Mid Councils Newsletter, November 2, 2015
Many of the members of my family function at a pretty high level. We are firing on all pistons most of the time. I have two daughters who are professors, for instance. One completed her PhD dissertation just before she gave birth to her third child while she was also serving as a teaching assistant at the University of Iowa. My other daughter finished her EdD by defending her dissertation just before her thirtieth birthday—her goal, I understand—while also raising three kids, being a teaching assistant at Illinois State University and all that comes with all of that. I have a grandson who makes all of the penalty kicks on his soccer team because he is a reliable scorer. I have a granddaughter who was just moved into what was called a “gifted” class when I was in school. I have a grandson who corrects me if I say to him, “Look, there’s a hawk,” by telling me exactly what kind of hawk it is and many of its salient traits (he is six-years-old.) You get the point.
But there are some members of our extended family who are as dumb as a box of rocks. They are the squirrels who inhabit my backyard. Now I am sure that you could tell some stories about ingenious squirrels, especially if you are trying to keep them out of your bird feeders. But the ones in my backyard are stupid. (Oh, excuse me, I have just used a word for which I get reprimanded if I use it around the elementary school and preschool students in my life!) Here is what they do that gets them qualified for that designation. Every year they bury acorns in the flowerpots on my back porch. I know that they do this because they tear out the flowers that are hanging on until frost in order to bury the nuts. Here is the problem with that. I put the flowerpots away in the fall to help protect them from the severe freeze and thaw pattern in Central Illinois. In a week or two every one of those pots will be inside where the squirrels will not have access to them when they need that nourishment in the months ahead. Yet they do it every year.
Why, I have asked myself, do they not learn that this does not work? Stupid animals! (Oops, there I go again.) But then I realize that we do exactly the same thing in congregations and presbyteries. Surely the squirrels bury things in the pots because it is easy to do it that way. The soil is already loosened up; the pots are on the deck and on the benches on the deck, providing easy access for the squirrels. It is way easier to bury the acorns there than having to dig through the sod and the soil that is very hard this time of the year because we have had so little rain. Second, they use the flowerpots because they have always done it that way. If they asked the question “How well does that work for us?” they might stop. But tradition is winning out over practicality and they just keep burying acorns in places to which they will have no access when they are needed. Third, they apply themselves so carefully to the work. The hole is dug, the acorn is planted, the soil is used to cover it. Even though it is the easiest place to plant the acorns, they still, I am sure, are telling themselves that they have worked really hard to get those nuts buried and that is all that matters.
Have an example in mind already of how some of the congregations for which you care or the mid council you serve are acting like a squirrel? What are you doing because it is the easiest way to do something, whether it works or not? What are you doing or saying or believing about yourselves because that is the way it has always been? When do you justify doing what you are doing by saying “We worked really hard at it” instead of asking whether or not it has the desired outcome?
The squirrels in my backyard will survive this winter (unless, apparently, they decide to unwisely dash across the street in front of traffic) because they not only take the easiest path, the way they have done it before, and one which they can justify because it still takes them awhile to do it and they apply themselves to the task, they also bury nuts all over the yard. The little divots are everywhere this time of year. They have learned to diversify—still doing things that make no sense while doing things that will have the desired outcome. Apparently their ratio of the two works for them since they will be here in the spring to chomp off my tulips just before they bloom. Does the ratio in your congregations or your mid council of silly, outdated actions to effective ones allow for your survival and even your thriving as well?
As you know, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly is holding a conversation with the church by inviting people to respond to this link. Encourage members and friends of your presbytery or synod to participate.
Below you will see a note from New Brunswick Presbytery about their presbytery leader. The date of her fall was October 18. Please keep her in your prayers.
Dear Members of the Presbytery of New Brunswick,
As many of you already know, early Sunday morning while letting her dog out, Nancy Muth fell down a flight of stairs in her home and broke her neck. She was taken to Jefferson Hospital where surgeons fused her C-1 vertebrae and placed a rod in her neck to stabilize it. Because there was no involvement of her spinal cord, she has no paralysis and is expected to make a full recovery. For the next seven or eight weeks, she will need to wear a neck brace and will be working at home with a physical therapist.
While she may go home as early as today, she has asked that there be no visitors while she regains her strength. She is grateful for all of your prayers and support.
We are grateful to God for Nancy’s care and now pray for her continued healing.
When more information is available about coverage and leadership, we will let you know. In the meantime, please look to Ilene Black in the presbytery office as a primary means of contact.
With grace and peace,
Presbytery Personnel Committee
In an earlier newsletter, there was a list of those who serve as both stated clerk and presbytery executive (or equivalent.) Inadvertently we left off Mark Verdery, who serves both roles in Providence Presbytery.