Strength In Diversity

One of my Advent readings is the book, An Immense World by Ed Yong. Throughout the book the reader is treated to the amazing life of animals by unveiling their perceptual world and how they construct their environment. He writes:

We cannot sense the faint electric fields that sharks and platypuses can. We are not privy to the magnetic fields that robins and sea turtles detect. We can’t trace the invisible trail of a swimming fish the way a seal can. We can’t feel the air currents created by a buzzing fly the way a wandering spider does. Our ears cannot hear the ultrasonic calls of whales. Our eyes cannot see the infrared radiation that rattlesnakes detect or the ultraviolet light that the birds and the bees can sense.

Yong uses the word Umwelt which comes from the German word for environment– specifically the part of those surroundings that an animal can sense and experience.

He writes, “Our Umwelt is all that we know, and we easily mistake it for all there is to know. Each species is constrained in some ways and liberated in others. For that reason, this is not a book of lists in which we childishly rank animals according to the sharpness of their senses and value them only when their abilities surpass our own. This is a book not about superiority but about diversity.

Umwelt and worldview may be similar. I am an African American male, descendent of slaves, born and raised in Chicagoland, educated in a Catholic university, and a graduate of a Presbyterian seminary. It would be a mistake for me to believe everyone sees the world as I do, and my worldview is all there is to know. I am both limited and liberated by my worldview. I am not superior or inferior to others. I am different. We are all different.

As I visited congregations in 2022, I was struck by how different worship was at each church. Some churches had lighting of candles and playing of organ music, while others had drums and praise bands. Some desired preaching in robes, while others preferred more casual attire. For some preaching was the center of worship, while others focused on the prayers of the people, joys and concerns, or excellent music. Our presbytery is a halleluiah chorus of diverse churches, and we are stronger because we are different. We are better because of our diversity.

Yong argues that the diversity of life is a response to needs. Animals developed certain senses because they had to, so they could eat, mate, and survive in their environment. Our congregations have a similar struggle. Surviving in 2023 and beyond will depend upon how werespond to the challenges of COVID, and how the church relates to its community. The congregations in the presbytery may be faced with the same struggles in this post COVID world, but our responses will be as different as the communities we serve. The presbytery would like to partner with congregations as they navigate this terrain.

I believe congregations should have intentional discussions about their futures. This may mean doing a mission study (congregations should do a self-assessment every 3-5 years), attending workshop and seminars on the future of the church, or using consultants to help the session and church find a way forward. The presbytery wants to partner with you in these conversations around discernment by providing grants and other resources. I am excited for our future as we bring our unique and diverse congregations into God’s future for the Church.

Rev. Craig Howard