Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbyterians are a meeting people. We meet in sessions in our individual congregations. We meet in committees, commissions, and councils in our presbyteries, synods, and General Assembly. Our polity eschews concentrating power in one person or office. Instead, we disperse responsibility across teaching elders and ruling elders. We come together to share information, spark new ideas, plan, and take action. We meet.
We meet in our presbytery too! The structure of the presbytery is designed to facilitate the needs of the presbytery, at least the needs as we understood them in 2015 when we began reimagining the design and structure of the presbytery. The result is the structure we accepted in 2016 and work from today. This year over 170 members participated in the work of the presbytery through 32 teams, sub-teams, and commissions. The presbytery committee on representation and nominations does an excellent job of recruiting volunteers from across the presbytery. I appreciate the work, effort, and time commitment from each of you who volunteered in 2019. Thank you!
However, we are finding it more and more difficult to find volunteers to serve on many of our teams and attend one meeting after another. That’s why as the year 2020 rises upon us, I am asking a question about our current design. It is the question of purpose. What is the reason these teams exist and come together to meet, or do they come together and meet because they exist? Has anything changed since 2015 that makes these teams more or less relevant? Is the problem the people or the structure? Like a church which tries to staff a session designed for the church when it was twice its current size, does the structure of the presbytery fit the reality and needs of the members and congregations we have today?
In seminary I learned that the best theology lives between the tension of two truths. In this case, our best design lives between the need for permanence and surety, and the reality of rapid change. We need permission to push against those structure that no longer work or fit and allow what God is bringing forth to emerge. The structure must be able to reflect the rapidly changing constituents, needs, and fiscal realities of the organization. This flexibility applies to the Book of Order, presbytery policy, and congregation’s manuals operation.
So, if we’re a truly flexible presbytery, what would our structure look like? How do we make sure honorably retired pastors, and those participating in specialized ministry get hardwired into the structure? How do we lift up climate change and global missions, while keeping dismantling racism front and center? Pray along with me and our leadership as we meet together and discuss these important questions.
Rev. Craig M. Howard