Once, when my family was deep in the heart of Mexico, my wife cut her leg on the wood bedframe that protruded from beneath our mattress. She didn’t make a big deal about it, so I didn’t pay much attention at first.
Later that day, I asked if I could take a look. I couldn’t believe what I saw. The cut was actually a deep gash, at least an inch-and-half wide that went all the way to the bone. Every layer of subcutaneous tissue was fully exposed, as was the bone itself.
That one event began a process that neither she nor I saw coming. We did our best to keep the wound clean and bandaged. We irrigated the wound. We put anti-bacterial ointments on it. But it just wouldn’t heal—for months. Indeed, it took eight months of visiting a wound-care specialist for the cut in her leg to finally heal. Not surprisingly, to this day, there is still a sizable scar where the wound once existed.
Like physical wounds, emotional and spiritual ones often take place from the inside out. If debris or infected tissue remain in the wound, they need to be cleaned out first, and the wound must be kept open while new layers of skin are allowed to naturally and slowly grow back.
I tell this story because sometimes individuals and communities are wounded in a way that calls for specialized wound care. They may not recognize it at first, or even wish to admit it, but deep wounds often take extra attention to heal.
As I think about our presbytery, and what we have been through the past several years, I believe we need to engage in wound care. It may not seem like it to some, if they only look at the surface of our presbytery. After all, we continue to start new worshipping communities (Long Beach Mission Hub; Canvas; RV Ministry), engage in church transformation processes and lead in mission initiatives on behalf of the wider church (see Syrian article), but deep down, I think many of us would agree that we have wounds which are hindering us from loving each other like Christ loved the Church, and reaching out in mission with our best selves.
Even with the stellar work our presbytery has done to articulate our vision and priorities (see “A Time for Fireworks and Champagne”), I believe we have much work left to do on an emotional level. The departure of congregations, and the conversations that led up to those, not to mention the resources our presbytery released to a new Reformed denomination called ECO, has left many of us wondering whom we can trust and how we will ever heal from such a painful experience.
In only a few years we went from being “a presbytery in love” and a “shining light of our denomination” to being mired in conflict and weighed down by activities that few felt were constructive.
It would be magical thinking to believe we could wave a wand and declare, “The hurt is all gone; we can just move forward now!” but we know in our hearts that’s not how life works. As with wounds in our flesh, it does no good to pretend that we have not been hurt, or to minimize the injuries that continue to hold us back. That only makes the situation worse.
That would be like having a gash in your leg and not doing anything to care for it. If you have ever failed to take care of a wound and developed blood poisoning, as I have, you know how sick you can become and how you can be sidelined from everything fun and worthwhile. The same is true with the communal life of a presbytery like ours. The last thing you want is for an infection to become abscessed with a superficial healing, to turn inward, and to poison the body.
So, what would wound care look like in our presbytery?
Thankfully, our Presbytery Council has already begun to lead the way. In June, we invited professional facilitator Laurie Ferguson to facilitate an all-day retreat for which we had two goals. The first was to tell the textured and sometimes difficult stories of the past from various points of view. The second was to talk about what “making peace” could look like for us, and what it would mean to go forward together as a presbytery. We did this in the context of Bible study and prayer.
Each person was encouraged to share their personal and sometimes difficult stories about their experience of being a member of our presbytery the past few years. We sat in a circle with nothing between us. We were instructed to avoid talking about the experiences of “others out there” and only to share our own experiences and feelings. We stuck to “I” statements.
In many ways, that experience felt very much like the first session of wound care treatment. It felt like we were cleaning out old wounds and creating a new foundation for healing to take place. It was cathartic to have a safe place to speak the truth in love to each other. In all, it proved a powerful beginning to a way forward for our presbytery.
Because of the need for confidentiality, I cannot go into details about the content of the retreat, but I can say that it was the beginning of what “making peace” might look like for us, and the wider church as well. Over the next few months the Council will wrestle with how to unpack what we experienced that day in June and how to spread the benefit of what we learned throughout our presbytery and even beyond to the wider Church.
God loves us so much that God doesn’t let us stay as we are. Please join me in praying for our presbytery, that we may find complete healing from anything that stands in our way of offering our best to God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ in the world.