Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Presbytery meeting

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area had its regular January meeting this past Saturday at Arlington Hills Presbyterian Church. I was privileged to have Mary Ann Archer from Chain of Lakes Church attend the meeting with me. Mary Ann has expressed an interest in attending the Presbytery meetings. She is a retired lawyer who most recently headed the staff at the library of William Mitchell Law School. Mary Ann is one of the seven families who originally were part of Chain of Lakes.

The two of us set up a table and passed out the most recent newsletter for Chain of Lakes. I always enjoy this time of talking to people about the mission and ministry of our new church and responding to questions.

I came into the meeting when Chaz Ruark was talking about the Fellowship Meeting which will take place this month in Orlando. Many of the first speakers talked a lot about their growing concern about a split within the PC(USA). I’m sure the concern is real, but I have to admit this wasn’t an energetic way to start a Saturday morning meeting in January. I sat in the back row of the sanctuary and witnessed a large number of people using Facebook on their phones or I-Pads. There wasn’t much interest in the back rows about what was being shared with us.

We made it through the morning agenda at a very fast pace. We elected commissioners to General Assembly via voice vote—quite a contrast to the brawl that took place two years ago when we elected commissioners. Barbara Van Loenen shared a moving presentation about being vulnerable.

During the Board of Trustees report Rocky Rockenstein shared a report on the most recent developments regarding the Chain of Lakes proposed property. At the Blaine City Council meeting this past Thursday—January 12—the Council seemed receptive to the proposal for access to our new property and to moving the berm. They rightly expect our new congregation to talk to the neighborhood about these ideas.

We were so far ahead of schedule that we broke for lunch at 11:15. We had a lengthy amount of time to talk to people and eat lunch.

Immediately after lunch, we enjoyed a stirring sermon by Dr. Margaret Aymer, Associate Professor of New Testament, at Interdenominational Center in Atlanta. The text of the sermon can be found here: http://mayog.posterous.com/do-something

The most interesting part of the meeting was the report on a possible “Gracious Separation” policy that was shared with the Presbytery. A group has been working for while to develop a policy and procedure for churches that want to leave the PC(USA). The draft of the policy that was shared with the Presbytery can be found here: http://www.presbyterytwincities.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/1-14-12-PTCA-gracious-separation-policy-draft-01-09-12.pdf

The group who developed the policy come from different theological viewpoints. It sounds like they worked together very prayerfully, thoughtfully, and deliberately. The Presbytery Council also shared their input. From what I heard the Council spent over four hours at one meeting going through the policy.

The next steps are two forums that will take place where people can share their viewpoints about the policy and then the Presbytery will vote in March.

I have great respect for the people who served on the team who put together the policy, the staff, and the members of the Presbytery Council.

However I have serious reservations about this policy.

First, I have questions about the process. It seems very rushed to me—someone who is an outsider to the process and only learned the specifics of the policy for the first time this past Saturday. The schedule is to vote on this policy at the March Presbytery meeting. That is a fast timetable for a significant decision.

Furthermore the Presbytery was not allowed to ask questions about the policy at the meeting this past Saturday—which really makes no sense to me. We were permitted to ask questions about the process, but not about the content of the policy. For a Presbytery who is trying to model authenticity I think this decision was wrong. I really don’t understand the rationale for it.

Granted two informational sessions are being held over the next two months about the policy—one in the Cities and one outside the Cities. But why not get all the questions out there in advance? Why not have at least two Pre-Presbytery meetings about the policy? Why not give the Presbytery a lot of time to discuss this significant issue?

This process seems very rushed to me. This policy deserves thoughtful and thorough contemplation. Voting on March seems very fast to me. I hope a new timetable will be set forward.

It seems to me that the Presbytery is being set up for a contentious meeting in March.

Second, I have serious reservations about only asking a church to pay five years of per capita as an exit fee. I won’t share all my reasons for this in this already long blog. I will say that I think this amount is too low.

By passing this policy the Presbytery is encouraging churches who want to leave the denomination to withhold per capita. This policy sets up the possibility that a congregation could leave the denomination by paying their withheld per capita. That doesn’t seem right to me.

Any sort of sort of exit fee should be based on some percentage of the value of the property and buildings of the church.

Chain of Lakes Church is being given a piece of property that will be worth over a half a million dollars. That money was given by the Presbytery to our new church. After we charter we could then leave the denomination and only pay five years of per capita? We wouldn’t be expected to pay back to the Presbytery this gift of property that was given to us? That money was given by Presbyterians in expectation that it would be used to further the ministry of Presbyterian churches.

I will listen closely to the people advocating this policy and encourage comments on this blog. However as of today I would vote “no.”


Neil said...

Paul, I think the gracious separation policy is spot on. It is based on the people in the churches and not the property. Property has got in the way in our denomination too many times.

By asking for five years per capita, which I understand to be future oriented and not the payment of previously withheld, it gives the remaining churches time to grow and offset this loss. If we are to create a gracious separation then why create unnecessary hardships and complicated systems for valuing property. Let's keep it simple.

Chainoflakesncd said...

Thanks for the comment, Neal.

Pam Prouty said...

We are working on such a policy for our presbytery too; have looked at various policies, it has sort of been put on the back burner b/c of other issues in our presbytery but perhaps it should come to the front again.....

I agree that property does get in the way and that if a congregation wants to leave, they should leave. But separation is never simple. We also have to remember that a long time ago Presbyterians put money into a church buildings with great faith and perhaps some hardship.

So there you go, even if I am Paul's sister and he asked me to comment....

Chainoflakesncd said...

Neil & Pam,
These are a few of my thoughts about property. In almost every case a church received money for property and/or were provided resources when the church built a building. (Resources through loans or having the Presbytery co-signing a loan or other.) If a church is going to leave the PC(USA) I think the church owes something back. I don't think it's "graceful" for a congregation to take these gifts without giving something back. As I shared in the blog imagine if Chain of Lakes in "x" number of years decided to leave the PC(USA). Don't you think we should give something back in recognition for the gift of property that we received?

Neil said...

It sounds to me that you are looking for an "equitable separation policy" rather than a "gracious separation policy." I think if we start looking at equitable agreements we will never get there. Each case would be different so a policy would be worthless. Yes, congregations looking to leave may have received benefits from the presbytery, or they may not have; it may have been decades ago or it may have been recently; it may have been large sums or small.

If Presbytery adopts this policy, and I hope it will, then we must remember this is presbytery's, not the church's that is leaving, gracious separation policy. Let us show grace to those who wish to leave.

Chainoflakesncd said...

Thanks for the comments, Neil.
It would be fun to continue this conversation over a cup of coffee--which we haven't done in a while.

You are right that the policy is the Presbytery's and not the departing church's. I think that being fair (I like that more than equitable) is a part of being gracious. In reality when a church leaves the PC(USA)it is a divorce. For me combining graciousness with fairness with love and blessing is important. I have concerns about the fairness as I read this policy.

I'm interested in other people's comments also! Thoughts?