Mid Councils Newsletter, June 15, 2015
Responding to News Regarding the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board's Decisions
Musings from the Road
Pre-Big Tent Conversation
Presbytery Leaders' Learning Community
News and Corrections
Polity Conference and Fall Meetings 2015
responding to news regarding the presbyterian mission agency board's decisions
Just a note about all of the publicity that you have no doubt seen in recent weeks about the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s decisions. I remember what it can be like in a presbytery office when actions at the national level of the church cause members of your presbytery (or synod, I imagine) to ask you what is going on and telling you how they have already decided to respond (sometimes when that response is based on incomplete information).
Here are a few things you might want to consider.
First, you might want to help people understand the funding streams in the church and how that money is used. It might be helpful to remind people that per capita money and mission money are used for different things at the national level even if there is a unified budget in your mid council.
Second, you might want to talk with your leadership team about how such teams work with their executive and other employed leaders. This might be a good time to talk about how to support one another in your work and how oversight of work happens in your mid council.
Third, it might be helpful to remind people that there have been other times in the church when something has not happened in exactly the way we might all have hoped at the national level (do you still get questions about Angela Davis?) and that the church has survived, having learned more about itself through the process.
Fourth, our Constitution reminds us (G-1.0102) that our polity is based on fellowship united in covenant relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ. “The organization rests on the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love.” Maybe this is a time to have a discussion with your leadership or your mid council about how we balance trust and love in times when the whole organization does not seem to be in sync with one another.
Fifth, what biblical image comes to mind for you when you need to help a group gain perspective in the midst of times of uncertainty or disappointment? Maybe you remind them of the eighth chapter of the book of Romans—even this cannot separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ. Maybe you tell them the story of Elijah in the cave who thought all was lost and was then reminded by God that this was in no way the case. Or maybe you are reminded of the 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He reminds them that our ministries are empty shells unless they are first given form and substance by love, the kind of love he goes on to describe. It is patient, kind, not envious or boastful or rude, not insisting on its own way. Surely this is a season for all of us to focus on the love of God for each one of us in Jesus Christ that gives our own lives meaning and that provides the only reason for a church to exist.
musings from the road
Surely you have seen the information across whatever news format you use about what some are calling “The Rise of the Nones.” It is news about the results of a survey that show that the fastest growing segment of the population, when it comes to listing a religious preference, are those who choose “none.” The percentage of people who choose that preference has now surpassed those who choose one of the mainline denominations.
Now, remember the quote about statistics. Mark Twain famously said that there are three kinds of lies: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The way the question was asked, the people of whom it was asked, and their interpretation of the question certainly had much to do with the way they answered the question. There may be more people who say they have no faith at all. It is also true that there are fewer people claiming loyalty to one congregation or denomination as their main way of expressing their faith. Just this morning I was standing in my dentist’s office waiting to pay and I overheard a conversation between the receptionist and another patient who was clearly a friend of hers. They were talking about church. The customer was saying that she had started attending church in a nearby town with her boyfriend and his brother. She was saying that she really liked it because she could understand the sermons and she never understood the ones at her church. Then she added that her kids really miss Sunday school at her church so she goes there about once a month so that her kids can see their Sunday school friends. She might have marked “none” when asked for her preference, not because she does not have a religious affiliation but because she does not have a strong preference for one over the other. That is, she does not really consider herself affiliated with either of these churches in the way she might once have felt.
Think about it. We are a pretty unaffiliated bunch of people in North American society as we move into the heart of the 21st century. For instance, when I was growing up, although families might watch TV shows on more than one network, they were kind of affiliated with a particular network—they watched their evening news, their late night, and many of their soaps or game shows or evening programming on the same network. We were, for instance, an NBC family and that has continued to this day. I even hung in with the Today show during the awkward Ann Currie months. But, having lived like a young person when I was in the seminary housing in Louisville last year without a television set and relying on my iPad, I have lost some of my attachment to particular programming and have, especially, become disencumbered of what is “on” at any particular time. I have binge-watched Netflix shows and surfed for particular shows on other networks when I want to watch them. The analogy I see is that I am not watching less television than I once did. I am just watching it in different ways and choosing from among many more options. If I were polled today and asked to which network I am loyal, I would have to say “none.” But that does not mean I am not still a dedicated watcher of television.
Surely some of the people who said “none” when asked for their preference were, like my fellow dental patient, not saying that they have no religion, but that they have no preference. (And, of course, many of them were also saying they had no religious affiliation.) For those who have become kind of “cafeteria” worshipers—going to one place for Sunday school, to another place because they like the sermons, to still another for some kind of social event—there is no real affiliation with one congregation. Just because it was comfortable for their ancestors to be Lutheran because they could go to church and still speak Swedish, does not mean that people today feel the same loyalty to the Lutheran church. Just because their parents went to the Presbyterian church because, not only could they speak Korean but they could have real Korean food at church after worship, does not mean that the children and grandchildren will make the same choice. Just because their family was always Methodist because it was the only church in their tiny town does not mean that those who move to the city will make the same choice. Our religious preferences have been cut off, in many cases, from our cultural heritage and we are “free” to choose one or many ways to express our spiritual lives.
What does all of this mean for mid council leaders? How do you help the congregational leaders with whom you work to adjust to this world that may be different from the one in which they grew up and is very different for many members of their congregations? Those are questions that will have different answers depending upon your context.
Of course, in the “there is nothing new under the sun” department, we are called to do exactly what our ancestors in the faith have always done. That is, to share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ that has changed our lives, so that others can also live in the knowledge that they are beloved children of God.
The Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency will pay room and board (one night in the dorm, and dinner, breakfast, and lunch) for up to two people from each presbytery so that you can attend this event.
Here are the details of the Mid Council Consultation that will be held the twenty-four hours before the beginning of the Big Tent.
We will begin with opening worship at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 29. There will then be a panel of members of PMA and OGA staff, mid councils, and the PMA and COGA boards. Each person will share a brief snapshot of their current view of the church. This will be followed by a question and answer period for all of those on the panel.
Following dinner, we will be treated to entertainment by an accomplished storyteller from East Tennessee. This will be a time for mid council staff, national staff, and board members to share an evening away from the work that keeps us busy on most days.
On Thursday, July 30, there will be time in the morning for three rounds of discussions on topics of interest for those present. We will conclude with worship together before lunch.
I hope to see many of you there.
Click here for an announcement about the 2015 Learning Community.
We are saddened to report to you the death of the Rev. Doris Whitaker, stated clerk of Miami Valley Presbytery and president of the Association of Stated Clerks. Doris completed this part of life early in June. Her service of witness to the resurrection will be June 20. “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety” (Ps. 4:8).
Correction: Marilyn Gamm is the interim executive in Riverside Presbytery.
Polity Conference takes place October 11-12 in Portland.
The five concurrent conferences this year run October 9-11 and include: Association of Mid Council Leaders, Association of Stated Clerks, New Stated Clerks’ Orientation, Synod Committee on Representation Training, and Moderator’s Conference.
Registration opens on or about August 10, 2015.