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Friday, September 12, 2014

family connections

It took going to Scotland to fully realize a vision back home.

A couple of years ago I I overheard a wistful conversation in the restroom between two older pastors. They were talking about the "old presbytery" and how everyone knew each other better. And not only each other, they also knew each other's families - spouses and children. I remember pondering at the time what that might look like in our large and spread out metro presbytery, and what effect those kind of relationships might have on the character and challenges of our particular group.

As I reflect on my 12 years in this presbytery, I think I have done a good job at seeking out and cultivating relationships with other pastors. But that takes intentionality (and reciprocity); getting to know each other's families is another order of relating altogether. So, while I had once imagined it, I had not experienced such a thing or its blessings.

And then I was invited on this Scotland Connection trip: 12 pastors, mostly from NC and the region. And we were encouraged to invite spouses, not only for the week-long conference, but to plan time before or after. While my spouse was not able to come, the great majority did come with husband or wife. One couple even rounded out their honeymoon with the time in Scotland!

What I did not anticipate (and if I had, I probably would have worked very hard to make it possible for my wife to come) was how meaningful it was to get to know my colleagues in the context of their family relationships. Over the course of the week, I think I had meaningful conversation with just about every person on the trip, and the glimpse you get into a person's faith and life in family relationship is so much richer and complete than the typical sighting across the presbytery meeting or committee table. Even those colleagues whom I know fairly well are known primarily in our role as fellow presbyter and pastor.

To interact with those same colleagues as husband, wife, father, or mother - was an unexpected treasure. Even those of us who came 'single' shared photos and stories of families and loved ones back home. To share in meals, travel, jokes, weather, and much more in the shared context of faith, ministry, and life was so wonderful. To share in one couple's 10th anniversary with a time of worship and prayer together was profoundly moving. To share deep stories of faith-formation and even rekindle old friendship was surprisingly poignant. All of it was, as one friend put it, sacred.

...which brings me full circle to the presbytery. At least 6-7 of the colleagues from the Scotland trip are in my presbytery. I know that whether we work on committees together, worship together, or debate one another - we will do so in the context of a shared experience and deeper relationship. I light up when I see them across the room. I want to hear how their families are doing. It seems to me that this is how it should be in the church, whether our local churches or the large connected gathering we call the presbytery.

I wonder if there are ways we can cultivate those kinds of experiences and relationships in the presbytery moving forward. I think it would significantly refocus our conversations, our ministry and mission, and our life together. That's a vision I plan to hold out and hope for!

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