A Message from the Rev. Dr. Steve Simmons
Clichés die hard, and one of the most insidious things about them is that they can seep into our thinking without our even being aware of them (as with the tongue-in-cheek advice to aspiring writers to “avoid clichés like the plague”). That said, there’s one I’d like to kill off, or at least try. As the old saying goes, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard Presbyterians referred to, often by ourselves, as “God’s frozen chosen”….
In my experience, and I suspect in yours, Presbyterians on the whole are anything but chilly. Not that there aren’t crabby Presbies (I’ve known a few), but it’s hardly the case that aloofness, cold intellect, or general grumpiness is encoded in our denominational DNA. True, we do believe in the importance of a thinking faith and in the necessity of both an educated clergy and a well-informed laity to the vitality of the church; but we also believe that the Christian life is most essentially grounded in love of God and neighbor, and in the joy of our continuing fellowship with Jesus Christ. The fact that this congregation has an adult class called “Hearts and Minds” strikes me as getting this just right.
I’ve just had the privilege of serving as an evaluator for the Standard Ordination Examinations that certify candidates as ready for ministry in the PCUSA (think of something like bar exams for pastors). Here, if anywhere, we should find a plunge into the deep freeze; and yet the instructions to readers caution them that their comments to examinees are to be regarded, not as some kind of hazing ritual, but rather as a conversation with colleagues, “an expression of loving Christian concern for all those within the community of the church.” This isn’t to make allowances for shallow or sloppy thinking (just ask anybody who’s ever taken the “standard ords”!), but it is to recognize that ministry is rooted in mutual care and collaboration with others, and that even this final “checkup” is an embodiment of the church’s life together.
Likewise, our church’s manual of operations, the Book of Order, says early on that “the polity of the Presbyterian Church (USA) presupposes the fellowship of women, men, and children united in covenant relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ. The organization rests on the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love.” In other words, it’s a basic part of our charter that no amount of administrative tweaking will fix a church in which love and trust aren’t the norm among its members. To use another of our favorite clichés, doing things “decently and in order” rests — always — on a foundation of mutual affection and regard. In a world that too often acts as though leadership and good order mean speaking loudly and carrying a big stick, this is a message that needs to be spread and acted on as widely as possible. That’s our charge as people of faith, and it’s one that I have seen fulfilled again and again in this and other congregations in which I’ve participated.
So, smile! You’re a Presbyterian.