Monday, January 11, 2010
That didn't go well
This past Saturday, January 9 I attended the first meeting of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area for 2010 held at Presbyterian Church of the Way in Shoreview. I arrived a half hour before the meeting started and was surprised at the large number of cars parked in the lot. This was the largest attended meeting in my recent memory. After I registered I was delighted to talk to two elders from Community Presbyterian in Plainview, my previous church. I soon set up a table and encouraged people in the Presbytery to sign up for our new church development’s Prayer Newsletter.
After the Officers of the Presbytery gave their reports the Nominating Committee presented a slate of candidates for General Assembly Commissioner. They had two slates of candidates. The Nominating Committee presented a slate of elder and minister candidates, and they had an alternate slate of elder and minister candidates. They proposed that the Presbytery vote on the slate of elder and minister candidates that they proposed and not vote on whether an alternate candidate become a Commissioner to General Assembly
That is when the meeting spiraled downward.
Suddenly the Presbytery was bickering (to put it mildly) about voting on alternate candidates to be commissioners, whether the entire slate of alternate candidates could be included in the vote or whether the alternate candidates needed to be nominated one-by-one. The Presbytery then voted to nominate all the alternate candidates which meant that new ballots had to be formed. It was a mess.
I was asked to be a Teller for the votes. After the balloting took place I spent about a hour with the other Tellers carefully counting the ballots. I was told that the meeting didn’t get any better, though I missed those fireworks and can’t comment on them.
I’ve gone to meetings of the Twin Cities Area for almost 17 years. I have participated in many meetings like these. They’re terrible. They don’t build up the body, they are in no way encouraging to new people who come to the meetings, and they deeply diminish our ability as a Presbytery to do common Mission together.
I don’t look at Presbytery meetings as sport—I want to leave them inspired and touched by what the Presbytery is doing to further the Kingdom of God.
My initial learnings from this past Saturday's meeting are these.
1. We need to learn how to disagree better.
I would expect that voting for Commissioners to General Assembly will be contentious. The vote illustrates the theological split within the Presbyterian Church. Disagreeing is inevitable—disagreeing like we did on Saturday is not. One of the proposed Core Values of Chain of Lakes Church is healthy disagreement. What we mean by this is “we always encourage discussion while valuing different opinions. When we disagree we will speak the truth in love, treat others respectfully, without conflict and always seek to stay in community.”
My dream would be for this to become a Core Value of the Presbytery.
2. We have to value the process less.
I don’t leave a Presbytery meeting thinking it was a success if we did a good job of following Robert’s Rules of Order. I still haven’t figured out why we have elevated our procedures to such a high place. Okay—so many people wanted to include the alternate commissioners in a vote for General Assembly commissioners. But is anyone’s salvation at risk if we don’t vote on alternate commissioners in a vote for General Assembly commissioners? Will we come closer to a world that has less violence and poverty if we do? I value process, but it’s not of highest importance to me. We Presbyterians have become almost Pharisaic in our allegiance to how we do things.
If these words seem too harsh, I apologize in advance. I feel a bit uncertain about sharing these words because the New Church Development I serve receives significant funding from the Presbytery. I realize that I am biting the hand that feeds the church I serve. But when I am critical of Presbyterians I’m speaking about family. If you cut me open I would bleed Presbyterian. What drives my thoughts is my desire to uplift the church that is called Presbyterian.
I won’t stop coming to Presbytery meetings, but meetings like this past Saturday’s leave a taste in my mouth that doesn’t leave soon.
My hope is a conversation can get started (especially among people under 50) about how we as a Presbytery can stop having our meetings spiral like they did on Saturday and how we can learn to disagree in a healthy way. Comments to this blog are encouraged!!
Postscipt: Stephanie Anthony, pastor of First Presbyterian in Hudson, has added some comments about the Presbytery meeting this past Saturday. I encourage everyone to go to her blog at: http://fpchudson.blogspot.com/