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October Doodles, 2019

“The Holy Catholic Church”


As part of our liturgy, we often remember the words of the Apostles’ Creed, which includes the phrase, “I believe in the holy catholic church,” which for some folks is alarming. After all, we are Presbyterians, right? Not Catholics. What’s this about believing in the Catholic Church?


When I preside at funerals, I usually take a moment to explain this phrase, and we include a short explanation in the bulletin to help folks understand that the word “catholic” means, “broad”, “inclusive”, that sort of thing. Over time, small ‘c’ catholic became capital ‘C’ Catholic, and it lost its inclusive meaning.


Of course, it’s one thing to say that we believe in a broad, inclusive, ‘catholic’ church, but making that happen is a whole different deal. In order to have a catholic church, we need to be intentional about creating relationships and structures that give room for that kind of church to thrive.


And this is one of the things that I believe the Presbyterian Church does really well. We believe in a wider church than just our own individual churches, and in order to give life to this belief, the PC(USA) has organized itself in ways that foster a true sense of dialogue and mutual accountability between the church and the denomination and the world.


One of these ways is in the structures of the church’s councils. As I have said before, any convened council of the church, whether it be the session of a particular church, or a Presbytery, or a Synod, or a General Assembly, must consist of more ‘lay’ people, that is, more non-clergy people than clergy. This ensures two things: 1) that the church doesn’t become a bishopric, led exclusively by religiously trained people that doesn’t necessarily reflect the views and insights of folks who live in the real world, and 2) encourages the participation and leadership of a wide and diverse group of believers from many different parts of society.


Of course actually putting this ethos into practice is difficult, because people have different ideas about different things. And groups of people have different ideas about different things. And sometimes, these different ideas are passionately held, and can lead to conflict, which is uncomfortable. But while conflict is hard, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, through conflict, new ideas are heard, and truths are told. While the process is difficult, the end result is worth it.


Now, some of you may be wondering why I thought it might be a good idea to write a treatise on PC(USA) polity for the October Doodles, but hang in there. A wonderful example of what it means to be a connectional church has taken place, and I wanted to put into context. Our own Dee Rice has been elected Moderator of the Palo Duro Presbytery! She will assume the position in January, and will preside over the Presbytery meetings for the next couple of years. It is a huge responsibility, and an incredible honor. When I think back over the last 10 years, and the Moderators I have known, I am struck by their humility, their intelligence, and their love for the church and their Lord. I know that while Dee has some big shoes to fill, she is a perfect choice to lead the Presbytery at this time.


Which brings me to my next point: In order for the church to continue to honor its belief in the importance of wide and inclusive leadership, members of the church must step forward from time to time to lead it. If we abdicate our responsibility, which, let’s face it, would be easier, we might as well hand over leadership of the church to a pope.


And while popes are fine, this is not who we are. We are a small ‘c’ catholic church, and we want to stay that way.


The nominating committee of our own local church is looking for the next generation of ruling elders to lead the church, and may be approaching you for service. I encourage you to think carefully about what this means. From my standpoint, it means that we are confident that God is calling and equipping you for ministry in this church. This does not mean that you have to be perfect, or rich, or a theologian, or a CEO. It does mean that the church needs folks who believe the ministry of the church is worth continuing, and that we all play a part in it.


Please consider serving your church and your Lord in this important way. Without your participation, the work of the church is diminished, and important ministry is left undone. I encourage all of us to consider carefully our own sense of stewardship and calling, and to look for ways to offer our own talents and gifts for the benefit of all.

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