Posts Tagged ‘ecclesiology’

pride and prejudice


Within the movie version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, dialogue is quick-witted even as postures and decorum are maintained.  One particular scene deals a devastating blow of dialogue between all-powerful, Lady Catherine and the obsessed Mrs. Bennet.  The scene is late at night, Lady Catherine has arrived by carriage on “urgent business” with Jane, the Bennet’s eldest daughter.  Before Lady Catherine can attend to the business with Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet is providing an update on the marriage of her daughters and how well things are going for their family.  Mrs. Bennet’s naive joy is cut short by Lady Catherine who declares,   “Madam, your garden is quite small.”

In the movie, the insult is almost lost on Mrs. Bennet for the scene cuts quickly to Lady Catherine’s private conversation with Elizabeth.   But for those of us who are “into” pride and prejudice, Lady Catherine’s comment cuts to the heart of our humanity.    I have watched this movie multiple times.  Each time, I most anticipate Lady Catherine’s statement to Mrs. Bennet.  I have wondered, what would I say to Lady Catherine if I were with her.   I imagine all sorts of bold and witty “come-backs”.  It was during such a viewing, not so long ago that I realized I, serving the church,  was in the presence of Lady Catherine.   Perhaps most particularly, in a culture that continues to be persuaded by bigger is better.

We in the Presbyterian Church USA have many small gardens.  Rural, urban and suburban congregations are all included as place holders for small gardens.  It  has often been said that size is relative.  So, in fact, perhaps everyone has been made to feel that their gardens are small at one time or another, in one way or another.  I would wager that even large churches have been “cut down to size”  as Lady Catherine’s voice is made audible by declaring only a small portion of their congregation is involved compared to the percentage of folks involved in small churches.    Interesting that  congregations a fraction of others can sound Lady Catherine with a booming resonance.  It might not matter who we are.  It might not matter our size. When Lady Catherine’s statement “Madam, your garden is quite small” is made audible, church, congregant and clergy are cut to the quick.  Those referenced might decide to stop gardening or try to get bigger gardens to “show her”. But one must draw attention back to  Mrs. Bennet to fully appreciate the frivolity of Lady Catherine’s insult.

As simple as she is portrayed, Mrs. Bennet is, ultimately, unaffected by the insult of “a small garden”.   In fact, one notices that her only concern is for her small garden of a family.  She exists that it may grow and thrive.  And yes, yes, she is horribly traditional in her understanding of how that happens. However, the point is, that she is always revising and reframing to bring her garden into the best possible light.  Every garden needs light to thrive.  In the movie, it is almost as if she does not hear Lady Catherine.  It is almost as if we should not hear Lady Catherine.  After all, whose garden is not smaller than hers and does that not make her critique irrelevant.

Presbyterian gardens of all sizes (for one size does not fit all) might do good to channel a bit of Mrs. Bennet’s spirit as we celebrate the  Spirit at Pentecost this Sunday.   As we remember the emergence of the church, may we ever lovingly attend to the portion of its vitality entrusted to our care.  And while we are at it…..

During General Assembly, the Congregational Vitality committee of our  General Assembly will consider a recommendation that the entire church be called to live more missionally.  May the gardens blossom and feed! 7 Days!


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Some of the exciting reading in preparation for General Assembly is the report from the Mid Council Commission II Report.  Doesn’t sound exciting but it is actually full of beautiful considerations and recommendations.  It begins be asserting the truth that we are not the church we have been in terms of numbers.  It was in those bygone days that we had created the structure of the Presbyterian Church USA with is current number of Synods.  Synods are those relational entities between Presbyteries and General Assembly.  Because our numbers are less, one might think that the Mid  Council Commission II Report would be recommending few Synods to conserve cost of staff and facilities.

In fact the Mid Council Commission II Report is a response to Mid Council Commission’s report at the 220th General Assembly.  That report called for an elimination of Synods in light of the numbers of Presbyterian members.  Commission II was charged with the duty of reviewing and revising the recommendation to eliminate.  What they came up with was beautiful.

Spoiler alert!  Commission II recommends that Synods be distilled to 8 from their current number of 16.  Not quite as severe as the first commission’s recommendation but not markedly different.   What is different is how they suggest that this happen.  The recommendation is that the middle of our governmental structure would begin to engage one another…Presbytery to Presbytery, Synod to Presbytery with local congregations naturally in the mix.   Through collaboration, the middle would experience an increase in metabolism.  As Presbyteries, Synods and local congregations collaborate to solve a technical challenge (our structure no longer is well suited to our membership), they begin to know one another better and begin to imagine how to  work together.  Imagination is the right warrior to arrive into battle with the adaptive challenges that face any long standing denomination trying to articulate Christ’s call to mission and ministry in a non-denominational world.

Initially, it is sad to think about downsizing.  People’s lives are affected and perhaps also a denominational morale.  But to be called to a new metabolism in our ecclesial life is exciting and exemplifies excellent committee work as we approach General Assembly.

As we run this race…may we metabolize with Grace.  Thanks Mid Council Commission II.   8 Days!

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