The mission statement for Monmouth Presbytery is: to equip ministers and congregations to strengthen God’s people for ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ.
Last month, the Mission Council, met for a day-long retreat at Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church. After some thoughtful and bold conversation about the blessings and challenges of the presbytery, the Council agreed that we, as a presbytery, need to focus on Building Trust and Building Community over the next year or more.
As we face the challenges before us, it is imperative that we trust each other, knowing that no matter how different our opinions or our styles or our decisions are, that we are united in our love and commitment to Jesus Christ. This will not be easy. There have been many reasons that trust has been broken in this presbytery. Feelings have been hurt, deeply. Relationships have been strained and broken. It will take a commitment from every member of the presbytery to take the bold steps of repentance when necessary, going the extra mile, and working through conflict. It will take stepping back and praying together when the going gets tough. And it will mean making room in our busy schedules to build community with each other.
How can we trust people we don’t know? We need to get to know our colleagues, not just pastors, but elders. We need to reach across the typical dividing lines of age, race, theological ideology, etc. etc. and make friends with each other. We need to support each other, encourage each other, comfort each other and challenge each other. We need this, so that we can trust and value each other as the very difficult issues confront us.
As a presbytery, too, we’ve reaffirmed our commitment to the spiritual and missional health of each congregation. We know that without healthy and vital congregations, there is no healthy and vital presbytery. We are here to serve you, as you serve your communities.
The Mission Council commits to helping build trust and community by
- Follow through on session visits. By March just about all of our sessions should have been visited by a representative of mission council. The visit includes showing the DVD produced last summer, listening to the concerns of our sessions, and answering questions the congregations have about the Presbytery. We will be compiling the comments and issues raised in those visits and we promise to not only listen, but do something with the things we learn. We will report back to the presbytery and to individual congregations as appropriate.
- Create a Process for Gracious Discernment. There is much anxiety in the the PC(USA) these days about who’s leaving and who’s staying now that we’ve changed our ordination standards to allow GLBTQ individuals to be ordained if the session and/or presbytery confirms their call to ministry. We want to start right away and bring leaders together who are on all sides of the controversy to work on a policy that would help a congregation through the discernment process and, if the congregation is of one accord, would allow for “gracious” dismissal of a congregation. We are hoping never to have to use the policy, but we believe that the process of creating one, will allow for wounds to be healed, relationships to be grown, voices to be heard, etc.
- “Change the Conversation” around Per Capita. We have a per capita problem. See my blog post for a larger analysis of the problem nationally. In our presbytery (Monmouth) nothing seems to churn up feelings and escalate hostility between pastors and congregations more than a conversation around payment of per capita. So it’s time to change the conversation, to imagine a different way, perhaps, of supporting the financial realities of being part of the Presbyterian “family”. We will begin to ask the tough questions and face the tough realities.
- Congregational Grants and Consultants. To put some funding behind our words of support for congregations, the mission council is working through MDSC to provide matching grants to groups of congregations who would like to work together and need resourcing or consultation. The motion to create the matching grant program passed the presbytery last night. And we anticipate that by our June meeting a process will be communicated through which you and your congregation can apply for some of the yearly funding.
- Unbinding the Gospel. I am encouraged by the 27 pastors from Monmouth and New Brunswick presbyteries who joined me and Martha Grace Reese on a conference call a few weeks ago. 15 pastors from Monmouth are considering forming a small group of leaders to study the book, Unbinding the Gospel, over eight weeks sometime this spring. If the congregations decide they want to proceed with the full congregational program, we may be able to form some coaching groups for large and small congregations with Lilly Grant Funding. This would be a huge boost for the presbytery.
- Developing Connections and Relationships. We will intentionally look for ways to encourage teaching and ruling elders to gather together for fellowship, study, support, encouragement and mission. Rob Carter, our Moderator, has some ideas about how to do this, but we don’t need permission from the presbytery to start gathering. I know of two gatherings of colleagues after the presbytery meeting last night. One of them was at my house! Any chance we have to BE the people of God together and not just DO the work of the people of God, we will be blessed.