Monday, October 24, 2011

peace unity and purity

One of the ordination vows every officer at any level of the Presbyterian Church USA takes is to "further the peace, unity, and purity of the church." Sometimes, this vow has been used as a club to keep people out, sometimes it's been ignored, sometimes it's been misunderstood...most of the time, I think we generally fall into the ignoring camp in my congregation.
Until last week, anyway, when the personnel team asked me during my annual review about how this vow is reflected in my ministry.
Of course, part of me had an internal freak out, as in "do they think I'm a troublemaker?" And the other part of me (the rational part) thought "ummm......."

So, I answered the question, kind of, but what it really came down to was that no one was sure entirely what we even meant by these words, and what the words mean in the context of the local church (not just on a denominational level), and how they might apply to our congregational life. SO...what I ended up saying was something about how "unity" is not about uniformity, but about unity of purpose--that we are all here seeking the same goal: to follow Jesus, to be transformed for the transformation of the world, to participate in the mission of God in the world, etc...and "purity" is not about what our current American culture labels as pure but instead about purity of intention, purity of heart, purity of love for God and neighbor and enemy. But "peace"--this is the hard one. Peace, of course, is not just the absence of conflict (though after a conflict, a little absence feels pretty peaceful!) but also the presence of justice. Peacemaking is a big part of our call as Christians, and so creating conditions for justice and peace to flourish in the church is a large part of ministry.

Having said that, I went home from that meeting wondering if I had done a disservice to the role of pastor in regards to peace. Is the role of a pastor to make peace in a congregation? Or is it to disturb the peace, so the people of God can go out and work for justice and peace in the world? I wonder how often we use the word "peace" the same way we use the word "nice"--as a cover for shallow relationships and vague understanding, rather than as the Shalom God intends. Particularly in situations where the pastor has a lot of things to do, a lot of people to work with, programs to administrate, and saints to equip, it can be easier to avoid conflict in order to keep the "peace" than to challenge the status quo. It's often been said that our job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable...and some of us do a better job and one side or the other of that coin, no doubt. But how often do we avoid one in favor of the other?

I'm contemplating giving myself a new title--because I think the church and world need more of these people, instead of people who will continue to live with the way things are. Plus, five years post-ordination, it's time to think about which aspect of my role I most live into right now (I keep hoping I'll identify most with "steward of the mysteries of God"...that'll probably be coming soon. LOL). Therefore, I will now consider myself The Reverend Teri Peterson, Disturber of the "Peace." (yes, with air quotes!)


  1. Could furthering the peace mean working toward greater shalom, even if that means increasing conflict now?

  2. yes! like that strange adage about cracking eggs to make an omelet.