August 8, 2019
Knowing When the Time Comes . . .
I am sharing with everyone my letter to the Executive Council of July 10, 2019, which is also my report to the August 15 meeting of the Presbytery:
Five years ago, you had come through a difficult transition in leadership and organization of this Presbytery. By the grace of God and the gifts of your elders and ministers, the Presbytery prepared itself to seek a Transitional Presbyter. I have been blessed to serve God with you as we have together continued the process of clarifying what and who God is calling the Presbytery to be and do. Significant staff changes have been made, and a manageable budget has been planned.
I believe that this Presbytery is moving into the future God is preparing. As we have discussed in Council meetings, this an opportune moment for the Presbytery to clarify its vision for ministry for the next few years, and to discern a staffing arrangement for that future. You need to do that work with the freedom to use your energy, intelligence, imagination, and love for Christ, without having to wonder “what is Jay thinking?”
So, I request that you recommend that the Presbytery concur in my request to be “Honorably Retired” effective December 31, 2019.
I will work with you to prepare a “Separation Ethics” for a retired General Presbyter, who plans to stay in this area, which reflects the spirit and guidance in our policy for pastors. I will also seek your wisdom on how I can best support your leadership in the next few months, ways to encourage your creativity, and when to get out of the way of the Spirit’s leading.
Grace and peace,
May 24, 2019
What does a Presbytery do?
Near the end of the Presbytery meeting on May 16, I pointed to my report (see 4/29/2019 post below) and stated that I wanted to help the commissioners and ministers get prepared for going back to their home congregations and responding to the inevitable question: So, what does a Presbytery do?
What we did on May 16 at Living River was to hear to Word of God proclaimed, challenging us to not miss what God in Christ is doing, to press beyond our comfort zones, becoming more aware of how we love God and our neighbor. (Please read Rev. Scrivner’s powerful sermon posted on this website.) We also shared God’s visible Word as we celebrated the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The worship experience was followed by meaningful, sometimes deep, sometimes difficult, often revealing table conversations planned by our Presbytery’s Anti Racism Team. Where else in our culture would faithful conversations happen on our experience and awareness of the sin of racism? The notes from the conversations have been gathered and the planning for next steps is happening.
As we moved into the “business” of the meeting, we heard good news from congregations and partners in ministry, and we voted on improving our Book of Order. We affirmed the gifts of leadership God has given to ministers and youth in our Presbytery, and celebrated the retirement of a good and faithful servant. We blessed the path forward for two of our congregations who discern that their life is ending, and of two who discern that their future is better together, forming a new congregation. We made financial commitments to support the ministry and mission both of two congregations and our camp.
That is what a Presbytery does! In all of this, we have partnered with and equipped present and emerging faith communities to serve Jesus Christ and our neighbors. Thanks be to God!
Grace & peace,
April 26, 2019
What does a General Presbyter do?
I hear that question frequently as I visit in our congregations. So, I have looked back over the past three months in order to give an accurate description of where I have discerned God calling me to be engaged on your behalf. I am committed to being as transparent as possible with you so that you will share with our congregations what I am doing to partner with and equip our congregations to serve Jesus Christ and our neighbors.
Much of my time is given to be of support to our pastors as they seek to discern God’s calling for themselves and their congregations. I may meet for lunch, engage in telephone or email conversations. We might meet in my office, in their office, or in a third space that is safe. Most of these are solution focused, short term, seeking a path to a preferred future. I encourage some to seek a coach who can provide longer term and more skilled support.
I seek to partner with our congregations as they face transitions in mission and leadership, and search for new pastoral leadership. This may involve meetings with the Session of a congregation, congregational meetings to discern God’s calling, phone calls to strategize how best to respond to issues that come up, sharing documents and resources, coaching ruling elders on faithful responses to concerns that are being raised.
Working to support our committees, commissions, and teams, all filled with followers of Christ giving of their time and talents in service to Christ, engages a significant percentage of my ministry. I am blessed to share in this ministry with a great staff, paid and volunteer: Tammy Strickland, Tom Winter, Ralls Coston, Pat Goodman, Jean Russell, Linda Burrowes, and Patrick Harley. My joy is to serve with them, learn from them, and encourage the discernment of what God is up to in our communities and Presbytery.
I worship across the Presbytery and participate in some congregational programs when invited. I have been with 12 different congregations during the past ten weeks. Some ask if I have a “home church” and my answer is that I feel that all the congregations of the Presbytery are my home. My daughter and her husband are members of Independent Presbyterian Church, and my grandson was baptized there. So, when we are able to worship as a family, we worship at IPC.
Fostering good relationships with our partners in ministry is another aspect of my calling. By virtue of my office, I serve on the Board of Living River and on the Steering Team of UKirk Birmingham. We have welcomed Jonathan Ahern of the Presbyterian Home for Children into our offices. I am now taking my turn on the Permanent Administrative Commission of the Synod of Living Waters as we seek new leadership and live into a new organizational structure. I remain in contact with staff of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly as we seek the support and guidance of our connectional church.
I give thanks to God, and to this Presbytery, for this opportunity to partner with and equip present and emerging faith communities to serve Christ and our neighbors.
March 26, 2019
Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission — Looking for a good read for your congregation and leaders? I join with our General Assembly Co-Moderators in recommending this book! The authors are Presbyterians who share their stories and challenge us to remember our calling:
“Here is the eternal pattern of the Incarnation. Jesus did not use his advantage or privilege as a trump card of power. He did not stay separate from the world around him. … He emptied himself as an act of service that has guided us for centuries. Is this our calling? Self-emptying rather than self-preservation. We believe so, but we also know it is scary for leaders who see their roles as maintaining the ABCs … attendance, buildings, and cash. Remember that the most frequent commandment in Scripture is, ‘Do not be afraid.’ ”
Whether large or small, our congregations are “anchor institutions” in and for our communities. Like universities and hospitals, our congregations are rooted in our communities through mission, relationships, investments, and they have the potential to make a difference to all in the community:
“Your congregation is an anchor institution for your community! When all is said and done, the lifeblood of Christ’s movement will always be the local church. It is the staging platform for mission, the beachhead where we help bring the kingdom of God to earth. And despite all its challenges, we hope you do believe wholeheartedly in its future.”
What better time, with the seasons of Easter and Pentecost on the horizon, to take and read together to catch the fresh breeze of Christ’s Spirit blowing in and through your congregation and community.
Grace & peace,
March 1, 2019
Transparency. Integrity. Character.
Yes, they apply to the ministry of the Presbytery, our staff, and our budget. My last blog addressed the “per capita” dimension of the ways your giving makes a difference. Another dimension of your giving is what I call “mission giving.” Check out the new brochure which presents a variety of ways your giving makes a difference: Brochure on ways your giving makes a difference.
In 2018, the Presbytery was entrusted with approximately $311,000 for the mission of the Presbytery. I confess that a larger percentage than I like of those funds go to me/my position: 39%. Other ways your giving made a difference is $65,000 for Birmingham UKirk minister, Main Event, church officer training, and camps and retreats where our children and youth learn the faith. About $28,000 goes to the mission budgets of the regional Synod and the General Assembly mission of the PCUSA. Some $60,000 goes to maintaining the office, telephone and internet communications, and insurance. Approximately $12,00o keeps our financial status healthy and managed.
I give thanks to God for the 24 congregations who give faithfully to this mission of the Presbytery. Your giving does make a difference.
Grace & peace,
January 25, 2019
Per Capita Numbers Are In!
As I wrote previously, I have been moved to make a resolution for this new year: be more transparent about the Presbytery’s per capita and mission giving and expenses in the coming year. The year begins with a look back to recognize the generosity of the Presbytery in 2018. There is much to give thanks for!
We have 71 congregations from which we could expect to receive funds for mission and ministry. The amazing news is that 67 congregations contributed $194,253.18 for “per capita”! To translate, that means that 94% of the congregations in the Presbytery of Sheppards & Lapsley contributed 92% of the amount due. How does that compare across the country? 69% (119) of the Presbyteries pay 100% of their per capita due the General Assembly.
According to the PC(U.S.A.) web site, “many wonder where did Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s system of funding the General Assembly come from, and why is it a flat rate? As with so many other issues, American Presbyterians have long struggled with the means of supporting their mission and ministry. Rejecting England’s system of patronage by the wealthy, American Presbyterians’ Scots forebears supported their ministers by pew rents. By the middle of the nineteenth century, pew rents had fallen out of favor. But how would a national body, meeting annually to conduct the work of the church, support and sustain those assemblies? In 1857, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. promulgated a flat apportionment based on a presbytery’s population, called the Plan of Mileage. At 5 cents per member, the Plan of Mileage would pay into a Delegate Fund, from which commissioners to General Assembly could be reimbursed for their travel. The apportionment was understood to be voluntary, but presbyteries were required to pay their share, regardless of any congregation’s delinquency. From 1860 to 1869, 90 percent of presbyteries participated in the plan, whose revenues were reported under the heading Commissioners and Contingent Funds. Upon reunion of the Old School and New School denominations in 1870, this heading was changed simply to General Assembly Tax.
“Conflict over the apportionment was constant. A new plan put forward in 1884 was repealed in 1887, “productive of much disappointment.” The 1900 General Assembly would finally, firmly establish the General Delegate Fund, while acknowledging that the assessment relied on pure good will: “None of our Church courts are clothed with the power to assess a tax upon the churches. Apportionments to meet the expenses of the several bodies may be made; but the payment depends upon that voluntary liberality which flows from the enlightened consciences of the people, who may be confidently relied upon to return whatever is necessary for the conduct of our ecclesiastical business.””
I give thanks to God for the 67 congregations who have supported our Presbytery, our Synod, and our General Assembly this past year. May your faithfulness and witness inspire others in the coming year.
Grace and peace,
January 2, 2019
A Resolution for the New Year!
I seldom make “New Year’s Resolutions.” They seemed so artificial and contrived to me, and could be made at any time. Well, in conversations with ministers and elders, I have been moved to make a resolution for this new year: be more transparent about the Presbytery’s per capita and mission giving and expenses in the coming year.
This Presbytery has been blessed with generous and faithful supporters of Christ’s mission in this region and throughout the world. Congregations participate in that mission of the larger church through “per capita” giving and “mission” giving. The Presbytery pays the “per capita” required by the Synod and the General Assembly, even if congregations do not contribute.
For 2019, the “per capita” is $23.40 for each member of each congregation in the Presbytery of Sheppards & Lapsley. Of that, $8.95 goes to the Office of the General Assembly. $3.98 goes to the Synod of Living Waters. $9.47 stays in Sheppards & Lapsley. And, $1.00 goes to campus ministries in the Presbytery.
What difference does your per capita make? It makes possible our quarterly meetings where the well-being of the church is addressed, where ministers are received, where the mission of our congregations is celebrated, where connections with Living River, the Presbyterian Home for Children, and the Congo Partnership are renewed. It is how we share mutually and equitably in the costs locally, regionally, and nationally to come together to discern the leading of God’s Spirit for the future.
“Mission” giving is the gift of the congregation to the ministries of the Presbytery which is divided among the Presbytery (88%), the Synod (3.5%), and the General Assembly (8.5%).What difference does your mission giving make? It supports retreats for small church leaders, camp scholarships for children and youth at Living River. It makes possible Youth Council and “Main Event” leadership training. Mission giving provides support for those being called into ministry, and for ministers and congregations seeking to serve Christ and neighbors.
Grace & peace,