The Presbyter’s Blog

June 7, 2018

Per Capita? Effective Witness!

“Per capita” is something many Presbyterians talk about in derogatory terms. The “head tax”  is seldom discussed in a spiritually inspiring manner.  It has gotten a lot of publicity the last few months in response to the Office of the General Assembly and Stated Clerk’s recommendation for increasing the OGA’s per capita some 47% over the next two years. Many of my colleagues, including myself, objected in print to the way this proposal was presented. Now, the Stated Clerk has reported that he will seek to amend the original proposal so that the OGA’s per capita is increased 10% for 2019 and 10% for 2020.

The issue for me has always been connecting the identity and mission focus of the OGA to the per capita. I attended a meeting earlier this week and heard that the Stated Clerk sees this connection to be the key issue. He is hopeful that an overture to the GA and reports from special committees and commissions will provoke the conversation needed now and for the next two years. Who are we, the PC(USA), called to be and do as followers of Christ in the 21st century? How do we focus on that sense of God’s calling, and fund it?

“Per capita” is one way we live out our connectional nature as Presbyterian followers of Jesus. This is what our Book of Order says:  “The funding of mission similarly demonstrates the unity and interdependence of the church. The failure of any part of the church to participate in the stewardship of the mission of the whole church diminishes that unity and interdependence. All mission funding should enable the church to give effective witness in the world to God’s new creation in Jesus Christ, and should strengthen the church’s witness to the mission of God. Each council above the session shall prepare and adopt a budget for its operating expenses, including administrative personnel, and may fund it with a per capita apportionment among the particular congregations within its bounds. Presbyteries are responsible for raising their own funds and for raising and timely transmission of per capita funds to their respective synods and the General Assembly. Presbyteries may direct per capita apportionments to sessions within their bounds, but in no case shall the authority of the session to direct its benevolences be compromised.”  (G-3.0106)

At this time in the life of the PC(USA), I see the key expression to be “effective witness in the world to God’s new creation in Jesus Christ.” The original proposal from the Stated Clerk reflected the cost of the OGA to do the work that the office has been asked to do by previous General Assemblies. Many recognize that “effective witness” should not be that expensive when priorities for mission are made clear. The revised proposal of a 20% increase reflects the cost of doing the work that has been asked and using financial reserves.

I encourage the “per capita discussion” to become an avenue now for the church to clarify what we are called to be and do to provide an effective witness to God in this 21st century. This Presbytery has gone through that process to clarify who we are and what we do …. partner with and equip . . . and shaped our organization and budget to reflect that calling. Let us now support and encourage the Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson, in leading the General Assembly in that same work.

Please keep in your prayers J. Herbert Nelson and our commissioners (Leeann Scarbrough, Ed Hurley, Deborah Thomas, Mark Hopkins), and our Young Adult Advisory Delegate (Julie Potts) as they meet in St. Louis on June 16.

Grace and Peace,

Jay

 

May 25, 2018

Installed? Permanent?  The General Presbyter is now installed?!

I am not the first to wonder about the “installed” image — washing machines, refrigerators, appliances are installed. Maybe, as one colleague preferred, “plugged in” is a better image. Yet, I have been getting “plugged in” for three years, and will continue to seek to be better connected.

Others ask me how it feels to be “permanent”? Well, only death and taxes are permanent. Nevertheless, many do say they feel better knowing that I am no longer “transitional.” As long as my daughter, her husband, and their son are living in Birmingham, then this is as “permanent” a home on earth as I will ever hope for.

The important question: what difference does it make to the Presbytery that I am “installed” or  “plugged in” or “permanent”? My responsibilities change very little, and yet the words spoken at the installation service were powerful and meaningful and, yes, brought tears to my eyes. As the music of “Here I am, Lord” rose from behind me, the Lord was speaking to all of us.

Now is the time to listen wisely and to follow where we are led. Now is the time to answer the call to serve Christ and our neighbors. Now is the time to use both hands to grasp our colleagues and neighbors as we work together to form new partnerships and strengthen those that have become weak. This is our work together, not simply mine.

Thanks be to God for your invitation to share in this ministry,

Jay

 

May 10, 2018

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The news is out. Maybe the world’s most favorite Presbyterian is now debuting on the silver screen in a documentary film coming to our Presbytery soon. The Presbyterian News article is helpful (https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/wont-you-be-my-neighbor/)

I have it on good authority (the Internet web site for the film– focusfeatures.com/wont-you-be-my-neighbor/theaters) that our Presbytery will have the opportunity to enjoy the story beginning June 29, 2018 with showings in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery.

Any of our congregations hosting gatherings to watch and reflect and learn together? I invite replies & postings on this page about any such gatherings that may be open for others to join. What a great way to be church together, to give thanks to God for the life of Fred Rogers and his ministry with and for children.

Ascension Blessings,

Jay

 

 

April 28, 2018

Why do churches grow?

Bart Ehrman’s popular new book, “The Triumph of Christianity,” is worth the read. He seeks to be a good historian, looking at the source materials with an open mind, asking questions of what makes sense. Best of all, his explanation of why the Christian faith spread offers a perspective that we might learn from today.

Why did/do churches grow? The power of social networks is crucial. Going door to door was not the key. Public preaching may have gotten the attention of a few. Much more effective in spreading the good news were family, friends, business relations, all our social networks are ways churches grow.

Why did/do churches grow? The church was community, a place to belong, to learn how to behave and what to believe (to borrow from Diana Butler Bass).  Ancient religions were usually individualistic focused on prayer, sacrifices, seeking to learn the will of the gods through natural events. The Christian community focused on how to behave and what to believe about the one God.

Why belong to a church? The faith community performed the miracle of giving value and meaning and purpose to people who turned from their pagan pursuit of the favor of the gods. The church cared for each other, including their health, teaching mutual respect and love, providing a place of support and ways to understand who God is and what God asks of us.

Whether from Ehrman the ancient historian or Bass the contemporary sociologist, the message is the same. Our church grows when we provide a community, a place to belong, when we model faithful ethical behavior, and when we teach the faith that gives meaning to life and the world.

Christ is alive!

Jay Wilkins

 

April 13, 2018

Growing Churches?

I have never visited a church that did not want to grow, specifically to grow in numbers of members. Whether 10 members or 100 or 1000, a feeling that more members will make life together better is shared by most all. So, everyone looks for the secret — how does our church grow like the early church? The stories in the Acts of the Apostles of church growth put us all to shame. What can we do to be like them?

Several responses to that question can be found, from quick fixes to adaptive changes that take significant spiritual work. Our Presbytery had eight congregations and “adaptive change agents” work with the PneuMatrix consultants, Jim Kitchens and Deborah Wright. They tell us no quick fixes are to be had.

I was trained as an “intellectual historian” so I tend to learn from writers who seek a longer, historical perspective on the issues we face. I have discovered recently that a # 1 Best Seller on Amazon is one such book: “The Triumph of Christianity” by Bart Ehrman.  The subtitle is inviting: “How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World.” The author has become a popular writer not simply for the topics he addresses but also for his own professed lack of faith. He is open about his journey through the church of his childhood into an adult historian; his lack of faith has surprised some who sought to learn from him. Yet, faith is not required to do history, even religious history.

I am venturing into Ehrman’s story of how the early church grew to see what I might learn for our contemporary church. I confess that I have preferences for other writers on this topic, especially Diana Butler Bass, and will no doubt refer to them from time to time.

I invite you to join me in this reading adventure, and share in this space wisdom you have received from other writers.

Christ is risen!

Jay Wilkins

 

2 Comments

  • Patsy Chaney

    Dear Jay, I share your mysterious reading of Ehrman who professes not to believe what he writes!! Seems to me the early growth was due to a stronger connection with Holy Spirit. People had competing religions and belief systems but not as much noise and competing demands on time. Hard to hear the Holy Spirit bore through modern broadcasts. When does HS speak? Sundays at church? Supposed to be with us in prayer daily, all the time. Muslims hear the call to prayer five times a day if they live in Israel. We are supposed to hear it constantly (Paul said). Don’t think we do….

    Reply
    • Jay Wilkins Post author

      Patsy, Many thanks for the comments. Ehrman writes as an historian, and trusts the historian’s methods of assessing the resources and data at hand. Historians cannot document the Holy Spirit; they tell the story with human actors. So, the the conversion of Emperor Constantine has social and political implications very favorable for Christians. The spread of Christian faith was certainly helped by the support of the government. That support was then used as leverage to get the faithful to stop their fighting and disturbing the peace of the empire with their debates over the incarnation — was Jesus divine, or like God? The Emperor called a council to resolve the conflict. The relationship between church & state continues to be a hot topic!

      Reply

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