Mid Councils Newsletter | August 22, 2016
What is normal for the PC(USA) in 2016? I have seen several accounts of the General Assembly talking about a “new normal.” Those articles are talking about a new Stated Clerk; a new interim Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency; the first time we have elected Co-Moderators; the first time we have elected two women as what used to be Moderator and Vice Moderator (will we ever have those offices again?); the youngest person ever elected as a Moderator; focus at the assembly on the issues of racism in this country and in this church; reminders that there is sin in the church in the form of child abuse of many kinds and that all councils need to have policies to try to prevent it; even, perhaps, a decision to stop having the “other” conversation that we have been having for decades: maybe we can finally stop talking about synods at every General Assembly.
Surely all of those changes have to do with the new normal. But, as important as all of that is, on a day-to-day basis it does not have much influence on the life of congregations. Of course, congregations are still the heart of our denomination. Without them, there is no reason to have moderators or directors or even clerks. Think about what we may still consider to be normal in a congregation and then think about the reality in the mid council you serve.
In many ways, our whole system of being the church is based on congregations that have an installed pastor who was trained in a PC(USA) seminary (or an academic institution approved by their committee on preparation for ministry), a congregation that pays its per capita in full and contributes to shared mission in its presbytery, synod, and the General Assembly. What percentage of your congregations does that describe? Across the denomination this would describe only about half of the congregations. In some presbyteries that percentage would be much less.
Here is a description of about half of the congregations in the denomination. They have fewer than 100 members. On a Sunday morning, you might find somewhere between 15 and 30 people in worship. (As I see the pictures some of you post on Facebook after you have visited your congregations, I see this reflected.) They may have the same person preaching on most Sundays or they may have a succession of visiting pastors. The person who acts as their spiritual leader may be one or more of the following: a commissioned ruling elder well-connected to the presbytery; a commissioned ruling elder who does not like the denomination but got commissioned so that they could serve as pastor; an ordained minister of another denomination with whom the PC(USA) is in full communion who may be retired or semiretired or taking a break after something unfortunate happened; a minister of a denomination with which we are not in full communion and about which you may have never heard before you met this person; an elder in that congregation whom your presbytery has trained and given permission to serve communion; a person who is unknown to you because you have such little contact with this congregation that you cannot even get them to tell you who is preaching.
Now think about all of the things that link us together as a denomination. Think about the Special Offering materials that arrive at church, for instance, assuming the leader who will open that package has some knowledge of that offering and the causes it supports. Think about whatever you send in terms of a “bill” for per capita (if you collect it) or your letter asking for a certain amount in support of the presbytery and larger church. Think about the way you invite people to attend presbytery meetings or other events you sponsor in the presbytery by way of education or communication or fun events. And on and on.
If you are like me, when I was in a presbytery office, you may forget that all of that needs much more interpretation than it once did. If we still assume that there is a PC(USA) seminary-trained person who is, mostly, loyal to the denomination receiving all of your invitations and communications, then we are wrong. In some places (even where the leader meets the “old normal” ideas about who he or she is) these materials are received by someone who does not know what they are and has no background with them. In other places, they are received by someone who is openly hostile to the wider church and thinks of us as the “them” that creates all of the problems in the world.
How do you help people in both your “old normal” and “new normal” congregations celebrate what it means to be part of the PC(USA)? What is it about our life together that you remind people about if you need to start from, basically, zero as you share resources? This might be a fruitful discussion to have with your leadership group. When I used to meet with sessions who were sad because they seemed to be stuck (no new members, shrinking budgets, etc.) I would listen to their tales of woe. Then I would ask them “When you brag about your church to your friends, what do you say?” Crickets. I could see that people were thinking several things. “You mean I am supposed to say good things about this church to my friends and not just complain?” “I can’t think of anything good to say.” “Maybe I should start doing that.” If the only things people hear from church members is a litany of their complaints about their pastor, their musician, the other people at church, and so on, why would they want to come to worship there? Before you send people home from a meeting or other event in your presbytery, you might want to encourage them to share what they have learned, how their faith has been deepened, and how they look forward to being together again. (And then you need to be sure you are providing opportunities for those things to happen!) Help them remember that we have been called together by God into this crazy organization called the PC(USA) so that we can bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ every hour of every day.
The Peace & Global Witness Offering exists to ignite a movement of Presbyterians engaged in the Christian witness of peacemaking and reconciliation. It invites individuals and congregations to deepen their involvement in God’s work of reconciliation in cultures of violence, including our own.
Gifts to the Offering support ministries that inspire new approaches to active peacemaking, learning with and from peacemaking leaders all over the globe. It supports educational efforts to equip God’s people as compassionate and prophetic agents of reconciliation, and connect them to other communities of peace who take action together for the transformation of the world.
By sharing the money raised, the Offering allows the local congregation (25%), mid councils (25%), and ministries at the national level (50%) to deepen their commitment to the transforming work of the Spirit.
Additional resources for the Offering include A Season of Peace, a four-week pilgrimage designed to deepen the pursuit of peace for congregations, small groups, families, and individuals. Through daily peace reflections, family activities such as peace cards, Bible studies, an intergenerational peace fair, and other online resources, you are invited to define and deepen your calling as a peacemaker. This season is a time of encouragement, challenge, inspiration, and education. Visit presbyterianmission.org/seasonofpeace for resources.
To receive daily reflections during A Season of Peace, visit pcusa.org/subscribe and check Path of Peace under the category of Advocacy and Social Justice.
The 2016 Winter All Staff Conference (WASC) will be held December 5–9. Click here for more information.
Be sure to mark your calendars and share these dates with others in your mid council. All of these events will be in Louisville.
Moderators Conference: October 28–30.
Association of Mid Council Leaders (AMCL) and Association of Stated Clerks (ASC): October 28–30. (If you need more information about these organizations or would like to join, please contact Jeff Hutcheson in San Francisco about AMCL and Doska Ross in the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii about the ASC.)
Stated Clerk’s Polity Conference: October 30–31. This conference will end the evening of October 31.
Also PLEASE TAKE NOTE. If you have attended the Polity Conference before then you know that there is a price break for the first two people from a mid council who attend. In the past, this was assumed to be the stated clerk and the executive/general presbyter. With all of the changes in the way presbyteries are organized, there were some questions about this last year. This summer all mid council stated clerks will receive a request to let the Office of the General Assembly know who will be the two people designated to receive this invitation.
New Stated Clerk Orientation: October 26-28. For more information or to register, please contact Diane Minter (email@example.com).