Mid Councils Newsletter, October 20, 2015
When I drive for work now, it is a long drive or on unfamiliar roads. No more 90 minute drives to a session meeting on a cold, dark evening, or two hour drive on a Sunday afternoon to an installation service. Now my driving is almost always the five hours between my house and Louisville or the usually shorter drive in an unfamiliar car on unfamiliar roads from an airport to the location of an event. Both of those drives have something in common—road construction! If you ever travel on Interstate 74 through Illinois or on the dreaded Interstate 65 south out of Indianapolis, then you know what I am talking about. By the time I reached the Indiana state line the last time I drove (that is two hours from my house) I had gone through five construction zones—in all of them I was able to proceed at the posted speed for those zones with very little trouble. Then an hour or so later when I get to the south edge of Indianapolis and Interstate 65 I always think they should post a sign “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.” In the two construction seasons that I have been making this drive, I cannot even estimate the number of hours I have spent in stand still traffic or, more horrifying to me, the number of minutes I have driven in white knuckle construction traffic right next to a big truck whose driver seems to be eating lunch, texting and watching something on TV at the same time! Soon in this part of the country much of the construction will come to an end. Even with all of the improvements in pavement there is still a temperature limit to when you can pour cement that will properly cure. And, once the snow plows dominate the road, the orange barrels are generally gone.
As I drive through those construction zones, something has occurred to me in the last few months. At some time in the past—maybe twenty or thirty years ago, every truck in a construction zone would have been a State of Indiana or State of Illinois truck and every person working there would have been an employee of the state. Now in almost every case—especially in the big, complicated projects on the interstates-- the trucks and the employees belong to an independent contractor. The state still decides where repairs need to be made and when they should be made. The state still pays for those repairs or new construction. But they contract out the work. They no longer have to maintain an employee base of highly skilled construction workers year round nor do they maintain the huge fleet of machinery needed for these projects. The work still gets done according to the specifications of the state. It is just not state employees or infrastructure accomplishing it.
Here is what I am wondering in terms of an analogy for our work as a denomination: Is there anything to learn from this? You have surely seen reports about the national church and the money issues it is facing. In many of the mid councils represented by the people who read this note there are similar or worse issues with money. Yet the needs of the world have not diminished and our call to share the gospel in old and new ways is more urgent than ever. Do we need to begin thinking about how we can work as partners with existing groups that also work to change people’s lives in the way the gospel calls us to do? Are there ways to accomplish what God is calling us to do without the burden of ongoing costs and ongoing staff and infrastructure?
When I was serving in Great Rivers we took one tiny step toward this. The presbytery had an associate executive from the time it began. Then when I came I was co-executive and co-stated clerk with Charles Spencer. When he took a new call the presbytery at first decided to find someone to fill that associate role. When he retired we re-thought that decision. Basically we realized that the needs of the presbytery and of the people we served were changing rapidly. We did not want to call someone who would leave another call and move a family (perhaps) to Central Illinois only to have the presbytery realize a year or two later that the needs had changed and different gifts were needed. So, instead, we made contracts with what we called “adjunct staff.” They had contracts that varied by their needs for remuneration; some were volunteers others were paid a modest stipend. Each contract had a 30 day clause for ending the contract by either party. We had someone for immigration, for COM issues, for training of elders and deacons, for green energy, for technology issues and so on—not all at once, but over a period of five years or so. It was one way to adjust to the quickly changing climate of the work and to make the presbytery more nimble.
What have you done in your mid council that might be like what states (at least those in the Midwest) have done with regard to road construction? How have you found a new way to balance the mid council’s responsibility to determine the mission and ministry within its area with the need to be more creative with the your financial resources? How do you nimbly respond to God’s call to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ, every hour of every day?
Here is the way for you to participate in the conversation being led by COGA. Visit pcusa.org/identity
Autocorrect strikes again! The interim presbyter in Baltimore Presbytery is Mary Gaut. In the last newsletter there were a few extra letters in her last name. Sorry for the confusion.
Jeff Japinga is serving as Twin Cities Area as transitional executive presbyter but not as clerk, as listed in the last newsletter.