Ecclesiology colloquium: no, it’s not a phrase likely to go viral soon.
But Neal Presa, moderator of the 2012 General Assembly, thinks it’s vital for Presbyterians to talk, at a time of immense change, about “what is the purpose of the church?”
So Presa and Vice Moderator Tom Trinidad are convening a colloquium on ecclesiology (the theological study of the Christian church) on April 23-25 at Austin Theological Seminary. The Austin colloquium is a partnership between Presa, Austin seminary and the Committee on Theological Education.
For those who can’t attend in person:
The discussion papers and schedule are available online;
People can participate via live teleconference (see instructions here); and
The sessions will be live-streamed here.
A second colloquium is planned for Dec. 9-11 at Princeton Theological Seminary, to be followed Dec. 11-13 by a discussion on unity and diversity (also at Princeton). All are open to the public.
A third colloquium on ecclesiology likely will be scheduled for 2014, Presa said in an interview.
So why do this? Presa thinks that focused conversations on why the church exists – what its purpose is – can help Presbyterians as they ride the tumultuous waters.
“Too often, when we Presbyterians have encountered many challenges in our history, the knee-jerk reaction, if you will, is to restructure or ask the corporate efficiency questions, but not the theological questions of what has Jesus Christ always called the church to be about,” Presa said. “We see this constant pattern of gathering, sending. The church at its best is always about being gathered around Word and sacrament, and then being sent out to testify to the good news,” the cycle repeating again and again.
Presa contends that “if that core identity and calling is recovered, that will, we believe, dramatically reshape what we understand and do in councils.”
An example, he said, is the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, which has reshaped the presbytery into what it calls a missional learning community.
“If we spend an inordinate amount of time on just the structural pieces, on our governmental structures, as important as that is, that’s not the core identity,” Presa said. He wants a discussion of the purpose and nature of the church to be “front and center in the midst of the great changes we are confronting, the seismic shifts in how we are ordering ourselves. As national agencies and seminaries also are in the midst of those kinds of identity questions, we want to come alongside those efforts . . . What is the purpose of why God has called 1.9 million members together?”
Papers. Seven Presbyterians wrote papers that will be discussed at the Austin gathering – with others prepared to respond to their ideas. Presa said the authors, ranging from academics to pastors, were solicited from among connections he made through two groups with whom he was previously associated.
One, known as the Sacraments Study Group, met in the mid-2000s to prepare the paper “Invitation to Christ: A Guide to Sacramental Practices.”
The second was the Reforming Ministry core cluster group of which he was a participant.
“I gleaned a lot from those theological discussions on sacraments, theology and shared faith, Presa said. In planning the colloquia, he thought: “Wow, these are treasure troves . . . Let’s tap those same folks. They are practitioners, they are professors, they are pastors, they are governing-body officials.”
The papers were written by:
Darrell Guder, Henry Luce Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, N.J.
David Stubbs, professor of theology and ethics, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Mich.
Heidi Worthen Gamble, mission advocate for Hunger, Poverty and Peacemaking Concerns, Presbytery of the Pacific, Los Angeles
Teresa Stricklen, associate for Worship, Office of Theology, Worship and Education, Presbyterian Mission Agency, Louisville, Ky.
Marney Wasserman, pastor, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Tucson, Ariz.
Allen Permar Smith, pastor, Kenilworth Presbyterian Church, Asheville, N.C.
Thomas Smith, pastor, Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes, Angola, Ind.
Presa asked these individuals to write not for a narrow audience, but for the church at large. While he doesn’t expect a huge crowd in Austin, the proceedings will be recorded. Presa hopes the archived material can be a resource for more discussions in the church – another way, perhaps, of gathering together and then sending forth.