Presbytery Gathering 2.0

Mar 20, 2023

By Susan Young Thornton

On March 16th commissioners gathered at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods to conduct the business not addressed at February’s Zoom meeting. Gathering in the sanctuary, our time together opened with an After the Ashes worship service during which we remembered the ashes imposed on Ash Wednesday and reflected with our neighbors on the meaning of “from dust you have come and to dust you shall return,” and wondered together where hope might be found in those ashes and in this season of Lent.

The business included electing a Temporary Stated Clerk, Pat Niles, approving the increase in hours for the currently vacant Interim Stated Clerk position, and celebrating the outgoing Assistant to the Stated Clerk, Robin Clardy. 2023 corporate officers were elected. They are Mike Regele, President; Pat Niles, Secretary; and Fred Hebein, Treasurer.

Much of our time was spent considering the Omnibus Motion to approve the thirty-three proposed amendments to the Book of Order sent to all presbyteries by the 225th General Assembly. Pat Niles led the body in looking at the amendments in groups of four and asking if anyone wanted to pull a particular item from the list. Any item removed from the omnibus motion would be considered individually at the presbytery’s June 1st meeting. Items pulled were:

    Allows a disciplinary process to continue after an accused has renounced jurisdiction
    Adds receiving a disciplinary decision against a church member (as opposed to a minister) to the list of proper business at a congregational meeting
    Removes “honorably” before “retired” as the category for retired ministers
    Proposed a complete revision of the Rules of Discipline,
  •  22O – G-3.0106 ADMINISTRATION OF MISSION (HSB-05 9)
    Adds language regarding boundary training, including sexual abuse to the requirement for sexual misconduct policies required of councils

The full text of all proposed amendments along with advice from the Advisory Committee on the Constitution and other interested parties can be found here.

The omnibus motion was approved as amended. We will consider the five pulled items during the regular business meeting on June 1st at Shepherd’s Grove Presbyterian Church in Irvine.

The very serious business atmosphere was punctuated with laughter when Steve Wirth inserted a plea to nominate members for the Committee on Ministry, with hugs and flowers as we wished Robin Clardy well in her new endeavors, with greetings to new commissioners, and conversations with friends old and new around the post-meeting dinner tables.

The mood of the day can best be summed up in the report from Tom Cramer, Co-Executive for Vision and Mission, who got us thinking about shrubs, trees, and the Prophet Jeremiah. His words to us:

In my written report on Page 7 of today’s packet, I share my nostalgia for years gone by. We all remember when a sneeze was just a sneeze, and a cough was just a cough. Now we are joining in a special meeting of presbytery because the COVID virus continues to disrupt some of our best-made plans.

I suppose the silver lining is that we are learning to adapt quickly to whatever curveballs the virus throws at us, so much so that with only 24 hours advanced notice we moved our Presbytery Gathering in February to a Zoom format. That would have been unimaginable three years ago, but now, thanks to Debbie and Robin and Carol, and the whole staff really, we were able to pull it off.

So, on one level, we are leaning into the “new normal” that everyone once talked about, and we have learned that it requires us be super flexible and to help each other out and, most of all, to live by faith, especially when our plans don’t work out.

The Prophet Jeremiah proclaims in Chapter 17:

7Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought, it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

I want to be like that tree, don’t you? I walked into my garage yesterday to find the roof leaking above our washer and dryer. I was so bummed at one level but happy on another.

Last fall, I thought the drought would never end. Every time I drove by Irvine Lake, all I could see was a dusty lakebed and dried branches. It looked like Death Valley. But now, praise God, I’m worried about my roof being fixed before we have a swimming pool in our garage.

As Jeremiah prophesizes, God is faithful even when the heat comes, and a drought seems like it will last forever. When we feel like our congregations are in a drought, God does not cease to bear fruit though us, and we can trust that one day, maybe not the way we expect, it will rain again.

So, I ask myself, how is our presbytery like a tree planted by water and how are we sending out roots so our leaves stay green?

We are sending out roots by discerning the priorities and strategies to which we will be wholly committed in this next season of ministry. I have no doubt that the Strategic Task Group will be making its recommendations to Council this spring and, by the end of the 2023, the Council will recommend a new design for our presbytery that makes more sense for where the Church finds itself today.

And I have no doubt that the Trustees’ hard work on a property policy for our presbytery will feel like rain falling in the desert to our congregations and our presbytery’s future ministries.

By trusting in the Lord, we have an otherworldly agency.  The world has changed and will change even more, and we are doing something about it. People are finding spiritual community in different places than they once did, and we are doing something about it. We don’t need all the church buildings we once did, and by God’s strength, we are doing something about it.

You know one of the things that is amazing about being Presbyterian? God is counting on us, you and me, to figure out how to be the church in this part of Southern California. As Presbyterians, no one else in our structure is responsible for the ministry in this district except the people in this room and the 43 congregations and 7 new worshiping communities that we represent. That’s it!

Even though I’m a proud alumnus of my college alma mater (“Go Bears”), there are thousands of other alumni who are supporting that university. But this presbytery, figuring out how to be the church from Boyle Heights to San Clemente in the 21st Century, that’s only for us to do. What a challenge! But what a privilege for God to count on us like that!

I waited until now to share with you the first exhortation from Jeremiah 17. It goes like this:

5 Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. 6They shall be like a shrub in the desert and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.”

Let’s not be like that shrub in the desert that is consumed by anxiety or fear. But instead, let’s trust in the Lord and be like that tree planted by water that sends out roots and has leaves that remain green. It is going to rain, my friends, maybe not today, but always for those whose trust is the Lord.