Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Proving We’re Presbyterian … and Killing Ourselves

I spent the day at a meeting of National Capital Presbytery, and witnessed one of those moments when we prove to ourselves that we are, indeed, Presbyterian. An item of new business was introduced by an ad hoc group of pastors coming from various points along the theological/political spectrum of the church. They recommended that Presbytery suspend its normal mode of operating for one year and use our regularly scheduled meeting times to pursue a discernment model of decision making as a fresh approach to dealing with the issues that have divided the church for decades.
After wrangling about whether or not to refer the question to Presbytery’s council – and wrangling over whether or not to call the question on that referral – we proved our Presbyterian mettle by simply referring the question to the next meeting! While we were in the midst of voting on closing discussion – and confusion reigned over what, exactly, we were voting on – I leaned over to a colleague and said, “this is exactly why we need to try something different; this way of doing business simply doesn’t work for the issues we’re facing.” He said, “get up and say that right now.” I said, “I can’t. It would be out of order.”
The irony of the moment was not lost on us, and it would have been quite funny if it were not quite sad, instead.
The larger, and not unrelated, irony of the day came in the preaching. We were reminded of the deep importance of Sabbath keeping. The irony lay in this: we met at the Presbytery’s beautiful new camp and conference center on a stunningly gorgeous early autumn day … and we spent the entire day, except for a too brief lunch on the porch, indoors. We might as well have met in the fellowship hall of a church in town. At least we would have been honoring creation by not wasting so much gas.
I've spent enough years assisting in outdoor ministries to understand this: it is never worth the trouble of going to a camp if you are not going to use the space.
If we were gathering in a discernment mode, we might go to such a place and spend the morning in silence, free to walk around the hundreds of acres of woods and rolling meadows – to truly celebrate and enjoy creation and praise the Creator. Sabbath time, as Jesus knew and as the preacher reminded us, was created for us. But it is not empty time, worthless time, wasted time. It is time spent refocusing on what is of ultimate concern, on living into our chief purpose: to glorify God and enjoy God forever.
In such joy and praise we discern our callings. Perhaps if Presbytery spent more time in that time we might find new ways of moving forward.
In the meanwhile, we'll meet next time in a fellowship hall and we'll wrangle over something, and we probably won't bring anybody any closer to clarity on that chief purpose.


Anonymous said...

I was at Meadowkirk too and feel that the motion would have passed if: People knew aboutit ahead of time, the implication for doing the regular work - incoming pastors etc. was addressed more clearly, and the moderator had used Roberts Rules clearly rather than muddying the water by misnaming what we were voting on. I too felt a need to be outdoor and have a chance to talk to others. We learned from PUP that folks do not trust a small group of diverse people who meet successfully in a more organized and formal way than a whole presbytery can. This situation is similar. Hopefully it will pass in November.

LeAnn said...

Wow, David, I said something similar on the way back from Meadowkirk, that there were so many tensions within me following the day. There was enough of an opportunity for the shy beast of my soul to emerge, in the sacred space that is Meadowkirk and the inspiring music provided in worship. Yet it seems this only made me that much more vulnerable to the disappointment in the sluggish albatross that is too often Presbytery. (And I say that in a more general sense, being a newbie to NCP.) I left with a soulful sigh. I am intrigued and cautiously hopeful that there might indeed be a new thing in the making regarding this alternative approach to how we "do business".

Roy said...

I've about had it with "in order' and "out of order." The whole thing seemed way out of order to me and not in the technical sense but in the deeper sense of what we as a people are yearning for in our life together. Nearly 30 years we have been saying we need to do these gathering differently and when we have the chance what do we do? Put it off until another day, giving ample time for the man who said "I hope we deep six it" to do just that.

And by the way I wonder exactly what it was he wanted to kill?

Anonymous said...

I too feel that there was interest in the room had the group provided more information as to how we get there - you can't just assume the business will get done.

lquander said...

i left the previous comment about providing more information - i did not inted to be anonymous

Dick McFail said...

Friends-- you all presented a wonderful idea that you had obviously worked hard on-- and you're astonished that people who had just seen it earlier that same day weren't ready to join the parade! Come on now. You're opposed to parliamentary procedure-- but the use of that procedure and our own policies got you on the agenda of a meeting you weren't part of originally.

The fact that the motion is postponed means that you all have two months to prepare to answer really tough questions: in this new format you propose, who exactly is going to do the real work of preparing, six times a year, for worship and bible study.Who is going to do the very hard work of persuading conservative evangelicals and their liberal opponents to let Committee on Ministry, not the presbytery, examine and approve incoming ministers, scruples and all? This all takes an extraordinary level of trust-- do you discern that among us? I do not. The reason it hasn't flared up harmfully is that no one has presented a behavioral scruple to G-6. But someone will, sooner or later.

There is, you may have guessed, an alarming lack of trust for the Meadowkirk Board-- and some very real fear-- because our financial fate is inextricably tied to their success in putting paying customers in those rooms come January 1.

Is there some really good reason why you all didn't route this wonderful idea through the Worship and Theology Committee-- so that you could pick up some support from a committee where evangelicals and those who are not work cooperatively and well together-- and perhaps the thing would have come to the floor as a piece of committee business-- published to the whole presbytery ten days prior, not a few hours prior, to your advocacy of it. I sense that none of you would do Session business in this way. No-one will get anywhere in this presbytery by telling people they can't have time to think about something.

Christian Wright said...

Just for the record, I had absolutely nothing to do with the proposal, and, having arrived fashionably late (!) didn't know anything about it at all until after lunch. While I agree that there was a certain "Paulsen-esque" air about the proposal, I still found it overwhelmingly sad to sit in a room all day serving the needs of the institution, while all creation was right outside the windows whispering something of the Spirit that we collectively seemed deaf to.

Ruth said...

Dick, I can see that you experience the grace of God through parliamentary procedure. This is evident in the careful way you explain the rules. It's a pastoral and effective way for you to function. I appreciate that. But what I also see is that it doesn't work that way for everybody. And I have this notion that it won't work at all as the generations continue to turnover. I can't imagine my daughters participating in this procedure, their whole way of experiencing each other is different. So somewhere along the way, the church has to adapt. I wasn't even present in the afternoon at the meeting, but I feel like I know what I missed because I have been doing this for almost 2 decades. As a group of ministers, I think we all need "scooching room" which we just don't get, and end up feeling hamstrung by our process. Sigh.

Roy said...

I believe the very real details of doing the business of Presbytery can be managed in a variety of ways. I'm not suggesting that it would be easy, certainly not in the beginning, or not require some serious, creative work. It would certainly require giving more power and authority to smaller entities, as Dick suggests.

I also believe the step would force us to work differently - at least for one year - and review.

What I am most curious about is that the original group that proposed this has been strangely silent. What is that about?

Davie D said...

Now, friends, there was no one who spoke against the motion to do things differently. No one. The body as a whole rejected the idea of letting the council deal with the issue. I think this is because the gathered commissioners WANT to deal it and do so fairly and intelligently. Dick is on the mark in that anyone who has ever tried to do something different in a church setting should know that it won't fly if you just spring it on people. If we have been longing for this for 30 years, as Roy says, then two more months to consider it and get it right won't kill us.

It was unfortunate to spend so much time crowded into a single room on such a gorgeous day in such a gorgeous place. We might at least have been facing the other way, looking at the vista off the porch instead of the side of a hill. But we did start an hour later than usual and ended early, so anyone could have and should have taken some time to enjoy the setting before or after. That was a matter of choice. And don't complain to me about the rush hour traffic, because most of you were going against it, and some of us out there on the western frontier have to deal with it at all the other meetings in the city.

So, yes, we are all disappointed that this new idea isn't already in place. Now, what will we do to make sure it passes at the next meeting?

Leslianne said...

Perhaps what we will do is get in touch with the movers of the motion and ask what we can do to help them put meat on the bones.

Perhaps that might mean many of us will become MORE involved in Presbytery affairs so that the councils and committees are full to the brim with knowledgeable, competent, spirit filled people who are doing God's work with integrity.

Perhaps what we will do is stand up and say to the world, we are about being an exibition of the Kingdom of God and we CAN do things new things in a new way, being the new people we are called to be.

Perhaps . . .

john wimberly said...

As one of the small group that put this motion together, I can say that we are delighted that it received such a wonderful reception. Second, we fully expected that it would be referred somewhere and not acted upon last week. It is too big a concept to be swallowed whole in one discussion. So I did not see the action to refer to the next meeting as problematic but rather as part of the NCP digestive track.
Our small group is having a meeting in a week to discuss next steps. Key in those steps will be involving the dozens of people who have great ideas and some concerns about the proposal.
So I hope everyone will stay tuned as this cannot work as the idea of a small group. It will only work as the idea of our entire NCP community.
Wherever we end up, it is impossible not to feel the Spirit at work in this discussion and visioning.

Bill Teng said...

I just want to affirm John's comment on this matter and assure all of you that there's no sinister plot here ;-)

It came from those of us who have been meeting as a small group for the last four years or so and have been trying to find a new way to be presbytery together.

There was no advanced notice of the motion because it was just put together the week before the presbytery meeting and was NOT meant to be a finished product.

We're hoping that it would generate exactly the kind of conversation that we've been having here (thanks, David, for providing the forum)! Stay tuned!