Mid Councils Newsletter, May 4, 2015
musings from the road
The last time this newsletter came out it was just after the PMA Board held its spring meeting. As may be true for your e-newsletter in your mid council, there is a lead time to the production of this newsletter. So, the little musings that I include had been written before the board met. I am sure that you have seen reports from that meeting in the church press or on Facebook or Twitter. What is your take away from all that you heard about that meeting? I was there as a member of the PMA staff, so I know what you know about the closed part of the meeting. I was able to observe what was happening during that long wait and that influences the way I will answer the question above.
The only other time that I have had to sit outside of a meeting of an elected body for which I was staff (other than very brief absences when one council or another was deciding the details of my compensation in a personnel meeting) was when the presbytery I served was deciding whether to endorse me as a candidate for Moderator of the General Assembly. It was not executive session, so people told me afterwards that the debate centered around how they would function if I was away for a good part of two years. It was tough sitting out there in the hallway by myself trying to figure out what was taking so long. But that was nothing compared to the dozen hours over two days that the PMA staff was held in limbo by the Board. Some staff had resource people there for committee meetings who had to leave before those meetings actually happened. I think we were notified four or five times that the board would come into full session only to be told that they were not yet ready to do so. Then when the report finally came, it was so couched in legal language that there was still no clarity about what it meant. It felt kind of like waiting for a jury (which I have never done) and then not really understanding what the verdict meant.
Here is what I observed. Some of us who hung around for the whole waiting period had the opportunity to have conversations for which we never otherwise have time. That was a gift. On Thursday morning when about sixty staff were gathered at the time we had been told the report would come only to be told it was another false alarm, the group kind of spontaneously had a hymn sing and joined in prayer together. And, I saw the Evangelism staff being calm in the face of the continuing ambiguity about how their work will go forward and who will be working alongside them. Overall the mood was anxious but resolute that we have work to do to continue to serve the PC(USA) as it continues to be a community of faith, hope, love, and witness.
The other take away is something that I heard Hunter Farrell put into words as he was reporting to the staff a week later about the other headline-making news of the Board meeting. Funding for world mission has fallen to the level that several mission coworkers will need to leave the field this year and dozens will leave before the end of their terms next year. He said that what we are facing is a “crisis of community.” Our denomination needs to find a new way to define our life together as we respond to God’s call to us to respond to the good news with the abundance of resources with which we have been blessed.
As you visit with the congregations or presbyteries in your care, how are you encouraging them to have these deep conversations about who we are and why we are better together than apart? How would you answer that question for yourself? For me it starts and ends with our theology and the polity and witness that grow from it. No one of us is equipped to respond to the grace of God in Jesus Christ by ourselves. We need to worship together and study together with people who also take the scriptures seriously and welcome the gifts of all people into leadership. We need to build on the reputation at home and around the world that our ancestors so carefully crafted as people who built schools and hospitals to reach out to all in need because we have been blessed to be a blessing. We need to center ourselves in an ancient faith that is willing to say we may not have it exactly right, that we are open to being changed and reformed by the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is our call and our joy to be the ones in leadership in this time that is ready for what comes next and to be among those who will help to lead the way toward God’s future.
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