In the surgery waiting area, I sat with one of my church members. Her relative had been in a terrible car accident. This lady had a large extended family, and it seemed most of them were in the crowded waiting room. As we were talking, she looked at me and said, "You know, with a large family, there is a lot of joy, but also a lot of sorrow.
Presbyterians have a similar experience. The church is not just about the local congregation. As a connectional church, we share many joys and sorrows across the whole of the denomination. There is a natural and needed connection between Christians from different local churches and among the pastors. There is a formal connection in the church's courts as each session sends delegates along with pastors to Presbytery and Synod or General Assembly. Members serve together on boards, committees, and commissions. There is strength in working together. Like in the local church, we are greater than our parts' sums when we work together.
This connectional relationship is more effortless when dealing with the joys of ministry: reports of growing churches, new churches planted, and monies being available to fund and expand the ministry. There are times of shared joy as we see God working and his blessing poured out. However, there are connections in sorrow. Within the last week, we have dealt with three blows of bad news. A minister died of Covid, a young minister lost two of his triplet newborns, and a horrific mass shooting took the lives of an elder and his family. While this news causes sorrow and pain, there is also a shared love that lifts prayers and shoulders the burden. The outpouring of love and concern can be overwhelming. It is hard to share the sorrows, but there is a joy in the connectional church's love and strength in caring for each other.
These points of connection are constantly under attack. Satan desires to divide the church using issues to threaten and break our unity and fellowship. The ARP Church is facing a challenging problem with our retirement program. After many years and efforts to fix our retirement program, the board of benefits is recommending major changes to our plan. Because we love each other, we look after one another. Younger ministers have insisted that we care for the needs of the retired ministers. Older ministers have spoken about the needs of younger men. It would be easy to walk away in worldly terms, but because we are not of the world and value our connections, we see ways to get through these issues together.
It is easy to be a connectional church when there are joys and plenty. When the going is tough and the road is hard, we must strive to maintain our connection together in Jesus Christ. It is always easier to walk away from problems, but we are called to come together and work through the problems we face.