Pastor Cohorts and representatives of the Congregational Transformation Focus Group of Trinity Presbytery began their two-year journey carrying out the vision and mission of the Presbytery Revitalization Initiative of the Office of Vital Congregations of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Their work together brought profound thoughts and put names with faces and the churches with which they were associated. Most importantly, identifying and recognizing successful vital ministries that are already in communities working toward transforming lives through the sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was a powerful awakening among the members of this initial group.

Dr. Phyllis Sanders and Dr. Chris Denny, our Revitalization Facilitators, had members of our initial group of pastors to begin exploring the vision of the Presbytery Revitalization Initiative of the Office of Vital Congregations of the Presbyterian Church (USA) by focusing on the first eleven (11) words of the vision for this initiative:

 

By the power of the Holy Spirit, and in authentic relationships with mid-councils, we seek to equip, nurture and support church leaders to empower their congregations to renew, recover, and live more fully into faithful discipleship to Jesus Christ.

 

In the words “By the power of the Holy Spirit, and in authentic relationships,” there was unanimity in the group's belief that the Holy Spirit has power, which was the first step of moving forward. The larger group then formed several smaller groups and engaged in rich discussions about what the word authentic really means. As simple as it may sound or read, a plethora of words and synonyms were used that led each group to gain a deeper understanding of what it means for a person to be authentic: authentic in relationship to God, to self, and to all of God’s people. The outcome of the discussions among the teaching elders and the two ruling elders, who serve as co-moderators of our Congregational Transformation Focus Group, was defining an authentic relationship.

During brainstorming sessions, two words appeared in all three of the smaller group discussions: Honesty and True. Participating pastors and members of our Congregational Transformation Focus Group constituted a unified front as they engaged in and gave careful thought to the depth of defining an authentic relationship. This engagement gave their discussion and final definitions, as well as phase one in the revitalization process, a distinguishing mark of quality and integrity. These participants became authors of the definitions of an authentic relationship.

Authors Rev. Dr. Robert Scotland, pastor of Shiloh First, Rev. Alice Odell, parish associate at Seven Oaks and Rev. Dr. David Torrey, pastor of Queen Memorial Church said, "An authentic relationship is open communication built on trust grounded in faith transparent to all involved, and with all in relationship interacting as equals".

 Rev, Dr. robert M. Scotland

Rev, Dr. robert M. Scotland

 rev. Alice odell

rev. Alice odell

 rev. dr. david a. torrey

rev. dr. david a. torrey

As Scotland, Odell and Torrey were busy collecting and composing their meaning of an authentic relationship, across the room Rev. Julie Walkup Bird, pastor of McGregor, Ruling Elder Virginia Peterkin, co-moderator of our Congregational Transformation Focus Group, and Rev. Jana Creighton, pastor of Seven Oaks, were also sharing and composing their thoughts on an authentic relationship. From their combined thoughts on what authentic meant, they became authors of this definition of authentic relationships. “Authentic relationships are committed, binding truthful communication among God’s people, openly and intentionally living in the Spirit.”

 rev. julie walkup bird

rev. julie walkup bird

 ruling Elder Virginia Peterkin

ruling Elder Virginia Peterkin

 Rev. jana creighton

Rev. jana creighton

From meeting for the first time to engaging in meaningful discussion and conversation, Ruling Elder Yvette Howard, co-moderator of our Congregational Transformation Focus Group, and Rev. Mike Bragan, pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church, joined like-minded group members to author this definition of an authentic relationship. “An authentic relationship is an understanding of someone or something which is validated through experience as being true at all levels and which can change over time; yet, remain true. It is a state of being without false pretense and is completely honest.”

 
 Rev. Dr. Michael Bragan and            ruling Elder Yvette Howard

Rev. Dr. Michael Bragan and            ruling Elder Yvette Howard

 
 Rev. Kevin cartee

Rev. Kevin cartee

 

From the upstate cluster, Rev. Kevin Cartee, pastor of Ware Shoals Presbyterian Church, hosted the meeting and shared his insight and meaning of an authentic relationship with Dr. Phyllis Sanders and the Rev. Dr. Chris Denny,  our Revitalization Facilitators. When delving into the meaning of an authentic relationship, Cartee believes that "an authentic relationship is centered on people instead of product, sharing together instead of gathering/hoarding for self and honestly engaging in the stuff of life together”.

When combined, all of the meanings of what an authentic relationship is or looks like, proved to be a great beginning for maintaining the two-year covenant relationship between our Presbytery and the Presbyterian Church (USA). These pastors are committed to taking giant steps of faith, to prayerfully walking the path of righteousness, and to working to expand existing vital ministries that stretch beyond the walls of their sanctuaries. They understand the importance of an authentic relationship. Moreover, they are willing to develop authentic relationships that honor and support the pastor cohorts and that allows the congregations they serve to experience the wonder of God to transform and faithfully embrace change in missional action and faithful discipleship in Jesus Christ.

We appreciate and salute these pastors for sacrificing their time to commit to the 7 Marks of Congregational Vitality. As they work toward building intentional relationships and authentic assessment of congregations, let all of us surround them with prayer and encouragement.

During year one, we have facilitators working with pastors and leaders of the congregations participating in our Revitalization Initiative. During year two, we will assist these pastors and church leaders as they engage their congregations in this initiative.

The Sessions that have agreed to participate in this Revitalization Initiative are as follows: Congaree, First Aiken, First Clinton, First Ware Shoals, Hodges, Lebanon, Little River Dominick, McGregor, Ninety Six, Providence (West Columbia), Queen Memorial, Seven Oaks, Shady Grove, Shiloh First and Westminster (Columbia). 

The vital ministries that these congregations are already implementing are positively influencing the lives of those persons in their congregations and in the communities they serve through their work beyond the walls of their sanctuaries. God is calling all churches to transform and to be more inclusive of diverse cultures, ethnic groups and under-served populations who are still God's children.

As this daring group of godly trailblazers seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit in assessing, discerning, and living into faithful actions that increase through intentional spiritual practices, I believe God will take them deeper into actions that will further transform their lives, the lives of the members of their congregations and the people living in the communities surrounding their churches.

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