Mid Councils Newsletter, June 29, 2015
musings from the road
My first car was a hand-me-down from my mom. It caught on fire one time on our driveway and we had to call the fire department. My next car was one I shared with my brother—it was called a Super Beetle (a Volkswagen.) It was bright yellow and written on the side were the words, “Super Beetle.” The thing that made it “super” was that you did not have to use a clutch pedal when you shifted. You just listened for the right time to shift, took your foot off the gas, and shifted away. When I left for college the yellow beetle stayed with my brother since you could not have a car on campus at the University of Illinois your first two years—no parking. Then when I was a junior in college, my dad borrowed some money from my grandma to buy me my first new car. (I have hardly ever had one since.) It was the newest thing—a Ford Pinto. Now, if you were alive in the 1970s, your first reaction will be like that of many people—“Oh, the car that explodes!”
Well, I was reading a very interesting article in the New Yorker magazine a few weeks ago. It is all about engineers and statistics and tolerances. There was a sensational crash that involved a Ford Pinto in which some young people were killed when their stopped car was hit from behind by a pick-up truck. The gas tank was located behind the rear axle and the car exploded in flames upon impact. The resulting publicity and lawsuit gave the Pinto a bad reputation forevermore. What the article points out is that the Pinto was no more dangerous than many small cars of its time—it kind of fell in the middle of the pack. And, the engineers proved, any car being hit from behind at the speed at which the truck was traveling would have resulted in catastrophic injuries to the car’s occupants. It is true that the design of the Pinto may have made it a little more vulnerable. It is also true that there is never a perfect design for any machine. A part of the article reads as follows: “The fact that a car is revealed to be imperfect, in other words, is not sufficient reason to recall it; imperfections and compromises are inevitable. The issue is how tolerant the car is of those imperfections and compromises.” That is, can the car still accomplish its goal of transporting human beings and their stuff from one place to another in spite of its imperfections?
This made me think about how some congregations and, indeed, how some denominations react to the fact that there is no perfect set of human beings gathered around any task. When I used to do lots of training in the presbytery I served or in the training in which I was involved for interim/transitional pastors, I often talked about Bowen Family Systems Theory. There is an idea that is part of that theory that is called the “immune system” of any group. You have seen how this works. The same situation can happen in two congregations and they react very differently. Let’s say the pastor fails to visit the hospital during the multiday stay of a prominent member and the member dies without being visited. In one church, everyone will be up in arms. They will be calling the COM, calling the presbytery office, calling on the session to call a congregational meeting to fire the pastor. In the church down the road, in the same circumstance, the session will tell those who complain that they have all learned from this incident and that they have a plan about how to avoid it in the future. Their plan might involve a reminder to the congregation to let the pastor know when someone is in the hospital; to explore the possibility of reinstating the office of deacon; a plan for the session members to fulfill their duties as elders by taking turns making hospital calls, etc. The second church has a more advanced immune system. Or, in these engineering terms, it has a higher tolerance of imperfection and is willing to work toward better (though still not perfect) ways of managing the work of the congregation.
How would you characterize the immune system of the PC(USA) over the last few months? What would you say about our tolerance for imperfection? Do we have a system that is resilient enough to manage missteps on the part of colleagues in ministry?
There is a book called, The Art of Possibility, which I have found very refreshing when we get too caught up in imagining that we each have to be in charge and make sure everything comes out exactly right. One of the concepts in the book is called “Rule Number Six.” There is a little parable in which a head of state is receiving another head of state as a visitor. They are constantly interrupted by people running in to report problems that seem overwhelming to them. The resident head of state keeps saying, “Remember Rule Number Six” and the person calms down and goes on his or her way. Finally the visitor asks about Rule Number Six. In more colorful language than I will use here, the head of state says that Rule Number Six is “Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously.” The astonished visitor says, “What are the other rules?” and is told there are none. Perhaps we can help the leaders of our congregations and our presbyteries and even those who are concerned about our denomination to adopt Rule Number Six; to increase our tolerance for imperfections; to build up our immune system. After all, the Christian church survived the plague; surely we can survive the anxiety and confusion of the early 21st century long enough to see what God has in store for us next.
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.
In July 2016 the Presbyterian Church (USA) will welcome over 5000 of its high school age youth and their youth workers to “GO” into the world by being equipped and inspired at the Triennium. (read more)
DHS Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships
Webinar: Resources to help houses of worship prepare for emergencies
This webinar is a collaborative effort between the DHS Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships, a center of the White House Office of Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help connect faith-based and community organizations with tools, resources, and partners to help prepare their houses of worship for all hazards, including active shooter incidents.
Date: Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Time: 2:00 - 3:15 p.m. (EDT)
How to Join the Webinar:
- Join the webinar by clicking the Registration Web Link.
- Be sure to test your Adobe Connect connection prior to the meeting.
- This webinar will offer closed captioning.
Preparedness resources for house of worship:
Emergency Operations Planning Resources:
- Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship
- (Recorded webinar): An Overview of the Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship
- US Department of Education Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center
Active Shooter Preparedness Resources:
- Department of Homeland Security Active Shooter Preparedness Webpage
- FBI Office of Partnerships Active Shooter Incidents Resource Page
- FBI Active Shooter Quick Reference Guide
Free online independent study courses for everyone:
- IS-907: Active Shooter: What You Can Do
- IS-360: Preparing for Mass Casualty Incidents: A Guide for Schools, Higher Education, and Houses of Worship
- IS-906: Workplace Security Awareness Course
- IS-914: Surveillance Awareness: What You Can Do
- IS-366: Planning for the needs of children in disasters
- IS-909 - Community Preparedness: Implementing Simple Activities for Everyone
All hazard preparedness resources:
- Ready.gov- a national public service advertising (PSA) campaign designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural and man-made disasters
- National Preparedness Community Faith-based Community of Practice
- SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline
- Earthquake Preparedness Playbook
- Flood Preparedness Playbook
- Hurricane Preparedness Playbook
- Tornado Preparedness Playbook
- Wildfire Preparedness Playbook
- Winter Storm Preparedness Playbook
The Office of the General Assembly now publishes an unofficial, up-to-date contacts list. It is available online here.
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.