Challenges and changes bring innovation
By Sue Washburn | Interim editor of Presbyterians Today
Presbyterians connect in countless ways. We can upload a YouTube video to a great cloud of witnesses and be affirmed by thousands of little thumbs-up. We can tweet a prayer request, surf the net to find like-minded people, Snapchat a smile or funny face, and read a story to children over Skype.
We have real-life connections, too, in our professional networks, community organizations, sports teams, and, of course, our churches. From our Presbyterian preschools to our colleges to our presbyteries, we have learned that when it comes to building something of importance, we can’t go it alone. Cooperation, inspiration, and accountability magnify the work we do for Christ. Connections matter in our lives and our ministries.
As Presbyterians, we are more likely to use words like community or connectionalism to describe the way we work together. We may call our togetherness networks, associations, groups, or caucuses. They may be formal or informal, local or global, but they all join together like-minded people to share a life in Christ.
At the global level, mission networks gather people’s passions to do ministry with those in other countries or with other people groups. These networks literally span the globe and allow information and inspiration to flow among churches both within one country and between different countries, multiplying the impact of the mission.
Strength in numbers
At the national level, groups gather around particular interests or identities to make sure all voices and concerns are brought to the table. There are Presbyterians for disability concerns, gatherings of musicians and pastors, networks of communicators, colleges, and camp leaders. There are racial-ethnic caucuses as well. The National Black Presbyterian Caucus (NBPC) is one of the oldest networks in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as it is a continuation of a group that began in 1856.
“A group like ours is important as we seek justice in the church as well as in society, culture, and economics,” says David L. Wallace Sr., president of the caucus. “The issues aren’t just for one group of the church, but the betterment of the whole church. We want to create a just, fair, and inclusive church. These ideals can’t be promoted effectively by individuals or in isolation. We take our example from Jesus, who reminds us that he is there whenever two or more are gathered in his name.”
Maxine E. Jenkins of Pittsburgh Presbytery says that it took a network to transform an idea into a General Assembly overture. The Pittsburgh chapter of the NBPC and the presbytery’s Amos 5:24 ministry team wanted to see the denomination take action to improve the plight of the African American males in five US cities. The overture may not have made it to General Assembly, Jenkins says, if people hadn’t been connected nationally in their passion for justice.
“There is strength in numbers. Networking and getting others to unite with you for a cause or a purpose is so much greater than a single person advocating for something,” Jenkins says. “One person can be dismissed, but a group has power.”
The way we network is changing. Technology, shifts in culture, and available resources are causing many to rethink the way we work together. New groups are likely to be more informal and less hierarchical. They may rely on tools like email, video chats, and social media to keep relationships strong. Rather than being self-sustaining, networks come and go as different needs arise. They are also less defined so as to allow for cross-pollination—ideas and insights from unlikely participants or places. These shifts are changing the way we do church globally and locally.
The Synod of the Sun and other church councils are becoming more intentional about connecting people in new ways. The Solar Under the Sun project grew out of the church and into the community. The idea to train installers of solar panels to provide energy for people living in areas without power grids captured hearts and imaginations. The idea spread, pulling new people into the network, making it an ecumenical project and eventually its own group with a separate board.
“It’s not limited to people within the synod. There have been people on the board from as far away as Kentucky and Kansas. Anyone who shares a passion for this work is invited to take part,” says Valerie Young, acting synod leader and stated clerk. “Like everything else in the church, it takes the gifts of all people to make something like this happen.”
Local churches are also multiplying the impact that they have on their communities. Church-to-church connections can allow for vibrant worship, fellowship, and mission. Partnering with community organizations and nonprofits can allow even small congregations to have a big influence on the lives of those they serve.
This issue of Presbyterians Today explores a variety of partnerships that prove that Presbyterians can help meet needs and make a difference in their communities. The ways we work together may change, but we remain Christ’s hands and feet on earth, embodying God at work in the world.
Networking for a new generation
Technological and cultural shifts are changing the way we work together. Traditional networks have their place, but many congregations and councils are trying new ways of connecting.
Many topics or cross-pollination
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