“Maintenance” is a word that has fallen on hard times. Maintaining isn’t very sexy in an era often punch drunk on the new and the now. And the life of Christian communions is not immune from this intoxication. If you so choose, you could fill up your Saturdays with church conferences urging us all to move from “maintenance to mission” (as if the one has nothing to do with the other). To be sure, we followers of Jesus can get addicted to his comfort, we can settle into “normals” that choke our creativity and cut us off from the very neighbors he would have us meet and bless.
Even so, to maintain something holy is a holy activity. The old word in Latin was *manu tenere,* meaning something like, “to hold in the hand.” Taken that way, is it not a deep privilege to cradle in our spiritual hands the good gifts of a good God? No less than the Apostle Paul — hardly a conventional Company Man after his Damascus Road reversal — could instruct the Philippian Christians, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” In other words, maintain. *Manu tenere.*
I recognize that in church and presbytery life, often staff transitions bring an unwanted revolution. Wanting to make a mark, sometimes new folk toss the precious baby of the past out with the bathwater of transition. But as I take up the post of your next Executive Presbyter, it is important to me that you know that I do so with a great sense of call to help maintain much of what Shenango Presbytery has been about — in action as well as in culture. This week, let me give you four quick examples. Next week, I’ll give you four more.
- I feel a call to maintain the cross-cultural mission connections in place in our presbytery, living communions with believers in (from our perspective) far-flung places such as the Sudan, the Nile Valley, the Dominican Republic, and many others. These relationships are not unique to Shenango, but they are not common, either. They are precious gifts. Now more than ever, we need the witness of the global church — alive and well in places much more difficult than our own.
- I feel a call to honor the legacy of the Partnership for the Missional Church (PMC), a terrific multi-year experiment in creative ministry in which a great many Shenango congregations shared. Such efforts are precious attempts to help us imagine life with Jesus outside the walls of our buildings. Even if the era of PMC work has passed, we can bless those efforts by harnessing the language, principles, and behaviors of the “missional church” movement in order to live into our calling.
- I feel a call to bless the prevailing orthodox theological atmosphere among our officers and congregations. In a living orthodoxy, there is always room to breathe, even as we walk in the oh-so-specific way of a crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord Jesus. I sense the good air of the gospel in the communion of our preachers and leaders, and I want to see that commitment to the full breadth of the gospel (loving God and loving neighbor) maintained and furthered.
- I feel a sense of call to further the supportive and encouraging pastoral relationships among our Teaching Elders. No communion is perfect; every body of believers can stand to mature. But I appreciate the collegial relationships present among the bulk of our pastors, and want to help ensure a spirit of cooperation, unity, and challenge amid these uncertain times. If we pastors cannot practice robust Christian community among ourselves, how can we expect it of the congregations we have been called to serve?
*Manu tenere.* Maintaining. What precious blessings from God, in life and in church, are you being called to hold in your hands? More of mine next week.
Grace and peace to you.