The Presbytery Council, Teams and full Presbytery (when in stated meetings) have been hard at work on our transitional process. Here are some updates that are a little bit longer than my usual e-news article, but important information for all in the Presbytery who are interested in our transitional work thus far:
Presbytery Meetings: At our January and March Presbytery meetings, we spent a chunk of time broken up into small groups for transitional and visioning conversations. In January we asked for feedback about our current goals as a Presbytery: missional living, congregational vitality and healthy relationship In March we returned to these same small groups and invited another two questions for conversation and reflection focusing on the idea of preferred future–what are biblical stories of God’s preferred future that we find in the biblical narrative and what do we see as God’s preferred future for Albany Presbytery. At that meeting I read a quote from theologian David Lose who writes about preferred future: “Nor is it just any future any more than it is any destination. There are lots of possible futures a community may strive toward…Which future is most life-giving? Which aligns most clearly with the purpose and gifts of the community? Which makes sense in relation to the community’s past, even while it stretches the community in new ways? Which future, if we may be so bold, do we believe God is calling us toward if we are to live into the promise God holds for each and all of us?” The feedback that was provided at these two Presbytery meetings has been a part of the Council’s conversations over the last few months as they have worked on plans for the Presbytery.
Council: The Council continues to meet monthly, working on various aspects of transitional planning. In January we shared with the Presbytery a planning document about our goals, values and biblical/theological commitments for transitional planning for the Presbytery. Between our March and April meetings the Council was invited to work on a grid of transitional tasks and reflect on our biblical and theological rationales. Out of this came a document listing these ideas/tasks. A small group has worked between the April and May Council meetings to refine these tasks into a draft workplan. At its May meeting the Council will put together a planning document to take us through the end of 2016 with specific tasks, timelines and projects that draws all of the above pieces of transitional planning and visioning together. The Council is seeking a planning process that is open and interactive with all parts of the Presbytery.
Committees and Teams: A few teams of Council have already been set off on specific tasks: the Personnel Committee is polling other similarly sized and innovative Presbyteries around the denomination about how they handle staffing. The SMI Committee and Trustees are working together on learning more about budget and financial projections. The COM has had one retreat in January to learn about 21st Century models for ministry. Before and after the Silver Bay Retreat the COM and then SMI, Trustees and Personnel have scheduled mini-retreats for specific learning tasks related to transitional planning. It is the goal that all teams and committees of Presbytery will spend 50% of their meeting time on transitional planning and vision work and the other 50% on usual business during 2015 and 2016.
Vision Team: The Council has invited the following six persons to work alongside the whole Presbytery and serve as our Vision Team. This group will take a “balcony view” at all of the transitional work as it happens, ask questions, help lead and plan opportunities for feedback and learning and offer its insights. We welcome to the Vision Team: Rev. Ali Trowbridge, pastor at Caldwell/Lake George, Rev. Jim Reisner, pastor at Westminster/Albany, Rev. Linda Martin pastor at Broadalbin, Rev. Michael Plank pastor at Hudson Falls and leader of the Unity-Cross Fit NWC, Kaitlyn Tebordo Wood, elder at Cohoes and Cynthia Woolover, elder at Westminster/Albany and longtime researcher with PC(USA) research services and co-author of the Parish Paper.
I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church: This book is being read around the Presbytery. Tim Coombs is leading learning communities around the Presbytery and using it for their reflection. The COM is spending time discussing their learning from it at each meeting. As I travel around the larger Presbytery I am hearing that an increasing number of sessions and pastors are also digging into this small but useful book that is about the why of what we are about. The author, Paul Nixon, offers six frameworks that are choices of how we live into the future for sustainable ministry: (1) Choosing Life over Death, (2) Choosing Community over Isolation, (3) Choosing Fun over Drudgery, (4) Choosing Bold over Mild, (5) Choosing Frontier over Fortress and (6) Choosing Now Rather than Later.
Silver Bay: Our all-Presbytery retreat June 1-2 at Silver Bay will provide our next opportunity to gather and learn together. This retreat is not just for commissioners but for everyone in the full Presbytery. We will explore various models of congregational ministry and renewal with Rev. Jan Edmiston who is coming to us from Chicago Presbytery.. Rev. Dr. J Herbert Nelson, director of the Office of Public Witness for the PC(U.S.A.) will lead us in worship, reflection and renewal around the call of Jesus to a future-oriented church. I expect our time together to be part spiritual revival and part learning as we dig deeper into conversations about transition and change. We will enjoy each other’s company and fellowship, make new connections and renew our conversations with each other. Please bring a team from your congregation, not just commissioners to Silver Bay!
I appreciate the strategic use of the word choice in Paul Nixon’s book. This word is at the heart of all that we have already engaged in as a Presbytery and all that we seek to do into the future. Transitional change-work and setting a new way of ministry as a Presbytery in order to live into God’s preferred future is a choice. As reformed Christians choice is an important word to us. God offers us the gift of grace and the gift of new life. But it is our choice about whether or not to join God in the project of constant reformation of ourselves, the communities we seek to be a part of and living into the countercultural call of Jesus Christ. What choices will we make, what pathways will we choose? What will we let go of in order to pick up something new and following the beckoning of the Spirit?
I look forward to the work and ministry that is set before us and the opportunities that I expect God to continue to surprise us with. Please continue to hold the Presbytery in prayer during this exciting time. See you at Silver Bay in a month for our next part of exploring our Call together as we gather together as the full Presbytery!