels and the company of friends being brothers and sisters in Christ.

It has been forty years or more since I packed a couple of suitcases and an old typewriter and headed off to Santa Cruz and college. One of the greatest of the many blessings I have experienced since college has been an unbroken journey pursuing the Truth in the company of friends.  If divided by geography, there have been seven chapters in the story of this journey. From the coast and then the mountains of California to Oregon, Virginia to the shore of Green Bay, Western PA to Bucks County far on the other side of the state – and every chapter marked by the pursuit of Truth in the company of friends.

Just this week I have shared solid, sustaining, encouraging contact with friends in California, Tennessee and Western PA, along with, among others, the elders of LPC and the men of our Wednesday morning Bible Study. It is a grace of God.

I have spoken here and elsewhere my eager anticipation for what is unfolding in something called The Fellowship of Presbyterians. It’s no secret and there is no denying that the Fellowship is a response to the theological, spiritual, missional and institutional decline many of us see and experience in our denominational life. But one of the things that encourages me about the Fellowship is that it is so much more than fault-finding and blame-casting. Though it is not mentioned in so many words, the Fellowship is all about the pursuit of Truth in the company of friends.

That vision of brothers and sisters in Christ bound as friends on a quest for Truth is compelling and is igniting something good and even unexpected among us.  As those of us from Philadelphia who were at the Fellowship gathering in Orlando in January have returned home to life in our presbytery we have been talking among ourselves, sharing with others formally and informally and tapping into a deep longing for the pursuit of Truth in the company of friends.

One of the practices that the Fellowship encourages – in fact demands of those who will be a part of it – is covenantal accountability.  Such accountability has always been a mark of Presbyterianism, but has been lost in our bureaucratization and polarizing squabbles. Covenantal accountability, the pursuit of Truth in the company of friends, is beginning to take root among us again not by institutional fiat, but, I believe, by the movement of the Spirit.

This coming Wednesday, a group of us from Bucks County, pastors from Woodside, the Anchor, Northampton and Langhorne who have been meeting together for prayer for two years now, along with two others who desire such a company of friends will be meeting to consider becoming more intentional and going deeper in our commitment to pursuing the Truth together. We will consider the Fellowship Covenant and something called The Pastoral Rule, a solid piece of work from the PCUSA. There are two or three other such groups soon to form within the bounds of our presbytery. We’ll be exploring ways to involve elders, sessions and congregations, as well.

This pursuit of Truth in the company of friends holds more promise for our life together than any institutional redesign, mission plan, staffing restructure or overture vote could possibly bring.

The denomination and denominationalism is dying. But the Spirit is, as always, blowing new life among us.  Pray for this gathering on Wednesday and the forging of strong bonds among this company of friends intent on the pursuit of the Truth.