Saturday, May 12, 2007

D*** Presbyterians

Over the four years that my wife and I have been attending our church (a small Presbyterian congregation in Bellevue, WA), I've done my best to avoid getting involved in the internal workings of the church. I've often thought that it's as difficult for a pastor to remain genuinely interested in God, as it is for a gynecologist to remain interested in sex; and I suspect that things are quite similar even if you're only on the church board. (They call it "Session" at our church -- not sure if that's SOP for Presbyterians, or specific to us.)

Something happened the other day that reminded me why my reticence is a reasonable (if somewhat cowardly) strategy. About six months ago, our church lost its associate pastor, and we've been trying to replace him ever since. Doing so has been more of an ordeal than we had anticipated, and the majority of the ordeal has been a result of the Presbytery we're a part of. I've never had the pleasure of attending a Presbytery meeting, but one of our Session members gave me an earful the other day.

After months (literally) of preparation, representatives from our Session appeared before the Committee on Ministry (termed "Committee on Meddling" by my friend on Session), a 27-headed monstrosity which must approve any proposed changes to a church's staffing plan. The highlight of the evening came when the vastly over-sized committee got into an argument about whether the proposed job description should have "Worship" as the first item (where one committee member insisted it should be) or as the fourth (where it currently resided). Eventually the COM approved half of the changes we had asked for, decided it was too late to continue, and asked our representatives to come back again in, say, two or three months. My friend was censoring himself (we were in church, after all), but I didn't have any trouble guessing at the words he would have liked to use to describe his feelings. Our pastor, who had been there as well, and was listening in, noticed the look on my face -- pursed lips, shaking my head, grinding my teeth -- as the story unfolded. When it finished, I said simply, "I can't imagine how I would have reacted." He nodded, smiled and said, "Well, Ken, you told me long ago there was a reason you didn't become a pastor."

It's weird existing simultaneously in the corporate world, and in the ecclesiastical (even if my ties to the latter are somewhat less involved). I'll confess that a part of me isn't any more comfortable in the one than in the other. I like how quickly things move in the corporate world: that there's a reasonable hierarchy that people are comfortable with, that decisions get made quickly, that the arguments and debates are generally productive, and that we have the opportunity to make observable progress. But I remain uncomfortable with the compromises with my values that are sometimes necessary.

I suppose this is necessary in a fallen world: all of creation, as St. Paul said, groans as in the travails of childbirth. τῇ γὰρ ματαιότητι ἡ κτίσις ὑπετάγη. But I wish that I knew more about how to bring about the workings of a new creation that is supposedly the goal of Christian work, whether secular or holy. I know I often fall short: and I suspect I fall short more often than I know.

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