Yesterday I drove to First Presbyterian Church in Rochester for the May Presbytery meeting. It was a pleasure to attend the meeting at the church. I have many fond memories of that sacred space including my marriage in the sanctuary on June16, 2000. The new entrance on the south part of the building is a place of beauty.
I quickly settled into my pre-Presbytery routine of sharing information about the new church I serve—Chain of Lakes Church. I enjoyed sharing with people our new ministry for the summer—Sundaes on Wednesday. Pending our Steering Committee’s approval we will worship at Northpoint Elementary on Wednesday evenings and not on Sunday morning.
Right before the meeting started I was able to connect with Roger Ring—chaplain at Methodist Hospital. I’ve known Rog for years. He kept me on my toes while I served at Plainview by moderating a support group in which I participated foralmost a decade. Rog and I settled near the front of the beautiful sanctuary at First Church and witnessed this important meeting.
The main event was the Presbytery’s voting on the Gracious Separation Policy which was presented by the Presbytery Council.
I admire the original group who put together the first draft that was presented at the January Presbytery meeting. I can't imagine developing such an important and complicated policy from scratch.
I believe the original document was strengthened through the many comments shared by people throughout the Presbytery. The Council was authentic in allowing all people in the Presbytery to share their opinions. Though that process seemed compressed, I think it helped.
The Gracious Separation Policy sets forth a process for churches within the Presbytery to leave the PC(USA). The policy can be found on the Presbytery’s web site-- http://www.presbyterytwincities.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/PTCA-2012-04-10-Proposed-Gracious-Separation-Policy.pdf
It’s a terrible shame that a policy has to be developed, but the Presbytery Council had no choice but to develop one. The meeting last night was obviously important as my conservative pastor friends from the Presbytery showed up with along with the elder commissioners from their churches.
Two contentious issues of the policy are what should constitute a quorum at a congregational meeting when a church votes on whether to leave the PC(USA), and the financial terms of dismissal.
The debate that developed was one that pushed the buttons of any person who isn't a Presbyterian polity wonk--me! All of us listened as it was determined whether an amendment was a substitute amendment, whether a poll was a vote, and whether the results of a mailed poll should be determined by a percentage of respondents or by a percentage of the members of the church. Amendments were made to amendments. We even had the joy of listening to a reading of Robert’s Rules of Order.
Our debate must have been similar to the Minnesota Legislature's debate over the last 48 hours of the stadium proposal. Thankfully we didn't have as many amendments as the Legislature.
An excellent recap of the issues can be found on Sue Rutford’s Twitter feed.
Though the issues are contentious, the spirit of the meeting was certainly Christ-like. Speakers shared their opinions in a respectful way and the meeting was moderated well.
Though we Presbyterians like to debate we like to eat even more. Our debate on Gracious Separation was stopped by dinner—only at a Presbytery meeting can dinner be the order of the day. After dinner we enjoyed a rousing worship service led by the terrific organ playing of Lee Afdahl. We then sat down to slog through more amendments. Rog left the meeting to do some work. He didn’t have the time for such slogging.
Rocky Rockenstein saved the day by making a motion that the entire Gracious Separation policy be debated at a separate Presbytery meeting called by the Presbytery Council within the next 60 days. Thankfully the Presbytery approved this motion. At some point in the next 60 days we will view more Amendments.
It is very difficult for a large group of people to wordsmith a document on a contentious issue. My suggestion to the Council is to get the most interested parties in a room to see if a document can be developed that is fair to all sides. Such a meeting might not work; however it's worth a try as it could save many of us a lot of time of wordsmithing at a future meeting.
The main highlight of the rest of the meeting was listening to Nancy Grittman share her gratitude for serving as the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery for the past six years. Nancy broke down in appreciation. We gave her two standing ovations. That moment was worth the drive.
I left the meeting at 8:45 after asking the Presbytery to join Chain of Lakes on a leaflet drop on Saturday, June 2. I left late by my standards, but early by the standards of the meeting. If Sue Rutford’s Twitter feed is accurate the entire meeting ended after 10:00.
Such long meetings might be acceptable to some, but to many of us who work 60 hours a week they aren't. I am thankful for the beautiful spirit of the meeting and to see the progress in how our Presbytery relates to each other. I hope that many of the issues regarding Gracious Separation can be hammered out in advance of the future Presbytery gathering.