Every time we ordain or install a new Pastor or Ruling Elder, we ask our candidates a series of questions that comes out of the Book of Order (W-4.0404). The questions are broad, but full of specifics. They are demanding, but full of grace. They are hopeful; yet they have practical implications. One of those questions we ask is Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love? I remember being fascinated with this question when I was in seminary. For a church that was known as the “Frozen Chosen” this question seemed considerably…defrosted.
When the pandemic hit this time last year, church everywhere was thrown into chaos. It was an event which took away all our normal ways of doing things. “Norms and expectations” are a big part of the community ethos in a congregation, especially a congregation like ours with such a rich history and belonging to a denomination which has such a rich history. As Session and staff responded to this challenge, we often felt overwhelmed, worn down, confused by the multiple messages that were being put out by local, state and federal leaders, unable to see how things were going to unfold week to week (never mind month to month). Yet, here was this vow, which demanded of us the very skills to meet those challenges: Prayer, Service, Energy, Intelligence, Imagination, and Love.
I was very proud of our Session as they struggled through making the toughest decisions I had ever seen a Session face. The meetings were longer; the topics were dense. Every person in the room felt the weight of the needs of the congregation and also the requirement of the Book of Order that we speak and vote as our conscience demands. But, as you can imagine, not every conscience in the room brought people to the same conclusions. We prayed deeply and often for the Holy Spirit to guide our collective thoughts and decisions, but at the end of the day, how does that practically play out in each Elder’s decision making process? This is when the vow makes its demands- to not give up because we were weary and there was no answer that would make everyone happy. We had to be intelligent, sorting through what science was telling us and acknowledging what we knew, and maybe just as important, what we did not know. We had to show imagination because every single thing we did had to be done in some new way, so how to best bring church into a place where people could still participate in it, even as we were isolated. And, of course, it required love. Love for each other, love for the congregation, love for the world beyond the church, and especially remembering that love is the greatest of all the commandments.
So, you might ask, what does that have to do with me if I am not serving on Session? First, I hope it is a window into how thoughtful and compassionate Elders tried to be in tackling all of the hard decisions. And, whether you agree with the decisions Session made or not, to know that the discussion and votes were done with a sense of reverence for the task at hand.
Also, and maybe more importantly, I would ask you to consider this question in your own life. What would it look like to commit one’s self to serving Christ with energy….intelligence…imagination….and love? How can you take each one of these ideas and give prayerful thought to how God might be calling you into discipleship with each of these things?
Grace and Peace,