Mid Councils Newsletter | March 7, 2016
There is a billboard that I drive by fairly often. It advertises a fast-food restaurant that is new to the Peoria area. I tried it one evening with my family. I do not think we will be going back. The food was not very tasty.
It made me think about the different kinds of restaurants. I began realizing that there are at least three different approaches to the preparation of food for public consumption. There is what I think of as the “McDonalds” method, but of course it is also the Starbucks method and the Panera method and on and on. This is where the food arrives on a truck, there is a very precise protocol for its preparation, and, no matter where you eat the food in this country, it will taste the same. That is part of what keeps people coming back to those places—predictability, no surprises. My Fuji Apple Chicken salad tastes the same at the Panera near my house as it does if I order it hundreds of miles away. I have heard that one of the ways that Starbucks makes sure their coffee tastes the same anywhere is that they do not use tap water—which would give it a different taste in different locations. Changes might be made to the menu items from time-to-time, but the decisions are not made at the local level. Some corporate leader will decide, for instance, that every McDonalds will now serve breakfast all day long.
Then there is what I think of as kind of a “middle way.” Those are the locally owned restaurants that still use food that has been basically prepared in mass quantities. For instance, there is a Gordon Food Service (GFS) store close to my house. I have shopped there sometimes when I need large quantities of things. I see people shopping there who are buying the supplies for these local restaurants. They are making decisions about the content of their menu, etc., but they are still serving food that has been mostly prepared somewhere else.
Then there is the third category. Again most of these places would be locally owned. But this is where they start with real ingredients. There may be a person called “chef” in their kitchen. There is also real butter and herbs and raw ingredients, maybe from someplace close by. The menu might change because the chef or the restaurant manager has noticed how people are responding to the items on it or may have noticed something especially appealing in the market from which they get their ingredients.
Hungry yet? Well, of course, I want to talk about how this way of thinking about different kinds of restaurants might relate to mid councils. There are mid councils that are like a chain fast-food restaurant—they do things the way they have always done them and only change (often reluctantly) when the Book of Order changes or when they are forced to change by some outside force, like a reduced budget. Then there are mid councils that are like the locally owned restaurants that are still serving food prepared in other places. They may make some changes, but they are making them based on what other people have done, or what was done in another presbytery from which a minister member may have come. Then there are those mid councils that are more like the “chef-driven” restaurants. They are adapting to changing circumstances by seeing what their local context holds, by listening closely to all of those whose lives are made better because there are Presbyterian churches in their area, by being able to adapt quickly to changing needs.
As you know, the way presbyteries, especially, are deciding about their staffing models is changing quickly. More and more presbyteries are deciding that they will have a group of presbytery members lead the presbytery rather than having any employed executive staff. One of my fears about this is that it will force presbyteries to become more like McDonalds and less like a locally owned, chef-driven restaurant. When I look at how these presbyteries envision having this group lead, I see that they are essentially dividing up the “how we have always done things” tasks. Will there be room, energy, and vision for creative responses to the rapidly changing environment in which we find ourselves or will we be resigned to doing things decently and in order, but not very creatively? That remains to be seen.
Has your presbytery dismissed a congregation or had a PDA deployment in the last year or so? Do you have leaders—whether staff or volunteer/elected leaders—who could use a little time with others in the same circumstance to rest and reflect? The Office of the General Assembly and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance are sponsoring a respite retreat April 11-13 in St. Louis. We will pay for room and board for up to two people from each presbytery. There are still a few spaces left. If you will be sending someone, please let Diane Minter at firstname.lastname@example.org know asap. We will take registrations until the spaces are filled or until April 1.
The following is a story from the Stated Clerk of Great Rivers Presbytery who is also the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bushnell, Illinois. It qualifies as both a “small world” story and as way of celebrating the 60th anniversary of the ordination of women as what are now called Teaching Elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
Yesterday at the COM meeting I was talking with a fellow pastor, Dick Johnson. He was starting to tell me a story and he said back when he was in seminary, he was a student pastor at a Presbyterian church in central Iowa. Being from Iowa, I spoke up and asked where. Dick said "Steamboat Rock." My jaw dropped to the floor and I said, "No way!" I told him that Steamboat Rock is where my grandmother's family is from. My mother is buried in Steamboat Rock and my grandparents were married in the Presbyterian Church there in 1960. Dick said he served there from 1968-1969. I said my grandmother's family name was Blosch. He said "Butch?" I said Butch is my great uncle. My grandmother's brother. Apparently, Butch and Dick were best friends then and they spent a lot of time together. I said my great-grandmother's name was Wilma Blosch. Then Dick told me that he knew my great-grandmother and that she was the first woman to be ordained as an elder in that congregation. In past years, other women had been asked but they all said no stating that it wasn't a woman's place to be an elder and serve on the session. But my great-grandmother said yes and served in that role and served well.
I am so profoundly affected by learning this. To think, that my great-grandmother chose to do something that wasn't widely accepted but to do so with so much grace. Not even knowing that generations later, her great-granddaughter would become a female ordained Presbyterian pastor.
Praise God for the women in our pasts who helped lead the way!
The following is from Wilson Gunn, General Presbyter, National Capital Presbytery.
Sue Krummel has offered a resource for churches and Presbyteries regarding cellphone towers. It is a company which presents itself as a representative of the church’s interest. Their material, however, omits a concern that National Capital Presbytery has required be addressed in every contract we have entertained with various companies.
- It is important to exclude the ordinary worship time from any “access” the company wants on the ministry site. Nothing better than to find your parking lot full of cellphone service trucks on a Sunday morning and their hammers banging out of rhythm with the opening hymn!
- It is important to have a clause requiring the company to void the lease and/or renegotiate the lease with the Presbytery within a defined period of time (90 days?) if the church is dissolved. Otherwise the Presbytery may find itself keeping a building open for the next ten years and unable to sell the real property of a dissolved church so that the cell phone tower can continue to be operated on the former ministry site. We lost $750,000 of real and potential assets due to a church which signed a seven year lease (contrary to PCUSA polity) and was dissolved the next year. It was not a cell phone tower lease, but due to the Presbytery being “nice” we ended up vulnerable. In another instance NCP discounted the sale of property significantly because the new owners had to honor existing leases. Insist on this clause or you will pay a dear price.
Rev. Dr. G. Wilson Gunn, Jr.
National Capital Presbytery
The Presbytery of Southern New England is search for a presbyter. Click here to download the job description.