This blogpost is the fifth installment of a series titled “Our Story”, which tells how Verdae Presbyterian Church has come to exist. Visit our website to see the previous four blogs, and stay tuned for new postings each Thursday!
The purpose of today’s blog in the story of our church is not so much about how our plans were approved. Rather it is about who it was that approved our plans. I often get the question “What does it mean to be Presbyterian?” And I have found that telling this story highlights one key aspect of our Presbyterianism – being connectional.
Let me back up just a bit!
The core of my job from December 2015 through March 2016 focused on putting a full proposal together for how we would go about planting this church. This included coming up with our mission statement, core values, and a 3-year plan to achieve sustainability. Our proposal outlined the group of people (the de-churched) and the broader geographic area (the 29607 zip code) that we felt called to minister to. February 2016 for me was a month of putting the finishing touches on this proposal, and by the time March rolled around we were ready to submit our plans.
The first group to receive our plans was Second Presbytery. In our denomination, the presbytery is the “essential court” of the ARP Church, and it is made up of ministers and elders from all the ARP churches in a geographic area. Among its many roles, presbytery has the responsibility to license and ordain ministers, plant new churches in its area, and provide support for its congregations. This was the primary group for me to present to, so their approval of our plans in March 2016 is what really set our church in motion.
With approval from our presbytery in hand, the next body to hear our proposal was Outreach North America (ONA). ONA is an agency of the ARP Synod, which is the “highest court” in the ARP Church. The ARP Synod is made up of all nine of our presbyteries, and it is this body who has a week-long meeting each June. Among its many roles, Synod is responsible for maintaining the unity of our denomination and equipping the local churches to do their work of ministry. ONA, one of Synod’s agencies, oversees church planting for the ARP Church. Their approval in April 2016 is what connected our work to the broader denomination.
Finally, I took our plans to the only other ARP Church in the city of Greenville – Greenville ARP. I met with the Session of the Greenville ARP Church to submit our plans and proposal to them – not so much for official approval, but rather for connectivity in the ministry. In fact, as part of our proposal, we stated explicitly that we desired to “co-labor in Christ with the Greenville ARP Church to reach the city of Greenville.” It was important that they be on board with our work because I knew that we would need to lean on them in a number of ways to get off the ground. In meeting with their Session that Spring, the Greenville ARP Church emphatically affirmed our plans and proposal – and offered their support in multiple ways.
I say all of this today to communicate one thing – and I want to use an illustration to highlight this point. Our church plant is akin to a three-legged table. In order for us to get off the ground, we needed the help and support of all three groups: (1) the local body, (2) the regional body, and (3) the national body. The beauty of the Presbyterian system is that it engages all three groups in an organic way that equips its churches to fulfill their unique callings from the Lord. I don’t have the space to communicate the multiple ways each of these bodies have aided our work, but I can say that we could not be where we are today without the complementary efforts of each group.
And so this is how Verdae Presbyterian Church is part of a connectional body. We are not a church on an island. We are not a church doing things apart from a larger body. Rather we are a part of the larger body of Christ working to minister uniquely in the way we have been called.
And we thank the Lord for all three of our legs!
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12