Black, White, and Gray: Denominational Change in American Protestantism since 1972 (Brad Wright)
Talk about a picture that says a thousand words ...
Black, White, and Gray: Denominational Change in American Protestantism since 1972 (Brad Wright)
Talk about a picture that says a thousand words ...
Christian Century: Gallup chief sees signs of religious revival
Despite a deep drop in the number of Americans who identify with a particular faith, the country could be on the cusp of a religious renaissance, says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll.
Grounded in more than a million Gallup interviews, Newport’s new book, God Is Alive and Well, argues that the aging of the baby boomers, the influx of Hispanic immigrants and the links between religion and health could portend a bright future for faith in America. [The following interview was edited for length and clarity.]
Why did you write this book?
I think religion is extremely important in America today. All of our research shows that, and I wanted to get empirical data about religion out there, rather than just speculation.
We here at Gallup have had a tracking project since 2008. We do 350,000 interviews a year, which is a huge and unique dataset that nobody else has. And personally, I grew up in a religious background and always found it interesting. ...
Of course, this caught my eye ...
You write that mainline Protestants are pretty much doing everything wrong in terms of growing their churches. Why is that?
For any group to grow, whether it’s a country or a church, you have to have more people coming in than going out. For example, the Catholic Church holds its own in terms of percentage of the American population because of the in-migration of Hispanics. But there is no massive in-migration of Protestants.
Second, there’s been no evidence that they’ve been able to evangelize effectively. And third, one way you grow is to have high fertility rates. Mormons are doing that well because their theology encourages big families. But Presbyterians, for example, have fewer children on average [than other Americans]. So, if you look at all the ways churches could grow, the mainline Protestants haven’t been able to hit the nail on the head with any of them. —RNS
Christian Science Monitor: Who's filling America's church pews
In PurItan New England, Protestant and Catholic churches are declining while evangelical and Pentecostal groups are rising. Why the nation's most secular region may hint at the future of religion.
This is a lengthy article that is hard to summarize. Here are a few interesting excerpts:
... The recent changes in New England have been significant:
•Between 2000 and 2010, the Catholic church has lost 28 percent of its members in New Hampshire and 33 percent in Maine. It has closed at least 69 parishes (25 percent) in greater Boston.
•Over the same period, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) established 118 new churches in northern New England, according to the 2010 Religion Census. About 50 of them inhabit buildings once owned by mainline churches.
•Other denominations are growing, too, including Pentecostals: Assemblies of God (11 new churches in Massachusetts) and International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (13 new churches in Massachusetts and Maine). The Seventh-day Adventists, an evangelical group, opened 55 new churches in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine between 2000 and 2010, according to the Religion Census. Muslims and Mormons are experiencing membership gains as well.
More change looms on the horizon. In 2013, northern New England will lose its only mainline Protestant seminary and accredited graduate school of religion when the Bangor Theological Seminary closes in May. Three months later, Southern Baptists will open Northeastern Baptist College – the first SBC-affiliated pastor-training college in northern New England – in Bennington, Vt. ...
... Much of the church growth in secular New England stems from immigrants and the cultures they create in pursuit of spiritual grounding. Researchers at the Emmanuel Gospel Center (EGC), a Boston-based Christian organization that studies urban ministries, call it a "quiet revival." It is often overlooked because the Religion Census tracks only denominations, yet nondenominational churches account for some of the fastest-filling pews, or folding chairs, as the case may more often be. ...
... In Westbrook, Maine, the Seventh-day Adventists last year acquired a new regional headquarters – a 14,500-square-foot library. In Northfield, Mass., near the Vermont border, a 217-acre campus will be handed to a Christian institution in 2013 as a gift from Oklahoma's Green family, billionaire owners of a craft store chain, who bought and renovated the property in order to give it away.
Some churches that offer an alternative to prevailing regional values, in both New England and around the country, are attracting new disciples. Liberal Unitarian Universalists have seen some of their fastest growth in recent years in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and other conservative Southern states.
In New England, the converse is true. Churches that echo the prevailing culture's moral relativism and liberal sensibilities sometimes struggle to differentiate themselves. Yet when a doctrine-minded pastor like Joey Marshall unpacks the Bible, verse by verse, many people yearn for his unflinching message. To accommodate growing numbers, Mr. Marshall's Living Stone Community Church in Standish, Maine, moved from a traditional 50-seat structure to a former paintball facility. ...
... Churches that have equated faith with political activism, in fact, are watching their ranks thin. Lewis, the Bangor Seminary dean, sees emphasis on politics as one reason some mainline denominations have seen their membership decline accelerate in the past 10 years.
"In the mainline denominations, liberalism is dead, but they just don't know it yet," says [Steve] Lewis, an ordained Methodist elder. "Liberalism has moved so far toward the social consciousness [agenda] that it's lost its spiritual roots. What they need [in the mainlines] is a passionate spirituality." ...
Ruling elder and corporate attorney, noted for her non-anxious presence, intelligence, and humor, succumbs to cancer.
Cynthia (Cindy) Bolbach, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010), died peacefully on December 12, 2012, after fighting a brave, nearly yearlong battle with cancer.She would have turned 65 on December 27.
A ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Bolbach was elected Moderator on the fourth ballot as the only ruling elder in a field of six candidates. In a July 4, 2010, news release, Jerry Van Marter of the Presbyterian News Service (PNS) said that Bolbach’s brief answers and her “winsome sense of humor” won over the General Assembly commissioners. ...
Cindy served on the General Assembly Mission Council in her capacity as moderator for the denomination beginning in July, 2010. I got to know Cindy through our joint participation in a variety of meetings, as well as serendipitous conversations in shuttles, airports, and hotel lobbies. Non-anxious presence, sharp mind, humility, and wry humor are the qualities I most think of when I think of her.
Every so often in life you encounter people that manifest noble qualities so well that you are inspired to develop those qualities in yourself. Cindy was one of those people for me. The world would be a whole lot brighter with more Cindy Bolbachs in the world. While she has entered the Church Triumphant, our world is little darker. Grace and Peace to her family and friends.
Last year, I had the privilege of visiting the leaders of the Synod of Syria and Lebanon and the Synod of the Nile (Egypt) a year ago, partner denominations to the Presbyterian Church USA. I heard firsthand about the struggles of Christians in these countries. It was made apparent to me that a central component to any lasting peace in the region is for moderate Muslims, Christians, and religious minorities to form a healthy civil society. Dedicated Christians from our partner denominations in these regions have worked diligently toward that end.
We are hearing a great deal about the violence in Syria, and with good reason. The immediacy of the suffering is tragic. But I sense that Egypt may be the bigger story in the long run. There are more than eighty million Egyptians, dwarfing the size of other nations in the region. There is also a history of stronger, more tolerant, societal institutions. If Egypt is transformed into an Islamist state, then I think the implications well be tragic and far reaching for much of the rest of the region.
As I recall, about 90% of Egyptians are Muslim. About 9% are Coptic Orthodox Christians. About 1% are Protestant. Moderate Muslims and Christians alike were part of the protests that ousted Mubarak. Moderate Muslims and Christians are leading the protests against Morsi’s power grab and against the troubling new constitution that is being proposed.
While in Egypt, I had the privilege of dining in the home of a young family who also acted as our tour guides for a day. The wife and mother of this family has been posting articles and pictures relating to the protests on Facebook, like this picture of brave women taking the front row of a march towards the presidential palace carrying their own shrouds (coffin cloth) in their arms.
Three hours ago my friend posted that the referendum on the constitution has now been delayed until the 12th. The pressure has been to get this constitution passed as quickly as possible and there is some hope this delay may lead good things.
Let us all remember to keep Egypt in our prayers. Let us pray that moderate Muslims and Christians will be able to influence events toward the creation of a healthy civil society, delivering Egypt from the bondage of extremist elements, even was we continue to pray for an end to the horrific suffering in Syria.
Planet Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary Names New President
The Rev. M. Craig Barnes, a professor of pastoral theology and the pastor of a large Pittsburgh congregation, has been named the seventh president of Princeton Theological Seminary.
A 1981 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Barnes has also served as a trustee of the seminary. He is currently the Robert Meneilly Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Leadership at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the pastor of the 1,100-member Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh
Barnes will begin in his role as president and professor of pastoral ministry on January 1. He will succeed the Reverend Dr. Iain Torrance, who has served as president of Princeton Theological Seminary since 2004 and announced his intention to retire from this role last year. ...
I always like it when our seminaries name people with extensive experience pastoring to the president's position. Congratulations to Dr. Barnes. ...
Last month the Presbyterian Church USA embraced a goal of starting 1001 new worshiping communities. For the next few weeks I will feature a couple of short videos that highlight some examples of these new worshiping communities. You can learn more at the website www.onethousandone.org. The initiative is being run out of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (formerly General Assembly Mission Council). I served on the board for the past eight years. 1001 is part of a broader transformational effort to move the Presbyterian Mission Agency from being a body that does mission on behalf of Presbyterians to inspiring, equipping, and connecting Presbyterians for mission. Because of my role on the board I've had the opportunity to meet some of the pastors of these communities and I've even had a few site visits. I hope my readers will find inspiration as well. (Series Index)
During a brief ceremony at the conclusion of the final report of the 220th General Assembly’s Mission Coordination Committee, Schramm received the stole from the outgoing Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) Board chair, Michael W. Kruse.
Kruse, a ruling elder from Kansas City, Mo., began his remarks by thanking his wife, Melissa, PMA Board Vice Chair Carolyn McLarnan, and PMA Executive Director Linda Valentine, for their support and counsel. ...
As I told many people last week, I'm glad I served and I'm glad I'm done. Eight years was enough. Matt is going to do a great job and I look forward to seeing what unfolds with the Presbyterian Mission Agencey over the next couple of years. Congratulations Matt!
It Takes a Church: Discipleship in a Rapidly Changing World: What the Mid-Council Report is Really About - Tod Bolsinger
“How are those governing bodies best organized to be responsive both to the Spirit of Christ and the changing opportunities for discipleship? Are the structures of history the best platforms for carrying our mission into the future?”
Mid Councils, Discipleship and Change. Those were the key issues that were before our Commission. Not diversity, not denominational splintering, not the ongoing wrestling with ordination standards. But, discipleship in a rapidly changing context. And most pointedly: the ways that our mid-council structures are organized to serve or not serve our mission as followers of Jesus in changing world.
After almost two years of listening, studying, conversing and engaging the church with this big question, the Mid-Council Commission report is now offered to the church. We propose to flatten the hierarchy, and experiment with flexibility. We offer an extensive report on the many good and innovative mid-councils that are already adapting. We call for some ongoing conversations. We have offered short videos, and a brief Powerpoint that captures our convictions of the kinds of structures need in the future: Flat. Flexible. Faithful. Those resources capture the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the report, so, let me introduce this discussion by offering the ‘why’.
Why do we make these particular recommendations? Because we believe that for the church to be “best organized to be responsive both to the Spirit of Christ and the changing opportunities for discipleship” we need to continue to make a clear shift in the priorities and purpose of our structures:
- Mid-Council structures must exist to serve the health and mission of congregations.
- Presbyteries must be given the power, and permission--for a season of experimentation--to structure in any way they discern will best serve the health and mission of its congregations.
This is based on a clear ‘adaptive’ principle: Genuinely transformative solutions to our biggest challenges come from giving the work back to the people most affected. ...
I think the Mid-Council Task Force report is one of the most important items of business coming to the General Assembly. I'll have more to say later but if you are a commissioner, please take to time to read and digest this report. I think it frames the issues we face well and it gives some practical strategies to pursue.
It had been my hope to do some blogging last week about the General Assembly Mission Council 's 2013-2016 Work Plan and other business coming to General Assembly. I will have to delay that until the end of next week. In the meantime, Presbyterian News Service has posted a piece about changes in the focus of World Mission that are indicative of changes that are developing in other ministries of the GAMC. I'll have more to say about this late next week.
Presbyterian News Service: ‘A different time’
Reflecting the changing nature of the world and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the denomination’s World Mission area is also evolving, moving toward a new model of communities of mission practice.
“To do all that, I know we need God’s guidance,” said the Rev. Hunter Farrell, director of World Mission, during a May 14 webinar for staff.
World Mission will encourage a different relationship with PC(USA) congregations, with every staff member seeing himself or herself as a “global connector,” Farrell said.
As part of the 2013-14 Mission Work Plan and Budget — approved May 11 by the General Assembly Mission Council — World Mission eliminated 11 positions, some of which were vacant. In addition, the area created eight new positions that reflect its new vision.
One key part of that vision is the role of regional liaisons, who will work in an increased capacity to serve as point people between congregations and PC(USA) mission workers in their area of the world. They will act as diplomats and work to grow networks or communities of mission practice around World Mission’s three critical global issues (CGIs) — addressing the root causes of poverty, especially as they affect women and children; sharing the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ; and being agents of reconciliation among cultures of violence.
World Mission is also creating new positions for three CGI catalysts. These staffers will each be assigned one of the CGIs and use their expertise to work with young adults, mission personnel and communities of mission practice for a strong and clear collective impact on the issue. ...
HOMEWOOD, Alabama -- A pastor once asked a professor for advice on how to handle a controversy in his church. The largest financial supporter of a Baptist church was nominated to the board of deacons. He happened to be the owner of a busy liquor store.
No one ever complained about his large donations to the church, but his nomination to the deacon board aroused a furor.
That's one of the scenarios addressed in a new book by Samford University professor John C. Knapp, founding director of Samford's Francis Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership. ...
... Many times there is an implied devaluation of any work that is not Christian ministry, he said.
"We will go to great lengths to set aside time to pray for people going to do a short-term mission project in Mexico; this is seen as doing the Lord's work," Knapp said. "Do we take time to pray for a person who is starting a new job? Do we pray for new college students looking for a career? Do we commission them for discipleship in those contexts?" ...
... There is reasonable caution about blatant evangelism in the workplace, he said.
"It's not about evangelizing the workplace," Knapp said. "It's about how do you find meaning in your work." ...
... The church needs a doctrine of vocation -- calling to be disciples in whatever their line of work -- and a moral theology of work, Knapp said. ...
I'm presently doing a chapter by chapter review of the book at Jesus Creed. I'm also posting the reviews here at the Kruse Kronicle. Chapter Six will be posted tomorrow. Here are links to each of the first five entries at Jesus Creed. There are three more to come and the series will be complete next week:
The Christian Post: Youth Turned Off by Religion and Politics, Turn Away From Church
... One of the most surprising findings from the data they collected, Campbell said in a March 13 interview with The Christian Post, was that people are driven away or toward religious involvement because of their political leanings. In particular, those who are politically conservative, or Republican, are more likely to become churchgoers and those that are politically liberal, or Democratic, are more likely to turn away from religion.
This is the opposite of previous understandings of the interaction of religion and politics. Social scientists believed that people first got involved in a particular religion, which then influenced their politics in some way. Increasingly, more studies like Campbell and Putnam's are finding, though, that politics is more likely to determine religion than religion determine politics.
Campbell likes to use the image of a "brand" from marketing. The Republican brand has been increasingly associated with religion and social conservatism due to the influence of the Christian Right, a social movement which has been a part of the Republican coalition since the 1980s. Moderates and Democrats are uncomfortable with that brand and seek to not be identified with it.
"A lot of what goes on in politics is not so much people thinking through political positions but it's sort of a visceral reaction you have to a brand, whether it be Republicans or Democrats," Campbell said. ...
... "Anything you might say about the general population, double it or square it when you talk about the young," Campbell said.
Since young voters are more likely to be politically liberal, especially on the issue of gay rights, they have been driven away from the church by the perception of a close association between religion and Republican politics.
To young adults, Campbell and Putnam write, "'religion' means 'Republican,' 'intolerant,' and 'homophobic.' Since those traits do not represent their views, they do not see themselves – or wish to be seen by their peers – as religious." ...
... "The reason this is important for clergy is these are not people who are lost completely to religion. It's almost like they're an untapped constituency, or untapped market, that could be brought back to a different kind of religion, or a religion that they thought was stripped of politics," Campbell argued.
There is a trend among nondenominational evangelical congregations that attract younger Christians to avoid involvement in politics. Campbell believes that the pastors of these congregations understand more intuitively what his data is showing more crudely – that young people dislike their religion mixed with politics.
And yet, it seems to me, that the vision of many in the PCUSA world is to offer a very political left version of the church as the alternative to the Christian Right. It is just a different "brand" of the uholy elevation of politics to the center of church's agenda. Stripping the church of all political reflection seems a bit too far to me, but with each passing month I'm more and more persuaded that the future lies in a church that integrates daily life with God's mission in the world, and includes people of all politcal stripes wrestling together through the issues that confront us.
Salisbury Post: Willimon: Mainline is going to be sidelined
... It’s not that people are leaving mainline churches to join these other churches. Instead, they typically drop out of church-going altogether, Willimon said. “Mainline Protestantism was the last stop.”
Why? Mainline churches “had unknowingly given people a theology of godlessness,” Willimon said.
“We adjusted so much to the culture that the line between church and Rotary seemed rather thin.”
The theology of accommodation that served well during times of cultural satisfaction has proved unsuited to the modern-day dissatisfactions people are experiencing in their jobs, family and lives, he said. They’re looking for a faith that looks at what’s wrong with the world.
The people who remain in mainline churches tend to be older, he said, and some predict a “death tsunami” will decimate the congregations. ...
(HT: Alan Bevere)
bruce reyes-chow: We’re Starting a New Presbyterian Church
... For a while now I have had an inkling that the “social media amplifies the local church” paradigm could be flipped upside-down resulting in a powerful way to be church. If this shift were to be taken seriously, some interesting questions are raised:
Well ask “What if?” no longer because the church that I am planting is going to be one that tries to answer these questions. Peering through the lens of social media, I am excited to push the bounds of traditional church formation, while maintaining all that is good about traditional church. To be clear, the online nature of this idea certainly creates great technological possibilities, but my intention is that we will build just a church like any church: one that worships, serves, studies and prays together . . . we will just happen to gather online. There will be no justifications seeking legitimacy, no quotes inferring that this is not a “real church” and no posture that we are competing for people, resources or notoriety . . . just a church. ...
... Again I know that there are many of questions that we need to address before a full launch - “What about X?” and “How will we do X?” - but I also know that only way this new church will be able to respond well is to keep widening the circle of involvement. With this in mind our first step is to gauge the interest of folks and begin to gather people for some conversations and planning. Some of you are ready to dive right in, others will want nothing to do with this craziness and still others of you will need to lurk around the edges until the time is right. However you might see yourself connected to this church that has yet to be named, as we begin to build up a spiritual community, develop organizational strategies and start being church together, you are invited to JOIN OUR FACEBOOK PAGE and FILL OUT THE SURVEY BELOW.
There is definitely more to come and I look forward to walking this journey with some of you. Please pass this along to any folks who you think might also be interested.
I'm curious about what you think.
Presbyterian Outlook: Commission advises trial period for nongeographic presbyteries
The Mid-Councils Commission advises that nongeographic presbyteries be given a trial run and that that synods be stripped of ecclesiastical authority.
The commission voted 17-1 to approve its final report to the 2012 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
That report includes eight recommendations to the assembly, among them:
- Permit non-geographic, “provisional presbyteries” as part of a “designated season of reflective experimentation” in the PC(USA). The commission calls for the season of experimentation to expire in 2021, unless a General Assembly acts to change that.
- Recommend that synods would no longer exist in the PC(USA) as councils with ecclesiastical responsibility.
To take effect, both of those changes to the PC(USA)’s Book of Order would require approval from both the General Assembly and a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries. ...
Presbyterian Outlook: Mid-Councils Commission calls for non-geographic presbyteries, movable affiliations
DALLAS – The General Assembly Mid-Councils Commission has voted 15-5 to permit non-geographic, “provisional presbyteries” as part of a “designated season of reflective experimentation” in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
That recommendation to change the denomination’s Book of Order will go to the 2012 General Assembly for approval, and would also need approval from a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries. It calls for the season of experimentation to expire in 2021, unless a General Assembly acts to change that. Before the vote, one commission member described this as an attempt by a deeply divided PC(USA) to hit the reset button, to take a chance on something new and hope it will lead to healing and innovative work in mission.
The recommendation also comes at a time when some evangelicals are thinking hard about whether they want to remain in the PC(USA), following the denomination’s vote last year to permit the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. Some have left for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and in January the Fellowship of Presbyterians created a new denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, to which some evangelical congregations already are planning to move.
The Fellowship also has been discussing ways that evangelicals can remain in the PC(USA) but “differentiate” themselves, by finding ways to work together in mission and to act in conscience on the issue of ordination standards. One way of doing that, Fellowship leaders have said, might be to join together in a non-geographic presbytery.
The proposal from the Mid-Councils Commission would allow the creation of provisional, non-geographic presbyteries “for particular missional purposes,” when requested to do so by at least 10 congregations and 10 teaching elders, and with the concurrence of the existing presbyteries (those to which the affected congregations already belong). ...
... John Vest, a teaching elder from Chicago, said the only thing the PC(USA) would be giving up by approving this would be “forced diversity based on arbitrary geography.”
Other commission members, however, lamented the price a connectional church might pay if Presbyterians affiliate only with those with whom they agree on controversial matters. ...
Presbyterian Church USA: Task Force encourages 20/20 Vision for Special Offerings
One of the challenges for the mission of the church is discerning what form and content the programmatic work of the church should have in coming days. But another critical aspect is discerning how best to raise funds to accomplish mission. Four years ago the PCUSA set up a task force to review the role of special offerings in the life of the church. After 3.5 years of intensive work, the task force, led by Karl Travis and Sarah Butter, is bringing their recommendations to the General Assembly Mission Council (in two weeks) and to the General Assembly (in June.) I've now seen a slide presentation of the task force's recommendations twice and I'm genuinely impressed and grateful for the changes they are proposing. Here is the news release summarizing the proposed changes:
Task Force encourages 20/20 Vision for Special Offerings
Recommends each Offering be adjusted to maximize impact
The Special Offerings Advisory Task Force, commissioned by the 218th General Assembly (2008), is recommending a new vision for Special Offerings -- $20 million in receipts by 2020. Seeking to tap the full potential of Special Offerings, the task force is also recommending one new offering and revisions in each of the other offerings.
The task force has engaged the most extensive review of Special Offerings since reunion in 1983. The Rev. Karl Travis, chair of the Task Force, and pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Forth Worth, TX, said, “This opportunity to review Special Offerings and provide recommendations comes at a crucial time, as the Offerings are no longer working as they once did for the church. For the past decade, Special Offerings have been in decline. We live in a time of great transformation for the church, as evidenced by the move away from regulatory structures to approaches that are uniquely customizable locally by those seeking to be faithful in their own context. The Task Force believes that similar changes are required for Special Offerings, in order to transform Special Offerings to a place of esteemed commitment by the denomination to Christ’s mission.”
The Rev. Sarah Sarchet Butter, vice-chair of the Task Force, and pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Wilmette, IL, added, “Our recommendations, we believe, strengthen Special Offerings, and are faithful to the input we heard from those we engaged. We have great hope that the recommendations, if approved, will result in increased funding for Christ’s mission, as scripture tells us, ‘without a vision, the people perish.’”
In 2010, the total amount of Special Offerings received was just under $14 million. Changes proposed by the task force include:
In addition, the Task Force recommends eliminating strict percentage allocations to GAMC programs for Special Offering receipts, choosing instead to align the Offerings topically within the strategic priorities identified by the GAMC, and approved by the General Assembly. This change allows for flexibility in using the funds based on need, but within approved priorities.
The task force undertook an extensive research process throughout their term of service. Numerous Presbyterian stakeholders in wide and diverse roles, fundraising professionals, GAMC staff, and many others were consulted and their ideas, collectively, led to the recommendations of the Task Force. Input was received from nineteen focus groups, including nearly two hundred representatives of small, mid-size, and large congregations--both from those who currently participate in Special Offerings, and those who do not.
The Task Force was commissioned to:
“Special offerings are special,” said Travis, “because they connect Presbyterians in the pew with vital Presbyterian mission in the field. Everyday Presbyterians can make, and feel, a great impact.” Butter added, “We are convinced that there is great untapped potential in these offerings.”
The members of the Special Offerings Advisory Task Force are Karl Travis, chair, Fort Worth, TX; Sarah Sarchet Butter, vice-chair, Willmette, IL; Sydney Davis, Charleston, SC; Jorge Gonzalez, Louisville, KY; Taylor Lewis Guthrie Hartman, Durham, NC; Helen Morrison, Grosse Ile, MI; and Cathy Piekarski, Marietta, OH.
The Special Offerings Advisory Task Force report will be made public on February 1, 2012. The GAMC will consider some of the recommendations at its February 2012 meeting, with the remainder to be considered by the 220th General Assembly (2012) in July.
(RNS) A list of the Episcopal Church’s 75 commissions, committees, agencies and boards spilled over eight PowerPoint slides during a recent presentation by its new chief operating officer, Bishop Stacy Sauls.
By his count, there are also nearly 50 departments and offices in the church’s New York headquarters, and 46 committees in its legislative body, the General Convention.
Sauls, who was hired by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in May, said that he has since learned there are even more offices “that I had never heard of before.”
“It has become just byzantine,” he said. “The governance structures have grown by accretion, without any strategic plan.” Nearly half of the denomination’s budget is spent on overhead, according to Sauls.
Meanwhile, Episcopal membership continues to drop, dipping below 2 million in the U.S. for the first time in decades. Donations, too, are down. It is time for change, starting at the top, Sauls said.
“We’ve been operating in a system where certain expertise resides at the churchwide level and pronouncements get sent down the pipeline,” he said. “That model is last century. It’s a radically different time now.”
Mainline Protestants’ national offices branch into every field from liturgy to gender equality to disaster relief. But as they seek to halt decades-long declines, a number of denominations are trimming their branches and tending to their roots: local congregations. ...
Good article. The General Assembly Mission Council of the PCUSA has been moving away from programmatic initiatives to focusing on inspiring, equipping, and connecting the church for ministry. The new Form of Governement lifts up the local congregation as the primary locus of ministry and the GAMC has been championing that idea for the last few years. The trajectory for the GAMC is good. I'm not as positive about the speed of change.
The Rev. Thomas W. Gillespie, a pastor, theologian and church leader of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), died Nov. 5 of complications from surgery earlier in the week. He was 83.
A native of Los Angeles, Gillespie graduated from Pepperdine University in 1951 and Princeton Theological Seminary in 1954. He earned his Ph.D. in New Testament from Claremont Graduate School of Theology in 1971. While at Princeton, he received the A.A. Hodge Prize in Systematic Theology in 1953.
Following his graduation from Princeton, Gillespie served two lengthy pulpits in California ― as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Garden Grove from 1954-1966 and as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame from 1966-1983.
Gillespie became the fifth president of Princeton Theological Seminary ― the oldest seminary in the United States ― in 1983, succeeding the Rev. James I. McCord. He served as president and professor of New Testament until his retirement in 2004.
In a message to the Princeton community, President Iain Torrance wrote: “It has been rightly said that the story of his presidency is a story of building and development — of relationships, of academic scholarship, of campus facilities, of a worshiping community, of a worldwide network of ministry. During Tom’s tenure, Princeton Seminary entered a new century, celebrated a growing and enriching diversity in its students and faculty, mourned and ministered to a nation’s national tragedy on 9/11, and contributed to theological scholarship worldwide and to the mission of the international church.”
Gillespie’s service to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was lengthy. He served as moderator of San Francisco Presbytery, as a PC(USA) delegate to the Consultation on Church Union, a member of the General Assembly’s Task Force on Biblical Authority and Interpretation, and as chair of the Standing Committee on Theological Education.
At the time of his death, Gillespie was serving on the General Assembly Mission Council and served a term as chair of its Discipleship Committee.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara; three children ― Robyn, William and Dayle; and several grandchildren.
A memorial service has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 14 at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, N.J.
It has been my privilege to get to know Tom Gillespie over the last seven years as we served together on the General Assembly Mission Council. Every so often you come across people who model qualities you hope to incorporate into your own life. Dr. Gillespie was one of those people for me. While carrying an air authoriy he was also humble and approachable. I valued his passion for pastoral theology and equipping congregants for ministry in their lives. He will be deeply missed and my prayers are with the Gillispie family as they celebrate his life and mourn his departure.
This post is to let you know that blogging will be light this week and next. The Kronicler has left the country. I arrived in Beirut yesterday. I will be in Lebanon until the weekend and in Cairo next week. I’m here with Amgad Beblawi from the PCUSA, Office for the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia. Tomorrow Charles Wiley and Roger Dermody will be joining us. We are meeting with our partner denominations, the Synod of Syria and Lebanon, and the Synod of the Nile.
Amgad and I arrived late in the afternoon and had a chance to walk by the waterfront in Beruit …
In the afternoon we drove through Sidon and went to Tyre. There we visited the ancient ruins where the Kronicler had his picture taken at the Hippodrome.
Last month I wrote a post about my initial draft of a commissioning service for occupations. (Click here.) Through the transformative skills of Martha Miller in the Office of Vocation for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., my ramblings have been formatted into a resource for Christian Vocation Sunday, September 4, 2011. The resource contains a bulletin insert, worship notes, and a model service for commissioning people to their occupations. The pdf can be found at the Office of Vocation website or you can go directly to the pdf here:
Thank you, Martha, for inviting me into this process and for your editoral improvements.
How a Bible Study of 6-8 people started in 2003 becomes the first Swahili-English speaking chartered church/congregration in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). (Source)
From Gil Rendle's Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches
For the moment it is sufficient to note that over time in a difficult environment where it has been increasingly hard to operate from strength, it is natural that our mainline denominational identity and stories have become both safe and weak. Our stories, our identities, become safe and weak because we have learned to tell only the more comfortable, less challenging parts of the stories so that we are not demoralized. Consider what happens naturally in an established congregation over time. For example, a congregation tells its story about how warm and welcoming it is to the people of the congregation and how members reach out to one another in times of need. Indeed, the story is quite often true. But this is also a safe and weak story because of what is left unsaid. Missing in this story may be the congregation’s fear of the changed community that now surrounds its building and how it tends not to welcome and naturally include neighborhood people who might join in a worship service. Because it tells only the safe and weak parts of its story in this all-too-common scenario, the congregation robs itself of a future that can come from the strength of remembering who it really is as a community of faith and what can happen in the neighborhood if members of the congregation come to terms with their discomforts and fears. Like local congregations, our mainline denominations have been held captive by the safe and weak stories they have been willing to tell themselves while there is much more that could be said. (13)
And as I read this again this week I also saw this video clip. I think it serves as parable for what Rendle is saying.
There is much dialog in the PCUSA about recent changes made to the Book of Order. For those troubled by the recent removal of the "fidelity and chasity" clause from the Constitution, essentially leaving the denomination silent on ordination of sexually active homosexuals, I think Alan Wisdom of the Institute on Religion and Democray has some good insights in his article Stay or Go?:
"... I do not see a single clear scriptural answer to how we should relate to a 21st century Protestant denomination that has ceased to uphold the biblical teaching on sexuality. There are some passages that seem to counsel separation from those who turn the Gospel into a license for sin (e.g., Ephesians 5:3-7). On the other hand, we have the example of the Apostle Paul, who never gave up on the Corinthian church even though it was plagued by all kinds of errant beliefs and behaviors. It is not so easy to take New Testament passages about the universal Church, the whole Body of Christ, and apply them directly to a modern invention—the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), established 1983—that has never been more than a sliver of the whole.
There are good reasons to remain in the PCUSA, and good reasons to leave. Those of us who are ministers, elders, or deacons freely took vows to be “governed by our church’s polity and … abide by its discipline.” When we took those vows, most of us knew that the PCUSA had serious problems. Can we now set those vows aside because the problems have grown worse?
The deletion of the “fidelity and chastity” standard from the Book of Order does not, so far, compel any of us to violate our conscience. If we believe that standard reflects the teaching of Scripture—a higher authority than the Book of Order—then we can and must continue to hold ourselves accountable to it. Nothing stops us from obeying it in our churches and presbyteries. Nothing forces us to call a minister or elect an elder involved in a non-marital sexual relationship. That situation may change in the future, as revisionists demand as a matter of “justice” that prospective ministers be willing to ordain and marry those in same-sex relationships. But we have not yet reached that pass.
In the meantime, the PCUSA provides a wide space for faithful believers to proclaim and live out the Gospel. ..."
Labor Day is a timewhen some congregations lift up the importance work. In recent years, the Presbtyerian Church, USA, Office of Vocation, has invited seminarians to develop resource materials that congregations might use with this event.This year they are doing something a little different.
Earlier this year, Martha Miller, in the Office of Vocation, and I met and she learned of my passion about the area of vocation. I was asked what I, an elder, might create for such an event and would I be willing to take on this project. I jumped at the chance.
I've answered this project in two parts. The first is a short essay distinguishing human vocation from Christian vocation. The second part is a liturgy for commissioning people to the work they do in daily life. The draft below shows you what I've come up with so far.
What do you think? What changes would you make? Are their hymns/songs you would suggest? Are there any selections from the Book of Confessions you can think of that would work?
The idea is that this liturgy will give people a starting point for putting together their own service. It will hopefully help congregations begin to think seriously about human vocation. I'm not saying any or all suggestions will be incorporated but your input would be welcomed. While this is for a PCUSA context, input from non-PCUSA readers is certainly welcomed as well.
Commissioning Service for Human Vocation
Human vocation involves much more than our occupation. Yet for many, our occupation is a significant on-going expression of human vocation that fills our days. The commissioning service gives public recognition of a call an individual has answered and sends that individual with the support of the worshiping community to fulfill that call.
Few people have experienced a commissioning service for human vocation. It might be desirable to spend a season preparing the congregation for such an event before inviting people to be commissioned. (It is possible that much of the congregation will want to be commissioned the first time this is done. Adjustments need to be made to the liturgy accordingly.) Once such a service has been held, it might be appropriate to schedule an annual (or more frequent) service in which previously noncommissioned people may participate or those who have changed jobs in the intervening period may be recommisioned.
Commissioning is typically done within the context of the service for the Lord’s Day, although the liturgy may be used alone. When done as part of the Lord’s Day service, commissioning should follow the sermon and precede the Lord’s Supper.
Sermon passages might include:
The emphasis should be on seeing all of work as part of God’s mission. While it is certainly appropriate to lift examples from the “helping professions” (ex. education, social service, health care) as part of God’s work in the world, it is important to lift examples of laborers, service workers, businesspeople and professionals. Ideally, Illustrations will emphasize how specific work connects with directly with God’s mission in the world (versus, say, seeing work primarily as means to earn money to give to missions.)
Suggested hymns and Songs (Numbers are for the Presbyterian Hymnal):
When it comes to the time of commissioning, the Minister, the people to be commissioned, and any others invited to be a part of the ceremony should gather at the front, possibly at the baptismal font.
Commissioning Liturgy for Human Vocation
Sentences of Scripture
The minister addresses all present:
[Leader] I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
[People] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.
[Leader] Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."
[People] So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
[Unison] God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
Call to Service
The minister continues:
[Leader] We are called by God
to be the church of Jesus Christ,
a sign in the world today
of what God intends for all humankind
[People] The great ends of the church are
the proclamation of the gospel
for the salvation of humankind;
the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship
of the children of God;
the maintenance of divine worship;
the preservation of the truth;
the promotion of social righteousness;
And the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven
to the world.
The minister continues:
We are created in the image of God.
We have been called by God,
to serve as stewards of God’s resources
and to live as tenants upon God’s land.
We have been called to bring all creation and humanity
to flourishing fullness.
We have been gathered by Christ
into communities of discipleship,
and sent in mission,
praying and working for the reconciliation
of all things and all people
to God through Christ by the power of the Spirit.
The minister or other appropriate people shall relate the form(s) of service to which persons are being commissioned.
Those being commissioned may express their hope in accepting the call and commission, and give testimony as to how they came to their call.
The minister addresses those being commissioned:
the grace bestowed upon you in baptism
is sufficient for your calling.
By God’s grace we are saved,
and enabled to grow in the faith
and to commit our lives in ways that serve Christ.
God has called you to particular service.
Show your purpose by answering these questions.
Do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? I do.
Do you sincerely embrace the teaching that that the triune God was in the beginning creating the world, that God is at work sustaining the created order, that God is Lord over all creation and that we are called to be stewards of God’s resources and tenants upon God’s land? I do.
Will you as God’s image-bearer, answer the call to exercise godly dominion over creation and to pursue the shalom of the world, bringing all creation and all humanity to flourishing fullness? I will, with God’s help.
Will you bring the reconciling and redemptive work of Christ into your occupation, seeking the transformation of your particular sphere of work into that which gives honor to Christ and witness to his coming reign? I will, with God’s help.
Will you encourage, support, and pray for your sisters and brothers in Christ as they undertake this mission in their own lives? I will, with God’s help.
Will you, in all your work, serve with energy, intelligence, imagination and love, not as one working for human favor, but as one offering daily worship to God? I will, with God’s help.
The minister addresses all present:
Do you the members of [Name] Church,
confirm the call of God to our brothers/sisters [Name(s)]
as __________ in service to Jesus Christ? We do.
Will you support and encourage them in this ministry? We will.
in baptism you claimed us;
And by your Holy Spirit you are working in our lives,
empowering us to live a life worthy of our callings.
We thank you for leading [Name(s)] to this time and place.
Establish them in your truth,
and guide them by your Holy Spirit,
that in your service they may grow,
as faithful agents exercising stewardship over all creation
pursing the reconciliation of all things and all people.
To the Father, the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
be all honor and glory,
both In the creation that is now
and in the new creation that is to come.
[Name(s)], your are now commissioned to service as ________.
Whatever you do, in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God through him.
May the God of Peace
make you holy in every way,
and keep your whole being,
spirit, soul, and body,
free from every fault
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Los Angeles Times: Shifting sands of religion and politics
Americans tolerate a broader array of religious affiliations in their politicians.
... Of the 44 U.S. presidents, all but a handful have been affiliated with a relatively narrow list of traditional Protestant denominations.
Eleven were Episcopalians (12 if you count Thomas Jefferson, whose adult beliefs are a subject of debate), eight were Presbyterians, four were Methodists and four were Baptists. Others included Congregationalists, Dutch Reformed and Disciples of Christ. ...
... But among the leading candidates for this year's Republican presidential nomination, not one is a member of the Protestant denominations that for so long have dominated American political culture.
Two of the potential candidates are Mormons (former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.); one is a member of an interdenominational evangelical church (former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty); two others are Catholics (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum). Rep. Michele Bachmann, who says she's considering the race, worships at an evangelical Lutheran church; if elected, she'd be the first Lutheran president.
But no matter who wins from this list, it won't be an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian or a Methodist.
The denominational diversity of the GOP field reflects a trend that has been building for half a century: the decline of the "mainline" churches' size and influence. Among Protestants, evangelical congregations have taken off, and the old mainline denominations have been shrinking. ...
Presbyteryian News Service: Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have approved a new Form of Government
While the Office of the General Assembly awaits official tallies, it appears that a majority of the 173 presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have approved a new Form of Government.
At its meeting on Tuesday, June 7, 2011, Trinity Presbytery became the 87th presbytery to approve an amendment that will replace the current 18-chapter Form of Government with a new version that is six chapters in length. The Form of Government is one section of the Book of Order, which is part of the PC(USA) Constitution.
Along with the new Form of Government will be a new section of the Book of Order entitled “Principles of Presbyterian Polity,” which contains a large majority of the content of the first four chapters of the current Form of Government.
The proposed new Form of Government (FOG) was approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the PC(USA). Two years earlier, a proposed revision had been presented to the 218th General Assembly (2008) by the FOG Task Force. That assembly reconstituted the task force and asked it to present a revised version to the 219th GA based on the feedback received at the 218th GA.
This is the first full revision of the Form of Government since the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America reunited to form the PC(USA). The current Form of Government had been amended over 300 times since reunion in 1983.
The new Form of Government will take effect July 10, 2011, one year after the adjournment of last summer’s assembly. It is anticipated that the transition from the current to the new FOG will take time.
In response to the vote, denominational leaders issued a letter to all congregations of the PC(USA). In it, they write, “While the new Form of Government will help the PC(USA) to be a faithful and responsive church in the 21st century, it also has a dimension of bringing us back to a truly constitutional document that contains broad governing and theological principles and emphasizes function over structure.”
The letter continues, “Many Presbyterians will see nothing suddenly or dramatically different with a new Form of Government. Worship services will go on as usual, and congregations will continue to teach the faith, serve their communities, reach out to those in need, and work to further God’s realm on earth. However, what will be different is that congregations, presbyteries, and synods will have the opportunity to tailor mission and ministry to fit their own particular contexts and challenges.”
Resources and guides about the new FOG, including “Frequently Asked Questions,” are available at Form of Government webpage.
The full text of the churchwide letter:
To congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
While it is not official until the Office of the General Assembly receives notification from presbyteries that have voted, it appears that, as of June 7, 2011, the proposed new Form of Government (FOG) has been approved by a majority of our 173 presbyteries.
The new FOG will replace the current version within the Book of Order of the church’s Constitution on July 10, 2011, one year after the adjournment of the 219th General Assembly (2010). The print edition of the new Book of Order will be available by late July.
The new Form of Government at its core
A new section, Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, which contains the vast majority of the first four chapters of the current FOG, will also be added to the beginning of the Book of Order. Within it are these words:
In the power of the Spirit, Jesus Christ draws worshiping communities and individual believers into the sovereign activity of the triune God at all times and places. As the Church seeks reform and fresh direction, it looks to Jesus Christ who goes ahead of us and calls us to follow him. (F-1.0401)
The foundational message of the saving love of God through Jesus Christ is timeless. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). And yet, when the Spirit has moved the church to respond to “the sovereign activity of the triune God,” the church has, in turn, worked to reshape itself to do so effectively.
While the new Form of Government will help the PC(USA) to be a faithful and responsive church in the 21st century, it also has a dimension of bringing us back to a truly constitutional document that contains broad governing and theological principles and emphasizes function over structure.
What will change?
Many Presbyterians will see nothing suddenly or dramatically different with a new Form of Government. Worship services will go on as usual, and congregations will continue to teach the faith, serve their communities, reach out to those in need, and work to further God’s realm on earth. However, what will be different is that congregations, presbyteries, and synods will have the opportunity to tailor mission and ministry to fit their own particular contexts and challenges.
The new FOG will also usher in changes in terminology. For example, ministers of the Word and Sacrament will be known as teaching elders, partnering in ministry with ruling elders who serve on the congregation’s council (session).
It is a season of much change in the church, and change is often accompanied by anxiety. Making the transition from the current Form of Government to the new one will take time, patience, and grace. We will all be living gradually into these new dimensions of the church’s governance. We commend to you the resources and guides at the Form of Government webpage for assistance, including the “Frequently Asked Questions” document that accompanies this letter. Further resources will be made available over the course of the summer to help with this transition.
The best resources through this transition, however, will be each other. A new Form of Government puts all of us on the same page, as it were. Through conversation, cooperation, and collaboration, we will discover the most effective ways to move forward into this new and exciting chapter of the life of the church.
In the end, as affirmed in the Confession of 1967, “The church … orders its life as an institution with a constitution, government, officers, finances, and administrative rules. These are instruments of mission, not ends in themselves” (9.40). The mission remains the same: to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed, and to work for the reconciliation of the world. With God’s help, may this new Form of Government enable us to be ever more faithful to that mission.
Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010)
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Executive Director, General Assembly Mission Council
Vice Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010)
On balance, I think the merits of the new FOG outweigh the problems. I'm pleased it passed.
I understand that not all are pleased with the document. Some dismissively say that nFOG will not save our denomination. I'm not aware of anyone who has said it will. To use a football analogy, it is like saying that a play that will give you first down from your 2o yardline is irrelevant because it doesn't score a touchdown. The nFOG is one step in a positive direction.
Personally, I thrilled about the return to the language of teaching and ruling elders. Now if we can just get rid of the clergy vs laity lingo. The people of God are the clergy. Elders are the shepherds to God's clergy. But that's another battle.
I'll also add this bit of analysis. Comparing nFOG votes to 10A votes, I get the following count:
That suggests to me the nFOG did not divide along typical conservative vs liberal camps.
Moderator Cynthia Bolbach: Calling all elders
“I’m just an elder.”
Have you heard someone say that? Have you said it yourself? Maybe in response to being asked to lead worship, or preach, or visit someone in the hospital?
“No,” you reply, “I couldn’t do that. I’m just an elder. Those are things the pastor does.”
Our Presbyterian polity doesn’t recognize the statement, “I’m just an elder.” In our polity, ruling elders and teaching elders (also known as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament) share equally in the governance and spiritual leadership of the church. Our calls to ministry encompass different functions and tasks, but we are called equally to ministry and to leadership in the church.
For too long the ministry of ruling elder has been diminished, equated with serving on a non-profit board of directors. Yes, the session does perform tasks like hiring nursery attendants and deciding whether the amount of insurance coverage is adequate. But that is not the primary task of the session or of the ruling elders who serve on it. ...
Nice column ... and I'll be at the Big Tent at the Elders Conference.
For an extensive list of responses to these developments go here.
Personally, I don't have much to say that hasn't already been said. I think the moderator's message is perfect.
StarTribune: Presbyterians to allow gay ministers
...Twin Cities Presbyterians cast a historic vote on Tuesday to allow openly gay and lesbian members to be ordained ministers.
Presbyterian leaders say the Twin Cities vote of 205 to 56 was the final action needed to end the 2.1 million-member denomination's national ban on gay clergy. A majority of the 173 U.S. presbyteries had to vote in favor of the new policy adopted last summer at the group's national assembly. The Twin Cities Presbytery happened to cast the 87th, and deciding, vote.
"It's very exciting," said the Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian in downtown Minneapolis and founder of advocacy group Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which supports the ordination of openly gay clergy. "I found myself welling up with tears. Up until now they've had to be closeted. Now they'll be able to come out. It will honor them as individuals and as full human beings like anyone else serving the church."
Hart-Anderson spoke in favor of the change was among the 264 elders and ministers within the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, who cast votes at Peace Presbyterian Church Tuesday afternoon. Three voters abstained.
During the meeting, supporters and opponents of the change spoke to the assembled voters.
"It's very unfortunate we have to have this discussion today," said Peter Hwang, a member of the Korean Presbyterian Church. "I think we should be ashamed of ourselves. This homosexual issue is breaking our church. We need to abide by Scripture."
The denomination, based in Louisville, Ky., is the latest mainline Protestant group to move toward accepting same-gender relationships. ...
Technically, the change does not take affect until July on the one year anniversary for the end of the 2010 Assembly. Theoretically, presbyteries could reconsider and change their votes between now and then. But for practical puproses, the change has occurred.
What this means at this point is that the denomination takes no position on the issue. It is up to presbyteries to decide about ordination of pastors, and sessions about ordination of elders and deacons, on a case-by-case basis.
Harvard Business Review: Business Models Aren't Just For Business
... One epiphany from my immersion into the non-private sector is how strenuously social sector organizations resist the notion they have a "business model." Non-profits, government agencies, social enterprises, schools, and NGOs consistently proclaim that they aren't businesses, and therefore business rules don't apply.
Well, I'm sorry to break the news, but if an organization has a viable way to create, deliver, and capture value, it has a business model. It doesn't matter whether an organization is in the public or private sector. It doesn't matter if it's a non-profit or a for-profit enterprise [or might I add, church]. All organizations have a business model. Non-profit corporations may not be providing a financial return to investors or owners, but they still capture value to finance activities with contributions, grants, and service revenue. Social enterprises may be mission-driven, focused on delivering social impact versus a financial return on investment, but they still need a sustainable model to scale. Government agencies are financed by taxes, fees, and service revenue, but are still accountable to deliver citizen value at scale.
The idea that business models are just for business is just wrong. Any organization that wants to be relevant, to deliver value at scale, and to sustain itself must clearly articulate and evolve its business model. And if an organization doesn't have a sustainable business model, its days are numbered.
It may be, however, that the model is implicit rather than explicit. ...
Last week in Lousiville at the General Assembly Mission Council meeting we heard a fascinating presentation from Eileen Lindner that gave a statistical overview of the trends in the church, particularly as it relates to middle judicatories (or middle governing bodies). Lindner is Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning of the National Council of Churches USA and editor of the NCC's annual Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches. My friend and fellow General Assembly Mission Council member, executive presbyter of San Diego Presbytery, has a done an excellent summary of her remarks:
There are six main factors in the decline of denominations in the last 50 years: ...
Middle Governing Bodies (MGBs) (presbyteries and synods) face STRESS factors from ABOVE: ...
Middle Governing Bodies (MGBs) (presbyteries and synods) also face STRESS factors from BELOW: ...
The question of ‘what does it mean to be a denomination?’ is changing rapidly
5 Emerging Aspects of Church Institutional Life ...
Check out Clark's synoposis at Insights Into the American Church.
There is presently a Special Offerings Advisory Task Force (SOATF) reviewing the role of special offerings in the life of the denomination. The SOATF made a presentation at the General Assembly Mission Council meeting last week and engaged the members of the General Assembly Mission Council in a focus group exercise. Special funds made up almost 20% of the GAMC's revevnue in 2009. The chart below was a focal point of the discussion. You can find more detail about the special offerings in the special funds annual report.
At last week's General Assembly Mission Council Meeting we saw a report on call trends in the PCUSA. Here are two graphs from the report.
In one discussion, Bill Carl, President of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, said that an increasing number of graduates are not looking for a call to an exsiting congregation. Instead, they are going out and gathering people together in communties for study, nurture, and worship. Many of these communities may not be what we typically envision as a PCUSA congregation. I don't know how to quanitfy his observations but clearly major shifts are emerging in how calls and congregational formation take place.
Our seminaries are dying and the Master of Divinity degree has been discredited. Will we make the necessary changes to better prepare leaders for the Church, or will we limp and wander into the future?
Our seminaries are dying and the Master of Divinity degree has been discredited.
Bishops and other church leaders once believed both were essential to effective ministry, but today they are considered one of several routes to ordination and an increasing number of church leaders are arguing that attending seminary may actually be detrimental to the process they once considered the gold standard.
A large number of the mainline seminaries are selling their buildings and property, cutting faculty, and eliminating degree programs. Those that are not, are competing for a shrinking pool of prospective students and rely on scholarships and lower academic standards to attract the students that they do have.
There are countless reasons for the crisis, some of them as old as the professional preparation of clergy itself.
In the quest for academic respectability, seminaries have not always remembered that preparing clergy was the mission and lifeblood of their institutional life. Some have focused on preparing scholars, which though essential, is secondary to its primary ministry of preparing new generations of spiritual leaders. Some have prepared students who lacked the practical skills to effectively lead a congregation. Others have produced students who were so poorly grounded in the Christian faith that they lacked the necessary spiritual formation to be effective. ...
A lengthy but interesting article. He gives his own prescription at the end. What do you think?
What does ministry look like for my congregation in our changing context? Congregations across the PCUSA are asking the same question. I spent two days earlier this week in Indianapolis at the “Next” conference where Presbyterians explored this question together. My seven years of service on the General Assembly Mission Council has been dominated by questions about the future of joint ministry done at denominational and regional levels in partnership with congregations. Where do we begin?
My presbytery, Heartland Presbytery, has begun by contracting with the Vital Churches Institute to participate in The Acts 16:5 Initiative. Several congregations have formed teams consisting of a pastor and up to six congregational members who enter a three year discernment and transformation process. Some of the participating congregations are growing in number with healthy budgets, some are struggling to survive, most are somewhere in between. The idea is for these congregations to work as a cohort with the Vital Churches Institute periodically returning to coach them. The Institute is presently working with more than thirty presbyteries (as I recall) in a similar capacity.
We had the kickoff event for The Acts 16:5 Initiative last month. The two day event was in three modules intended to awaken congregations to present realities, to heighten expectations for their future, and to help set congregations on a path of continual discernment and refinement of vision. (And, no, we aren’t talking about a “vision statement” being the ultimate culmination of our work.) The final session of the event offered a menu of first steps, small and practical, that congregations might immediately take toward transforming life together. Their central theme is that “We must be the people of God before we do the work of the people of God.” Later consultations take the cohort deeper. I’m not going to recount all they presented but here are three interesting pieces I really appreciated.
First, if you’ve read much about church transformation, you’ve seen some variation of the bell curve graph that depicts the church life cycle, starting with growth, leading to stability, and ending with decline. Here it was called incline, recline, and decline. (While this frequently gets reduced to simple numbers, each stage is about more than just congregational size.) There is nothing inevitable about the cycle. Congregations in recline or decline can find a J-Curve that sets them on a new incline. Churches already on an incline can extend the incline.
Stan Ott, the Institute’s founder, suggested that we tend to use this model to look at the congregation only as an aggregate when in fact congregations exist as cells of members (like youth group, Presbyterian Women, deacons, etc.) We need to look at segments of the congregation in terms of the curve. Some cells may be quite vibrant while others may be seriously struggling. What is needed for each cell? What cells need to be let go? What cells need to be birthed? It is the combination of these cells that adds up to the aggregate picture.
Second, we were presented with a diagram of three overlapping circles that represent the three dimensions of the church:
They are inseparable, yet conceptually distinct, dimensions. We are doing all three when gathered and doing all three when dispersed. As I listen to many pundits speak on the need for change, I usually hear one or two of these dimensions being lifted up to the diminution of the others. This is a helpful construct for avoiding that mistake.
Third, their was diagram that showed a “Spectrum of Ministry and Mission.” It begins with big circles that shrink down to the individual and then expand again at the other end of the spectrum. The first three are the “Church Gathered” and the last three are the “Church Scattered”:
I find this a helpful construct for thinking about the various types of ministry we do.
As someone who has read tons on congregational transformation and seen many models come and go, and as someone who spent almost a decade working for transformation in a congregation that finally dissolved, and as someone who has consulted and participated with other struggling congregations, I come with some skepticism toward transformational programs. My impression is that Vital Churches has incorporated the best of what has been learned from previous transformational efforts. I think a key piece they offer that fills a critical gap in other processes is the development of a cohort of congregations who go through the process together with periodic input by a coach over an extended period.
I’m looking forward to serving on our congregation’s team and seeing how this all unfolds. You can learn more about The Acts 16:5 Initiative here. You can also find out more about denominational resources at The Office of Evangelism and Church Growth and at Presbygrow.
Thinking Praying Living: Though none go with me
... I increasingly believe that many of the struggles we face as a denomination are the aftershocks of our dislocation from the center of American culture. Many Presbyterians have been so used to the congruence between middle class white American culture and the Presbyterian Church that our movement away from the center is extremely disorienting. This disorientation causes deep confusion about identity and mission. We are no longer the chaplain to the culture. ...
... We have to find what God is calling us to when we’re no longer important. For many Presbyterians, this reality is painful and unwelcome. But it can also bring us to a more faithful clarity about identity and mission. Free from the expectations to of the past, we may be able to follow Jesus more closely.
The other night as I rested uneasily in bed, the words of a Gospel song my Holiness missionary parents taught me as a young child kept flitting through my head, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” The second verse stuck in my head,
Though none go with me,
still I will follow.
Though none go with me,
still I will follow.
No turning back,
no turning back. ...
Good stuff, Charles. That song was common in my Holiness origins as well. Maybe Presbyterians need to learn some of those old Holiness favorites. ;-)