Photo by Peter Keller

A Message From Our New Executive Presbyter,

Rev. Dr. Thomas Harmon

Posted February 10, 2021

Growing Together

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5 NRSV

Dear Beaver-Butler Presbytery,

Grace and peace to you during the winter season as we turn our gaze toward brighter days ahead.

I am beginning my new role in ministry as your Executive Presbyter. It is a calling that God has placed on my heart for nearly two decades, as I feel the confirmation of your call to prepare, equip, and nurture the congregations of Beaver-Butler Presbytery.

The term “presbytery” has so many connotations. I have heard it used to refer to an office building when we say, “I’m going to the presbytery.” Other times, we use the word to refer to the chairperson of one of our committees by inferring, “The presbytery is calling.” I have also heard the term used when a session or congregation is visited, saying, “The presbytery is coming…” with an implied sense of saying, “… for us.”

I will be the first to acknowledge there are times when the partnering presence of ministry feels like an obligated constraint. A regulatory body becomes the administrative result of voting at meetings, reviewing minutes, and remembering deadlines to be met.

However, I wonder how we can live out patterns of genuine communion among congregations, ministers, and between ministers and elders. Our presbytery is the whole body of congregations. Every Christian who gathers among our congregations is “the presbytery.”

The presbytery is “us.” From that vantage, I want our work of ministry to consider how we will become a presence of deepening Christian relationships. How will we work together to equip the church’s ministry and mission?

Toward that vision, I hope that we will claim our life together, moving from legislation to connection. I want the presbytery to become a catalyzing presence, helping our congregations share the ways that God is transforming vital ministries in and through the communities of your mission field. I look to God for the confidence of seeing how our energy, intelligence, imagination, and love affirm a celebration of the baptismal ties that bind us together.

We are no longer the presbytery we once were. We have moved from a time of theological and power struggles with adversarial postures. In turning a corner, we have focused our attention on seeking the meaningful purpose of emphasizing our covenantal connections.

By gathering, we spend time dwelling in God’s Word while focusing our discerning work in a worshipful posture of seeking God’s will over ours. We share our moments of mission as a witness to encourage each other to see and believe that God’s work continues among us. Likewise, even during the tensest moments, we meet each other with grace and fidelity in our calling to Christ and each other.

Beaver-Butler Presbytery has made palpable steps toward building community, sharing in our work, and looking to each other as we seek to love our neighbors in Christ’s way.

For some, moving ahead means the thoughtful joining of a pastoral relationship between two congregations. Others have recently received grants to improve sidewalks, entrances, and signs pointing toward our work of sharing the gospel with the community. In a pandemic, we responded by collaborating best practices, hearing mission stories by video conference, and providing funds to encourage new growth amid anxious times.

Our willingness to journey into unknown territory continues to allow new opportunities to see and experience God’s presence among us. Likewise, I am looking forward to exploring the expansion of our connections and the deepening of our faith as the Lord continues to cultivate and develop our lives both individually and corporately.

In John 15, Jesus teaches about his relationship to the Father using the image of branches connected to a grapevine. As I reflect upon his metaphor in scripture, I am hopeful about the places you and I connect to the vine. Moreover, I look forward to seeing ways the vine gives life to the branch, producing good fruit, the evidence of our purposeful work.

Just as branches depend upon the vine, the church finds its life abiding in Christ, who alone is our source of nourishment. And, by looking to Christ’s presence in each other, I look forward to the hope of experiencing God among us by growing together, connected to God, connected to each other.

In gratitude to Christ, serving with you,