What is a Presbytery

Craig in AlaskaBlog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


I was on the freshman high school wrestling team. I wanted to wrestle because my oldest brother was district champion in his weight class. While on the team I learned wrestling techniques: takedowns, escapes, reversals, and more. But in the back of my mind was a question that the coaches didn’t refer to or answer. What is the goal of wrestling? Why am I on the mat? In my first match my competitor was strong and fast. I went to execute a takedown, and the next thing I knew I was on my back! He pinned me in under 2 minutes! I can still see the ceiling lights of the gym as I remember the struggle and embarrassment. I learned the hard way that the goal of wrestling is to pin your opponent before they pin you!

I have been wrestling with reorganizing and restructuring the presbytery for months. I have spoken to committees, teams, ministers and members about possible reconfigurations that would make the work of the presbytery more effective and meaningful. But a question keeps rising from these groups, “What is the purpose of a presbytery?”

Simply put, a presbytery is a group of congregations in a particular geographic area that are in covenant relationship with one another to do mission and ministry in the world. Think of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy as the point in which our 75 congregations and many specialized ministries connect. Through this connection, we encourage and support one another, commit to certain standards of leadership and worship, and do mission in the world.

All of this connecting, ministry focus, resource connecting, and leadership development is done through the presbytery structure and presbytery office.

Ordinarily a church experiences the presbytery during a leadership change or congregational crises. The pastor who is serving your congregation is the bodily presence of the presbytery in your congregation. The pastor is trained, prepared, and approved by a presbytery (this one or another). Another way in which the presbytery is present is in the sacraments. The presbytery verifies the details of the communion (who, what, when) as well as baptism. In these ways the presbytery is present in every congregation every week.

I sometimes ask the session of a congregation, “What would this community be like if this church were not here?” This question helps a congregation understand its relevance to the community in which they are located. I have the same question for the presbytery. What if the presbytery were not here? What difference would it make to the congregations? To the community? I would add another question: “Where do you see the presbytery in your congregation or ministry setting?”

What if the presbytery didn’t exist? What difference would it make? I will tackle that question next week! Stay tuned!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

3 Responses to “What is a Presbytery”

  1. Carleton Stock on

    Your blog spoke to me particularly because I am retired and active in Second Church as neither pastor nor member. In a sense, this blog speaks to me as an ordained minister embedded in a local congregation and representing the presbytery of which I am a member. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Diane McCullough on

    Craig, thanks for asking the question. As a lay-person/Elder, I see the Presbytery as the center point for communication among the congregations, the commissions and the committees. The more the structure can facilitate that, the better. Thank you for the hard work to create a meaningful structure for Giddings-Lovejoy.

    Reply
  3. Barbara G Willock on

    As a history major and sometime teacher of the history of American Presbyterians, I also think back to WHY presbyteries were formed in the American colonies in the first place. And it was partly to provide a way to ensure the training of church leadership, especially the pastors. As Presbyterians we take the education of not only our clergy but also our laity very seriously. Like Carleton, retired and embedded in a congregation, I continue to see my role as an ordained Teaching Elder as responsible for helping the church keep the story straight. Our intentionality in theological education is a primary way we do that. Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply

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