This past week was a tough one for those who are part of and/or are following the activities of the General Assembly Council and the Office of the General Assembly. Both groups met last week in Louisville, KY and as the current elected Moderator, I have a vote and voice on both of those bodies.
Heading into the week, we knew that some tough decisions would have to be made. Some of those decisions clearly have to do with economic realities of the day while others are simply results of institutional change and how we adapt to better be the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the future.
Now before I give just a few reflections on the meetings, let me be very clear about how I see my role as moderator and member of both the OGA and GAC. First, as moderator or member, I do not see my primary role to be defender of either body, nor should I use my visibility to tear down any of the work that is taking place in either setting. Instead, as we all should as we serve the church, I navigate all the joys and struggles of living in community by discerning with Jesus Christ alone, Lord of my conscience. Ahhh, if it were all that easy.
I also want to stress that, while we are doing amazing ministry in amazing ways and greatly being Christ in the world, I think we will most critically and visibly be measured by how we move through times of great struggle. How we live during the times of bad news and chaos, I firmly believe, best shows how we live out the peace and Good News of Jesus Christ. We can not fully understand hope and new life without a deep understanding and accounting of where and how as human community we are broken and hurting.
And yes, in the midst of this gathering of friends, colleagues and faithful servants, as always, there was plenty of good and bad news to share and face.
The Office of the General Assembly, will need to make budget cuts due to predictions of per capita, market adjustments, etc. Decision made this weekend have not yet been announced so it would be premature to make too many comments other than I thing decisions made at this point should allow for some smooth transitions and adjustments. The scale of the cuts that need to be made for the OGA are much smaller, so the implications may be less intense. Here is an article from the Outlook that lays out the situation pretty well. On a positive note, I think Vocations Director, Marcia Myers is developing a slight following after the great twitter traffic during her report of leadership trends in the PC(USA).
As far as the General Assembly Council committee and plenary meetings went, my sense was that the expected discussion of the staff reductions and budget cuts hung over many of the conversations. I did sit in on the Justice and Evangelism committees which both did talk about many of the important ministries in their areas. Still, from where I sat, there was an urgency and inquiry with which folks moved. Not knowing what was to come at the end of our meeting time and recommendation to be given during our closed session, I felt left folks feeling slightly hesitant to think beyond immediate.
One of the interesting things to come up during the GAC meeting was during one of our "generative" discussions where GAC Vice-Chair, Michal Kruse, had us watch this video [below as well] about the nature of technological change. After we watched it we had some discussions about the world today and how we as the church and individuals respond to those changes. As I shared with folks, the broad spectrum of reactions in our meeting to the very nature of technology and community was illustrative of the church in the world today. I think that defining what is "personal contact," what is healthy and positive and to what extent technology is integrated and embraced in many ways will determine the movement of the church at this level. This time in our meeting gave me the most food for thought – both sweet and sour to my palette – and will undoubtedly surface in future blog postings.
Of course the major development to come out of the meeting were budget reduction and structural design decisions that would eliminate staff positions, 14 of which were currently filled. You can read a summary of Budget Revisions
to learn the impact of the new budget on Mission, Communications and
Funds Development and Shared Services. In this situation, where folks knew something was coming, there was a great deal of understandable anxiety throughout our structure. Many folks from within and outside of the Presbyterian Center contacted me to vent, offer prayers and simply acknowledge the presence of the extended Body of Christ in the deliberations. Without going into the details of our closed session, I will say that it is abundantly clear that we are at a vital time in the life of our church structure and institutional development. Not only does our response to economic trends and cultural shifts need to be done with vision and care, but the very nature of how we do our work as elected members of the General Assembly Council along with executive staff is still being worked out. Keep in mind that the current executive staff are all fairly new as are many of the General Assembly Council, so the next few meetings and years will greatly define how we corporately live out such fundamental hopes such as collaboration and transparency.
I will say that I appreciate the executive staff's intentions to be strategic in the restructuring and clear in their personal understandings of what they feel is important to do the work that they have been called to. We would be naive NOT to acknowledge that they are in the very difficult place of institutional leadership. As we all know that any movement can be taken out of context or placed in faulty comparisons thus providing a big ol' target for any and all constituencies across the cultural and theological breadth of our lovely family. So there is no shortage of prayers to lift up to God for a complex system of people, histories and passions that are attempting to live and serve as one body.
So now what? That is a huge question. I left that week in Louisville more determined than ever to both acknowledge the great transitions and deep tensions that are occurring in our church culture and institution as well also lift up opportunities for us to be the church in honest and meaningful ways. My hope, as I strive to always be, is to be thoughtful about assessment, constant in my interactions and strategic in my responses. And above all, know that in the best and worst of our days, God is with us.
In the end, the church of Jesus Christ is not about the institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). It does not define us nor give us our worth, for that task, only God qualifies. Still, many of us choose to live out our gratitude to God through this particular flavor of the church. It is not for everyone, I know, but because we so value the complexities of God's created people, we enter these times fully aware that much of the chaos we invite into our life by the very nature of who we are as Presbyterians. So while we may be walking through some rough waters of transition and transformation, remember that as Presbyterians we have chosen to walk together in order to best discern the mind of Christ and the will of God. It may be chaotic and frustrating at times, but to tell you the truth, I wouldn't want to move through it all any other way.
Lastly, please keep the church, in its complexity of life and simplicity of call, in your prayers. Please pray for those who have served Christ through our denominational office in the past and future; for those who struggle with what we shall become; for those called to lead us into the future and for those discerning the very nature of their engagement with the denomination. So many have and will serve and know Christ through this place called the Presbyterian Church (USA) so let us continue to embrace and honor that privilege as best we feel lead.
If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a note. As you know, I am not promising answers, but I will be honest in my impressions, struggles and hopes.
For more readings and reflections on the GAC meeting
- GAC Twitter Feed
- OGA Twitter Feed
- Presbyterian News Service, GAC closes $9.92 million 2009 mission budget gap
- Press Release, The General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approves revised 2009 mission budget
- Vice-Moderator, Byron Wade, Reflections on OGA/GAC Meetings
- GAC Vice-Chair, Micheal Kruse, GAC Meeting Reflection
- GAC Member, Melissa DeRosia, Where to go from here
*For the sake of privacy, the decision was made ahead of time NOT to publish the names of those eliminated, however here is the list of Staffing Changes by Title.
While I know some folks wanted to know names, I actually agree that it
is up to the person to let folks know to what extent they want their
Here is the YouTube video on technology and change:
Here is the video from the GAC after our meeting: