Mid Councils Newsletter, September 21, 2015
I have a tree right next to my deck that is doing something this year that it has only done once before in its eight years of life. It is a weeping peach tree. I bought it eight springs ago for several reasons. We have lots of wires that come into our house right above where I wanted to plant a tree, so I chose it because it will not get very tall and interfere with the wires. I also chose it because I was trying to replace some of the shade that we had lost on our deck. When we moved to this house almost ten years ago, there was a big maple tree in the middle of our deck. It was not in a pot. It had been there before the deck was built, I imagine, and the previous owners built the deck around the tree. By the time we moved here the tree was about four feet in diameter and was beginning to die. The tree expert we brought in thought it was in trouble after all of the years it had been part of the deck because the roots had not gotten enough water. We decided it needed to come down. That was an expensive and interesting little proposition. The tree company had to bring in a crane in our front yard. The “lumberjacks” went up into the tree and cut it in sections, attached them to the crane, and the sections were taken out over the top of the house. The people doing the cutting had to estimate the weight of each section because the crane could only take a certain amount of weight over the house without tipping. When they left, the house was intact, the deck was intact, and there wasn’t even any sawdust in the yard. They did a great job. But, we lost tons of shade and the little peach tree replaced a tiny bit of that shade in one part of the deck. So, that was the second reason I chose the tree. The third reason is that it has beautiful blooms on it. My theory is, why plant something that is not going to provide beautiful color in the yard at some point during the year? Most years the tree is covered with tiny, pale pink blossoms in April. They almost look like they have been made from tissue paper.
Those are the only three things I wanted the tree to do—stay short, provide a little shade, and bloom beautifully in spring. But something else has happened twice in its life. It has produced peaches that ripen before frost. Only twice has the growing season in Central Illinois been long enough for this to happen. In other years, there has either been a late frost or an early one that has ended the season without edible fruit. This year the tree is covered with peaches, some of which ripen every day. But, they are not the kind of peaches you would find in the store. They are very small and they are pretty bitter. The squirrels like them fresh off the tree; human beings, not so much.
But you know I am a Midwesterner. I grew up with and have served churches full of women who take whatever the earth gives them and make something from it. For instance, have you ever had gooseberry pie? Tartest darn fruits that a bush could produce; I cannot imagine why anyone after first tasting a gooseberry thought you could do something with them. But, people make pies—I think the ratio of sugar to gooseberries is about 1:1. And what about asparagus? My grandma took me into the ditches near her home place when I was a little girl and remembered exactly where she had found wild asparagus when she was a girl. Or rhubarb or dozens of other things that grow wild around here and that people decided they needed to “put up” for the winter. I spent long summer days in my first manse making zucchini bread and freezer pickles because the zucchini and cucumbers in my garden produced so well and I could not stand to let them go to waste.
So now I have these bitter little peaches that have about as much skin as they do flesh. I have tried to do something with them. Eat them fresh? Not very tasty. So I cooked them down like I do apples this time of year and added some sugar and cinnamon—still bitter. Maybe it is the skin that is bitter, but I draw the line at paring those little things. So, when my grandchildren are here this weekend, one of their jobs will be to collect all of the windfalls and pick as many peaches from the tree as they can reach and then we are going to put them in the lawn waste garbage can and wave good-bye. I might have to run out to the rural cemetery where my grandma is buried to see if I hear any turning over.
When I was thinking about the bitter little peaches—a byproduct of the real purpose of the tree—I realized that we sometimes try to make something out of nothing in our work because we think we are supposed to do so. Some tired group in your presbytery keeps meeting because it is in your bylaws to do so. Some tradition that you have at your presbytery or synod meeting continues because you have always done it that way. Some ministry at the national level continues because there are still a handful of people who will throw a fit if it stops even though its purpose has long since morphed into something it was never intended to be. Just as it will take courage for me to throw out those peaches because my grandmother and the legions of women in the rural churches I have served would surely think I am being wasteful, sometimes we have to find the courage to throw out the little, bitter parts of our ministries that are not at the heart of our purpose.
You may recall that the last General Assembly directed the PMA, the OGA, and the mid councils to consult with each other to consider expanding the criteria for more extensive ordination credentials for immigrant pastors. The Book of Order contains criteria that is quite broad. At G-2.0505a(1) the constitution makes it clear that for ministers of immigrant fellowships and congregations the presbytery has great latitude. When the presbytery’s strategy for mission requires it, the presbytery can recognize the ordination and receive as a member of the presbytery a new immigrant minister with these qualifications: the furnishing by that minister of evidence of good standing in a denomination, even though at the time of enrollment the minister lacks the educational history required of candidates; and that the presbytery provide such educational opportunities as seem necessary and prudent for that minister’s successful ministry in the presbytery.
If your presbytery has questions about how to implement this part of the constitution or any questions about working with immigrant fellowships or congregations and their leaders, there are resources in both PMA and OGA to help you to interpret the constitution and to answer questions with regard to immigration status of these leaders, etc.
To assist congregations with the preservation of church records, the Presbyterian Historical Society awards annual Heritage Preservation Grants to PC(USA) congregations, covering up to $500 of the cost to digitize official records. Applications are due October 31, 2015; complete guidelines can be found at www.history.pcusa.org/hpg.
Massanetta Springs Conference Center near Harrisonburg, VA, is looking for an experienced EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR. This person will have demonstrated abilities in working with church or non-profit organizations, managing staff, finances and facilities, and leading marketing and fundraising programs. Information about Massanetta Springs and a full job description are at www.massanettasprings.org or may be requested from email@example.com. Send letters of interest to Rev. Joe McCutchen at 208 Second Avenue, Farmville, VA 23901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Presbytery of Northern New York is seeking a Resource Presbyter.