On Tuesday LPC will host the meeting of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. We’re expecting upwards of 250 people who will begin gathering at 11:00 for a pre-presbytery meeting workshop, we’ll offer box lunches for those and other early-arrivers at noon, and then the business meeting will begin at 1:00. The agenda is fairly light as presbytery meetings go, and we’ll probably say good-bye to our guests around 4:00. Thanks to those LPC people who are serving as hosts in a variety of ways. I’m eager for my colleagues in the presbytery to get a flavor of LPC grace.
One of the items on the agenda is the installation of the presbytery’s new officers, the moderator and the vice-moderator. As some of you know, I will be installed to a one-year term as moderator.
The installation will be a part of the presbytery worship service, docketed for 2:20-3:20, and you are welcome to join us.
But moderator of the Presbytery of Philadelphia? How did that happen?
We Presbyterians elect our leaders. That’s a cornerstone of our polity. We believe, as we will be hearing soon in our election and then ordination of new LPC deacons and elders, that our leaders are “called by God through the voice of the people.” So I am to be moderator of the presbytery as, we believe, a call from God through the voice of the people. My peers and colleagues, teaching and ruling elders elected by their congregations, chose me as moderator. It is an honor and a privilege. Lord, keep me from ever thinking otherwise.
The Presbytery of Philadelphia is the oldest in the United States. Its 300th anniversary will be celebrated in 2017, so I will moderate the presbytery during parts of its 299th and 300th years. We are one of the larger presbyteries in the denomination, about 130 congregations. Yes, this may be a bigger deal than I have been making it out to be.
So, what will I do? I will moderate the four stated meetings and any called meetings of the presbytery during the course of the next year. I will moderate the meetings of our Leadership Collegium and our Regional Leadership Group. I will help shape the agendas and the directions of those meetings, working with our vice-moderator, Executive Presbyter, and Stated Clerk. I will participate as able in ordinations of new pastors. I may join our other leaders in speaking to and for the presbytery from time to time.
But, really, how did that happen?
I was asked. More than once I was asked. And in the end I said yes.
But some of you have asked, “How did that happen?” and you mean more than the polity process.
How did someone who has been – and is – less than happy with the direction of the denomination and a past critic of the dysfunction of the presbytery agree to be the moderator of the presbytery?
Two of the questions we ask ourselves when presented with a challenge or an opportunity are “am I able?” and “am I willing?” When asked to consider being elected as moderator (vice-moderator came first, but it assumed that moderator would follow), my hesitation was not about my ability. Frankly, my skill set is a good match. Yes, I would be able. Never a question about that.
But why was I willing? My initial unwillingness made sense. I had just spent three years helping the presbytery create a new structural model and then to call a leader, our executive presbyter, to help breath life into that new model. It had been good work, both process and results. I had paid my dues. More than that, I was not sure I was willing to be a dissenting voice as vision was cast. My conviction about what is important for the church and her mission are not always a good match with our denomination or our presbytery. One tires of saying no.
At first, I simply was not willing to do something I am able to do. And that’s okay.
But then I said yes. Maybe I will tell the story some day. Four different people had asked, and four times I said no. Easily I said no. The fifth person came, she wanted to talk face to face, and when she asked and how she asked cracked my unwillingness. I am convinced that God was speaking that day. I know he told me to say “yes.” I think he said more, and I am still trying to figure out what else it is he said.
Moderator of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. How did that happen? Eighteen months ago I said yes to being vice moderator fully aware that this day in January, 2016, would come.
I have been vice-moderator for a year and now begin a year’s term as moderator. Because I said yes. As vice moderator, my abilities have been affirmed by my colleagues. No small matter. But much more, I have made new friends – the outgoing moderator, committee chairs and other leaders. No small matter.
If anything, I may be less happy with the direction of the denomination than I was eighteen months ago. I have no great hopes for the PCUSA. As it has worked out, I have said no a few times in leadership circles, but fewer times than some of my colleagues on the far other side of things.
Yes, I am able. And I am willing. Pray for my energy, intelligence, imagination, and love, as I begin this journey. And pray that I keep listening for what else God was saying that day he told me to say yes.
See you Sunday