A report to the Session of Monument Presbyterian Church
On the Meeting of the Presbytery of Western Colorado
Durango, Colorado, September 27 and 28
From: Steve Gammill, Elder Commissioner
This past weekend, September 27 and 28, our Presbytery held its fall meeting. It was held in Durango, one of the garden spots in Western Colorado. As I write this report, I am moved to say this was one of the best presbytery meetings I’ve attended and it is especially meaningful when coupled with the past three years’ worth of presbytery meetings, each of which was also “one of the best” I can remember.
Time was that presbytery meetings were all about business, some quite important and much little more than routinely reciting or reading dry reports that most didn’t cared about. But it was our tradition to “do” presbytery that way. On the one hand, much of our tradition is not to be laughed off or lightly discarded. But some is.
About four years ago, maybe three, the Presbytery of Western Colorado determined to try to return to what we as a presbytery should be about: helping our member church congregations both collectively and individually to connect with each other and to share our hearts, minds and skills with each other as we pursue the only thing we are really about — furthering the Kingdom of God, at least in this little corner of the world. A committee was formed. Of course!!
That, fortunately, became the primary motivation. The original primary mover and shaker was the looming probability of losing a major source of funding. There were a number of reasons for that likelihood and our own Presbytery’s situation was made worse because our executive presbyter would be retiring and we’d likely lack the money to replace him. We were facing a myriad of questions all of which were made worse by the impending lack of money. But as I say, it wasn’t long before our primary motivation shifted dramatically. As we polled members of the Presbytery, it turned out people wanted to focus on something different.
Over the course of the next three years, the Presbytery met, and met again, and again. Each time the gathering would break into small groups of individuals to discuss what our hopes and dreams were for this Presbytery and even as elementary as what we Presbyterians should want from any presbytery. The result of all of that discernment and discussion was the restructuring of the Presbytery into three separate, yet joined and collaborating, groups called Clusters. We have the Northern Cluster, the Central Cluster and the Southern Cluster. Each is led by two elected Cluster Leaders. The Clusters meet independently of the Presbytery as a whole. Each is required to meet once a year and encouraged to meet much oftener both to review Presbytery “business” and to fellowship and dream together. Where is God leading us? What would we like to be about in order to further the Kingdom?
That’s some background. The Presbytery Council met recently and apparently decided to experiment further in restructuring. This time, it said, “let’s look at how we actually ‘do Presbytery’ at our gatherings.” Currently, the Presbytery meets together, not in Clusters, twice each year. Is there a way to streamline the meetings, still complete essential business yet spend significant time in small groups and listening to plenary presentations that actually present tasty meat? As one of our leaders, Alan Gibson, put it, “can you sit in your Session meeting and tell your fellow members that you can positively guarantee to each one of them that if they attend a Presbytery meeting, they will each experience a time that will move and compel them to return to the next meeting and the next….”
Of course, I hope Alan will forgive my badly misquoting him, but you get my drift.
At this past meeting we spent three different sessions listening to three different speakers on the broad topic of “Maintenance or Mission?” After two of the sessions, we broke into small groups of between 4 and 8 people to explore the question of should our meetings be just about maintaining our traditional way of conducting them or should they speak to our mission as we perceive it.
To give a glimpse of the new look, here are a couple of examples that come quickly to mind, one by Tom Hansen and one by Alan Gibson.
During his plenary, Tom asked us to be silent and contemplative for two to three minutes and think first of a specific blessing we had received at some point that still stands out, and to identify the person who gave us that blessing. Secondly, think of a blessing we have given to someone else, again one that stands out. At the end of the silence, those of us who wanted to could tell the story in one or two sentences. Can you see how that could be thought of as focusing on our mission and not on maintaining our way of “doing?”
Alan, during his time, told a story which also serves well as a metaphor.
One morning when he was living in the South, he awoke to find a small sink hole in his front yard. This was in a part of the country where that was an occasional happening and one to be concerned about. Over a short while, he could observe it growing and eating up more of his front yard. There were, of course, his children living there who played in that yard. An obvious solution popped into his head. Go find dirt. Lots of it. Wheelbarrows full of it, and shovel that dirt, one shovel-full at a time, into the hole. Go find more dirt and keep up the shoveling until that hole has filled up. Then it’s fixed, but perhaps only until the hole reappears. But the yard is at least maintained.
Or, Alan could think about his real mission. That of protecting his children and find a way to permanently fix the hole. He chose the latter and gave us a fairly detailed description of all that he ended up doing. But it was “Mission.” It was not just “Maintenance.”
What a breath of fresh air! Of course we conducted business in somewhat of our traditional way. First Presbyterian of Grand Junction asked for permission to have the Presbytery guarantee an expansion loan. The presentation of that request took probably twice as long as it took us to vote in favor of the request. That is a far cry from how that topic would have been “beaten to death” previously. To say nothing of how we all would have felt about those brothers and sisters that disagreed with our own ingrained position. Are those days gone? Not entirely—and that’s a good thing. But those types of discussion and debates can be reserved for matters and times that individuals may consider important enough. We obviously prefer spending time in discussion about ourselves, our congregations and our Presbytery.
And, just as necessary, we listened to a few reports from committees—but a rare few. There was a note prominently positioned on the agenda, “It is anticipated that any verbal reports will be brief since committees have been asked to provide written reports (including motions).”
Maybe it’s because we have a smaller presbytery and already enjoy relationships with each other. Maybe larger bodies couldn’t make this work. That’s hogwash! It might drive a discussion about the viability of clusters, but size is irrelevant to what actually goes on during the meeting. The old way can be improved. It’s transition time.
As I understand it, the next general meeting of the Presbytery of Western Colorado will have a similar format. I heard the word “thematic” used frequently in regard to how we might like to see our meetings in the future.
You could do yourself and your relationships within the body of Christ well to make it a point to attend your cluster’s next meeting and the next meeting of our Presbytery. Should I guarantee that you just might have a moving and compelling experience?