Confidence and Humility

I am reading a new book by Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorite authors. It is the fourth in a series that began with Gilead. Each book tells the stories of the same characters from the point of view of a different one of the characters. I think I first read Gilead because at the time of its publication I was a pastor in Iowa. Two of the main characters are also pastors in Iowa. I also spent a lot of time in Iowa City because the Presbytery of East Iowa office was there and I was the Stated Clerk of the presbytery at the time. Robinson lives in Iowa City. Once I read the first book, I was hooked. The writing is beautiful and she evokes scenes of places that I could very easily imagine whether at a church or in a pastor’s home or in the garden.
 
I am a few pages into the new book which is called Jack. So far, I have been reading a conversation between Jack, the prodigal son in the story, and his friend who is a different race than Jack but is also the child of a pastor. They find that they have a lot in common because of that. Especially in former decades, the manse was often the site of weddings, impromptu pastoral counseling, people in need showing up unannounced at the door, and so on. Children had to be taught to be discreet and spent more time hearing the gospel and eating fried chicken and jello at church than most of their contemporaries.
 
I ran across a line that made me stop and chuckle. Jack’s father is a Presbyterian minister. His friend’s father is Baptist. They begin to talk about theology a little and the subject of predestination comes up. She says to him that she does not want to dive into the depths of Presbyterianism with him. Ah, the depths of Presbyterianism. What would you say that they are?
 
I was working with a presbytery in Ohio in a former job that I had. Actually, it was the presbytery that Debbie Rundlett was leaving as she came to Chicago. She asked me to work with the leadership team of the presbytery to help them plan for her departure. I started reminding them about the history and theology of the PCUSA and then realized I was getting some blank stares. So I asked the dozen people in the room how many of them had grown up in the Presbyterian Church. Only four of us in the room had. That is a pretty typical percentage in any PCUSA group. I then asked them what brought them to us. Why did they choose to be a part of the PCUSA? None of them in that room came from no Christian background. Many were from an episcopal background; that is they came from a tradition that has a bishop. Every one of them said they came and stayed because of our polity. 
 
That was a surprise to me. But then we started talking about how they understood the polity and we were right back to theology. We do not have a bishop because we do not believe that any one human being can as clearly discern the mind of Christ as we can in a group. We have what would in other Christian groups be considered to be members of the laity who have answered the exact same ordination questions as ministers. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. We believe that we are the church reformed and always being reformed according to the leading of the Holy Spirit because we believe that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We do our very best when we gather together to do the will of God. We also admit that we are fallible and sometimes get it wrong and need to change. What this group of people liked about our polity was rooted in our theology but they had never put the two things together.
 
Confidence and humility may be a way to characterize our theology: we believe that we have been called by God and we believe that we often miss the mark of living out that call. In the tumultuous weeks ahead, let us call on our confidence and humility to continue to share hope in the name of Jesus in a world that desperately needs it.
 
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago
312.488.3015
skrummel@chicagopresbytery.org

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