The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area met for their regular meeting yesterday at First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater. I arrived early to set up a table to share information about Chain of Lakes Church, a ministry of the Presbytery.
I also came early to attend a Pre-Presbytery event on terms of settlement for congregations seeking to depart from the PC(USA). The Administrative Commission (A.C) that is working with Hope Church in Richfield was making a report and seeking input from the Presbytery. Hope Church has requested to be dismissed from the PC(USA).
Representatives from the A.C. shared the following information.
· Their conversations with appointed leaders from Hope have been filled with grace—not at all acrimonious. Hope has supplied all the information that has been asked of them.
· The A.C. has discerned that people from Hope want to leave the PC(USA). An on-line, confidential survey was conducted that led the A.C. to this conclusion.
· The A.C. is now entering the negotiation phase on terms of settlement. They are hoping to present a settlement to be voted on at the November Presbytery meeting.
After each person from the A.C. shared a report everyone present was allowed to share thoughts on what should be part of the settlement. Opinions varied from dismissing the church with the Presbytery’s blessing to asking for a financial settlement of various sizes.
The conversation was painful. This is a divorce. Who enjoys a divorce? What is also painful is that four additional churches have requested to leave, so this process could be repeated four more times.
I have expressed in the past and I still believe that churches who leave should give a financial gift to the Presbytery based on some percentage of their property. If Chain of Lakes were to leave the Presbytery in the future (which will never happen) people would expect us to share some if not all of the gift of property that we were given. I wish that Presbyterian churches weren’t connected by property, but this is how the PC(USA) is set up. It doesn’t seem right to change the rules in the middle of the game.
After that Pre-Presbytery I went to my table to talk to people. I missed a sizable chunk of the meeting. I came back when the Presbytery was voting to receive a first report on changing the structure of the Council.
It was wonderful to hear the excitement of Ministry in a Changing World. This initiative has helped many congregations deepen their sense of mission. Yay, God!
The Finance Work Group brought a proposal asking for approval to move the Presbytery offices and to eliminate Dennis Sanders’ position, who is responsible for communications out of the Presbytery office. I was pleased to hear many people question the elimination of this position. Dennis has done an excellent job of using new media to communicate information from the Presbytery. Everyone recognized that buying some web services from an outside company wouldn’t cut it. The Presbytery voted to move the offices and table the recommendation on the Communications position.
I’m sure the Budget Task Force is going to wonder how they are going to fill that gap. The Presbytery is facing a large gap in their budget for 2014. I have a vested interest in this process being the Organizing Pastor for a new church who receives money from the Presbytery. That money is critical for the future success of Chain of Lakes. The biggest threat that our new church has to our future is a cut in resources from the Presbytery. A cut could negate the growth that our new congregation has recently experienced.
I don’t believe the Presbytery can achieve a balanced budget only by cutting their budget. Churches and individuals must give more—preferably their giving would be voluntary and not mandatory. I hope everyone who spoke against the cutting of the communications position is willing to ask their own congregations to double or even triple their General Mission pledge to Presbytery. I’ve volunteered to go out in the past to speak to churches about Chain of Lakes Church and encourage churches to give to General Mission. I’m still willing to do that.
The Presbytery has multiple issues on its plate right now—more than I can ever remember in the 20 years since I’ve been a member of the Presbytery. We need to rally around a vision of who we are, and we all need to acknowledge that we can’t get through these issues without significant shared sacrifice.