Mid Councils Newsletter | May 16, 2016
Musings from the Road
Training Event for Presbytery Leaders
Important Upcoming Meetings
World Mission Thank You
Ruling Elders Luncheon
Small Church Residency Program
Transitional Ministry Education Offerings
I have just spent a week with some of the people who are in their first three years of serving as presbytery leader. As you may know, there are now at least thirty-seven different titles for this office, so presbytery leader is a generic term, kind of like Jello or Kleenex have become. These 26 people (12 in the first year, 8 in the second, and 6 in the third) were from every synod except Puerto Rico and were a cross-section of the way presbyteries are now staffing in order to accomplish their work. Some are full-time executives or general presbyters with no particular end date for their work. Some are full-time and are both clerk and executive. Some have a contract and the word “temporary” or the like in their title. Some are part-time. In fact, in the first year cohort of twelve people, five are part-time and eight have a contract with an end date. One of the faculty members is just moving from one presbytery to another. Her former presbytery is moving to a model of one full-time staff person in the office and a series of very part-time people to fill various roles. Times are changing in the way presbyteries are led.
What has not changed much in the last few years is the fact that almost all presbytery leaders, whether employed or volunteer, are dealing with the issue of congregations considering leaving the denomination. This had not happened for several decades in the PC(USA) and had not happened for even more time for people who were part of the UPCUSA. It still feels unsettling, at best, to have people with whom you have worked side-by-side or with whom you have tried to create a relationship tell you that they are leaving. In a handful of cases that I have heard about, it has been kind of like a no fault divorce. “You go your way, we will go ours and no one will cast any aspersions about the character of the other.” In many more cases, it has been anywhere from ugly to downright horrifying. The leaders of presbyteries have had everything from their faith to their theology to their ethics questioned by people with whom they have shared some degree of kinship.
I was thinking about this a few years ago when I was sitting through those session meetings where people were questioning my integrity and faith as a presbytery leader along with that of the presbytery itself. Seven congregations left the presbytery I served in the eighteen months before I came to this new call. One day I was working in my garden when I was mulling this over and I got to the corner of the garden where the wren house is. It hangs in a red bud tree and there is a carpet of hostas below the tree. A wren uses that house every year and I love to hear that huge song which is produced by such a little body.
That song is particularly loud when I approach the house to continue my weeding, especially if there are babies present. The wren will sit on a nearby branch or the fence and just “scream” at me the whole time I am near the house. I want to say to the wren (actually if no one else is around I DO sometimes say to wren), “Settle down. We are partners in this. I am the one who manages this garden so that you have a beautiful place to live. In fact, who do you think put the house in the tree in the first place? Why would I want to cause you harm? Of course I have your best interests at heart.”
I wish that I could have communicated such a sentiment to the congregations and their sessions who felt so cut off from the PC(USA) and from the presbytery I served. They felt that they had no choice but to leave us in order to assure the future of their congregations. But, why would we wish them ill? We had been partners, in some cases, for almost two centuries. (I was even ordained in one of the churches that left and served as their co-pastor for more than four years. They celebrated the birth and baptism of my oldest daughter with me.)
Of course, the wren never settles down until I move on. The congregations went ahead and left. I imagine the wren does not understand my intentions; we are kind of speaking two different languages. Perhaps that is what it feels like to the congregations that have left and that still intend to leave. I did my best, as did many others in the presbytery, but we could not find the common ground we thought we had shared. In the midst of the assault by the wren, I continue the work I intend to do and then move on. Perhaps that is what we can hope for in the midst of the “discernment” meetings we attend. Maybe the best we can hope for is that our presbyteries can continue to do the work to which God has called us, to be true to the work that is set before us, so that we can continue to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ.
Transition. Is your presbytery talking about change—change of mission emphasis, change of personnel, change of staffing pattern, change of budget, change of size, change, change, change! Every presbytery is having these discussions in one form or another.
In order to provide a place for the leaders in your presbytery to have a conversation with those in other presbyteries asking the same kinds of questions, The Office of the General Assembly is sponsoring a Practical Presbytery Leadership Training event. The details are below. This event is designed for a group of people from a presbytery, not just one or two. Plan to have your employed program staff there along with your other leaders—council moderator, presbytery moderator, COM moderator, moderator of the transition/visioning team—whomever you think could benefit from this time together. The topics will include the role of the presbytery; Presbyterian polity and the theology behind it; change; the transitional model for congregations as it relates to presbyteries; conflict; how to find diverse leadership for presbyteries; how to access national resources.
Get this event on the calendar for your leaders. Registration materials will be available in early June.
What: Practical Presbytery Leadership Training: Teamwork for Changing Times
When: Friday, August 26, and Saturday, August 27, 1 p.m. Friday through 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Central Presbyterian Church, Des Moines, Iowa
Cost: No cost for the program or meals; travel and lodging paid by the participants
Questions: Contact Sue Krummel at email@example.com.
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.
A note of thanks from World Mission: http://oga.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/docs/world_mission_message_29_april_2016.doc
Going to Portland for GA222? Join Ruling Elders for a luncheon Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 12pm–1:30pm in the Oregon Convention Center, with a distinguished and diverse panel of ruling elders on Exploring Spiritual Leadership in Work and World. You can still get a ticket ($30) for a limited time if you act soon. Already registered? You can add the event to your registration—simply call GA Meeting Service at 888.728.7228 x2417 and let them know you’d like to add the event to your registration (and have your form of payment ready).
The Small Church Residency Program (once called For Such a Time as This) has ended. Please read Cindy Cushman’s reflections on the programs and answer the questions she poses if you have a chance.
In our last issue we provided a link to the Transitional Ministry Education Consortium’s schedule of programs. In addition to the schedule, you may also click here for more information on programs offered at Menucha Retreat and Conference Center in Portland, Oregon.