The Eglise presbytérienne au Rwanda (Presbyterian Church of Rwanda) is equivalent to the PC(U.S.A.). They called the EPR a "general synod." What we would call a presbytery is called a "regional synod" in Rwanda. The Gitarama Region is our partner presbytery/regional synod. In each "regional synod" there are several parishes which will usually have a "primary congregation" and several congregations in the surrounding area. The "primary congregation" will usually be served by a pastor. The congregations in the surrounding area are served by an "evangelist." We would call them an ALP or a CLP. Congregations meet twice a week. Once a month the members of the surrounding congregations gather with the congregation of the "primary congregation." The "regional pastor"/general presbyter is attached to a particular congregation. However, the "regional pastor" is the one who itinerates among the congregations served by "evangelists" to officiate at the sacraments. In Rwanda, only ordained ministers are authorized to officiate at the sacraments.
I was struck by the parallels between our two denominations, and by our differences. One of the reasons the Rwandan congregations from the surrounding area come to the "primary congregation" once a month is it is a means to know the church is larger than their particular congregation. For most of the members of the congregations, in the surrounding area, the only way to get to the monthly worship service is to walk. They do not walk just a few blocks on nice sidewalks. They walk up and down mountain paths and through rugged valleys.
It seems we are in danger of losing the perspective that the church is larger than our particular congregation. Even though most us of have access to motorized transportation, and even though we have generally good roads to travel we find it difficult to join with brothers and sisters of a neighbouring congregation for Sunday worship. I wonder what would happen if we were to learn from our Rwandan brothers and sisters and come together in larger gatherings for worship once a month.
The partnership we have is not just our doing things with and for the congregations of the EPR in the Gitarama. In the partnership we have the opportunity to learn from their perspective and practices. As an example, and only as an example, let us imagine what would it be like if the congregations of the Southern Indiana County Parish were to gather with the Clarksburg congregation once a month with both pastors leading worship? What would it be like if the congregations of the Northern Indiana County Larger Parish were to gather with the Marion Center congregation once a month? What would it be like if Ridgway, Wilcox and Elkton were to gather with the St. Marys congregation once a month? There are many other examples of where this model could be tried within the bounds of our Presbytery. What if some of our partner congregations were to meet together on the same Sunday as their Rwandan partners are worshipping in larger groups?
The EPR model might not work for us. I find it an intriguing idea. There is an advantage to worshipping in a larger gathering of people. One of the things I often hear from members of smaller congregations about worship at presbytery meetings is, "It is good to hear such strong singing. It really lifts me up." What if we were in a worshipping group, at least periodically, where the singing was stronger than that which we usually experience?
Are there any who would be willing to try the Rwandan model?
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