Mid Councils Newsletter | May 31, 2016
I drove to Ohio from Illinois last week to meet with two presbyteries. It was a pretty drive (if you don’t think about the trucks 😃) since it is such a pretty time of the year. One of the things I miss about working in the Presbytery of Great Rivers is driving through the countryside. Well, I miss doing it during the daylight hours but not when it is dark and the only light besides my car lights is the moon and you just know the deer are trying to time their forays across the road to scare you but not run into you! I love seeing all of the colors of green and watching the way they change over the course of a growing season. This time of year even the trees are various colors of green as their leaves begin to mature.
Driving across Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio I saw the kind of fields for row crops that have surrounded me my whole life—mostly corn and soybeans. The beans are either not in the ground yet or their plants are so small that you cannot really see them as you fly by at 75 miles an hour. But the corn in most places is up high enough to see the neat rows. Between now and September they will grow seven feet, produce ears in such number that each stalk will produce enough seeds to fill a huge field, and, in some cases, provide summer work for teenagers as they de-tassle the seed corn. (Look it up if you do not know what that is and have never lived in a town where the kids get on a bus before dawn in the town square and come back when it is almost dark covered in corn pollen with little cuts up and down their arms.)
What struck me on this drive, though, is how many fields had clearly been planted in the fall with cover crops. These are plants that have been sown in a field not so that they can be harvested to produce a cash crop, but for other purposes. They may be planted to prevent erosion over the course of the winter. If you have noticed row crop fields over the last twenty years, then you have probably noticed how huge they are. There used to be fences that subdivided these huge fields, but most of the fences are gone. There are several reasons for that. One of them is that most farmers do not turn herds into the fields anymore once the harvest is over so the fields are not fenced to hold in the cattle and hogs. Another is that tractors are now huge and those fences became places to snag a machine worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. But, the fences also served the purpose of breaking the wind a little in the wintertime. Row crops are now sometimes used to keep the topsoil in place when the winds of winter and early spring are tearing across the fields.
Another reason to use a cover crop is something that is, apparently, called “green manure.” Having lived in the country in our first manse, I can tell you that this sounds like an improvement over the other kind of manure. The farmer near us when we lived there would take his “honey wagon” out in the field to the west of our house (and of course the wind in Illinois is almost always from the west) to spread the liquid gold he had collected from his hog confinements. We would know it within seconds! When we first moved there and were being driven around by church members, everyone in the car detected that distinctive aroma. We were told that particular smell is the smell of money! Well, cover crops are often planted because of the nutrients they can provide to the soil. They grow to a certain stage and then are plowed under so that the soil receives a shot of the nutrient that the cash crop has taken out of it.
I saw the yellow and purple cover crops this week (you can tell they are not just weeds because the whole field will be the same color and you can tell that they were originally planted in rows) I wonder what the equivalent would be for a congregation or a mid council or a denomination. I have been several places lately where leaders have said that they know enough about change. Their organizations have experienced change at a sometimes excruciating rate. They wonder how we might learn about consolidating our resources. How do we use the gifts we now have? How do we figure out who we are in this new time and new place?
What would be a cover crop for your mid council to keep the topsoil you have? What might you do to provide a way for the soil to rest and recover and get back to its core purpose? How might you provide that kind of respite for your congregations, especially for their leaders? What kind of “green manure” might you plant? What does your mid council most need right now? What has been leeched out of its soil in the last few years that needs to be replenished? How might you help your congregations to do the same?
One of the ways to be resilient is to be strong at the core and flexible around the edges. If you could help your mid council to remember the strength at its core, to reclaim the proclamation of the gospel as its main work, to rejuvenate itself for the work that lies ahead, what wonderful, imaginative, life-giving work might it be able to do?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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).
Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Legal Department has written an article regarding the Department of Labor’s new overtime rules.
Presbyterian World Mission is looking for a creative, strategic team-player and self-starter with experience in marketing or a similar field for the position of Mission Associate for Resources and Promotion. The position’s focus is on creating and packaging resources for Presbyterians in the U.S. who are passionate about mission and on getting resources into their hands. Please share this exciting position with people you know! Please click here to read more.
A new interactive website, which we hope will be launched by the end of summer, will be accessed via a link on the Research Services website, replace the old Ten-Year Trends reports, and provide improved access to church trends data for congregations, mid councils, and national offices.
Why? It became clear to Research Services in 2014 that the old systems we had in place to share these data were becoming dinosaurs; it required a great deal of time and energy to generate the reports each year. Then, we found ourselves unable to upload the 2014 data in 2015. When we consulted with our IT department, they told us that the server housing the Ten-Year Trends data was dying, and they had pulled everything else from it and wanted to retire it.
We saw a perfect opportunity to ask ourselves and others what we’d really like to see replace the old system, and have been hard at work with IT ever since, to make it a reality!
Phase One of this project will provide at-your-fingertips information from the most current OGA data on congregational, presbytery, synod, and national statistics, including membership and worship attendance numbers, aggregated data on teaching elders, racial, ethnic, and gender data, and all of the other information you would normally find in our annual Comparative Statistics and Ten-Year Trends reports.
But they will be even better:
- congregations can choose how many years of comparison they’d like to see;
- congregations can now compare themselves to other congregations of similar size (in the past, a general comparison to average PC(USA) congregations was automatically provided, which is not very helpful to very small or very large congregations);
- information will now be available for entire synods; they can choose to download reports of congregations or presbyteries within a synod;
- one-stop location to gather a variety of different types of statistics.
Phase Two of this project (which will be added, one piece at a time, as they are built) will add:
- ability to filter choices to obtain more specific information (e.g. what are total contributions of churches in urban settings with memberships of less than 100?);
- opportunities for congregations to take a quick self-evaluation “quiz,” using a congregational vitality scale;
- more information about teaching elders and candidates (aggregated data, not individual information);
- frequently asked questions (FAQs), with answers;
- ability to upload responses to the Clerks’ Annual Questionnaire and download reports on a rolling basis, rather than once a year at a fixed date (making the work of clerks of session easier and more convenient);
- and more as we continue discerning what we can do with this great tool!
What would you like to see this new website do? Stop by the Research Services table in the Presbyterian Mission Agency exhibit during General Assembly. We’d love to show it to you and hear your ideas for ways to improve it and ways to use it!
Click here to read a note regarding the New Beginnings program.