I spent two days this past week hanging out with a group of Presbyterian pastors and leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Six Agencies (Board of Pensions, Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program, Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation). Various leaders from each of the agencies, including Gradye Parsons and Linda Valentine met with us as we discussed topics like the nature of church, and what leadership looks like for a church that is rapidly changing.
We met together over the course of the days and were able to discuss our hopes and concerns for the church. The leaders from the Six Agencies were present to simply listen to our thoughts and answer questions that we had. I will say that a number of us had some opportunities for conversation with the two Board of Pensions representatives present, and thought I don’t know that it made any difference, I will say that they did listen to us and hear our concerns about the proposed “Dues Plus” plan that they will be voting on next month. I’m not a numbers person and don’t know what the Board should do (others are much smarter than me in those matters: check out No Dues Plus and A Proposal by Presbyleaks). But I am hoping that they rethink the current proposed plan, because I know that will have a drastic effect on so many of our smaller churches (including mine), and on ministers with families whose partners don’t work.
We met for Word Cafe style conversations and brainstormed about the Church’s Call in the 21st Century and what leadership qualities might be necessary for such a church. We also met to “ideate” and brainstorm about dreams for the church, assuming money was no issue. This exercise was both inspiring to me because of all the amazingly creative ideas people shared, and frustrating because the reality of so many of our situations is that there is no money, or money is extremely tight. I know that living with this mindset is giving into the myth of scarcity, when I should be living into the truth of abundance…that is something I struggle with, I’ll admit.
But it was a hope-filled gathering. As with any event like this or Continuing Education event, some of the best conversations happened in between our scheduled sessions, or while sitting around the hotel bar on our second Maker’s Mark on the rocks. I didn’t walk away with all the answers, but I was encouraged by the number of people I met who are serving God faithfully, doing creative ministry and working on finding ways to bring God’s peace to this world.
I was also able to meet a few people with whom I’ve only known in the “virtual” world up until this gathering. And because of our connections over social media (and the constant barrage of cute photos I share of Caleb), we felt like it was just running into an old friend and we were able to jump right into the friendship, even though it was the first time we’d met. Once again, those who claim that online community isn’t real community…nope. You’re wrong.
As I was traveling home from Baltimore to Ashland, I was reminded of the blog post I wrote a few weeks ago called Hope for the Church: “I’m Not Dead…!” I closed that post with the following statement:
And my hope for the next few days is none of us would suffer from a failure of imagination. But that we would feel that this is a safe place where we can let our imaginations run wild…and trust that God is at work through all of that.
I think that’s what happened in Baltimore. And I can honestly say that everyone there, from the pastors, to the ruling elders, to the leaders of the denomination…at least for a moment, we all were able to let our imaginations run wild. At least for those few days together, we did not suffer from a failure of imagination.
Finally – one of the moments that will stick with me was during our last session together, when Shawna Bowman made a very poignant remark.
“We keep arguing about whether or not to change when that really isn’t the choice before us. The choice is how we are to live into that change.”
Isn’t that the truth? We don’t have an option whether or not we change. It’s similar to the question of pluralism. Some people argue whether or not we should be engaging pluralism. But that isn’t really a question. We live in a pluralist country, a place where we exist together with people from all sorts of different religions. The question is HOW we will engage each other. The question isn’t whether we’ll change or not. It’s how we live into that. It’s whether we decide to embrace the change and live into that fully.
If you’re interested, you can read another reflection on our gathering by Dawn Martin Hyde, one of the friends I first met at this event. We also used the hashtag #salic13 (I came up with this incredibly boring hashtag, as opposed to Shawna’s better suggestion of #thebigsix. It stood for the Six Agency Leadership Initiative Consultation), so you could search Twitter for that. Finally, I created a Storify of the tweets and blog posts from the event, and you can check that out here.