Thursday, September 18, 2008

First Official Presbytery Meeting

At Stodgy Presbyterian, I'm on the Session. For non-Presbyterians, its a governing board like a Vestry, but with somewhat more autonomy (to a point). The Session is supposed to send a representative to our next level governing body, Plodding Presbytery for its bi-monthly meetings. Well, we haven't had a representative there for a while, and I'll get to why in a few paragraphs.

Today I attended my first presbytery meeting as an Elder-Commissioner from Stodgy Presbyterian. Our minister asked me to drop off his card, as he really does not like to attend these things, I couldn't figure out why. A friend of mine had attended a presbytery meeting at 'Nother Completely different Presbytery and told me that lots of important work went on there, so I looked forward to taking part.

The original docket looked promising, however once the presbytery packet was available there was a lot of consent items, which I can understand, however there is a Presbytery Council that makes a lot of decisions that are later ratified at a regular Presbytery meeting in a consent agenda.

While I understand that it keeps the business of the Presbytery running, it makes for a rather boring meeting. That said, there were a few items that were not on a consent agenda. One was about a church who's Session resigned en-masse. The Presbytery is creating an Administrative Commission to find out what is going on. Based on research I did online, the church is one of those that the Session may be the only members of the church. What's very interesting is the Committee on Preparation for Ministry's (CPM) report. You get a few people who are moving from the 'Inquirer' phase to the 'Candidate' phase, or people who are being examined for ordination. The questions I heard asked were very good, and it shows that the Presbytery takes its mandated requirement very seriously.

Other stuff covered the sale of a few church buildings, or what we're going to do about reviewing and voting on the BOO amendments from the GA this year. This is all good stuff, but it doesn't seem that critical. Evidently, each presbytery does things somewhat different, some meet monthly, some every other month, and some once a quarter. So I guess that explains why you have a council to handle those things that come up between meetings.

What really bothers me however is the lack of age diversity in the presbytery meeting, this in a denomination that prides itself on its diversity. The age of the attending elders is decidedly ... well ... elderly, and majority female. While the average age of the minister-commissioners looks to be well balanced, with a good range of ages, and a closer plurality in gender, although it did seem to me to have a higher male constituent.

Then there's the number of actual elders attending, 113 elders to 130 ministers. There are roughly 140 churchs in this presbytery, but according to the membership report, only 69 churches had elder representatives.

Putting those two items together tells me that you have more ministers for two reasons.

1. Its part of their job description. They are members of Presbytery, not the church to which they are called. They are required to attend the meetings.

2. They don't have to get out of work to do it, in fact, they are paid to go!

Remember I said a few paragraphs ago I'd get to why we haven't had a representative from our Session at Presbytery meetings, one reason is Presbytery meetings are held during the week, during the day. WHY??

No wonder the only elders able to attend are those who don't have to work, or those who are either salaried and can arrange their days off, or those who work shift work and are off that day.

That leaves the majority of elders who cannot attend these meetings; those who are in their prime earning years, and so we get very elderly elders, or no elder-commissioners from many churches. The numbers show that with only 69 churches represented that many of the larger congregations sent the extra elders they are authorized. In one case, they car pooled or 'convoyed' in as I watched the pastor, associate pastors and elders walk in together (about 8 people).

So what's the fix?? Make Presbytery meetings accessible. At 'Nother Completely different Presbytery they at least alternate the meetings between days and evenings, so that working elders can attend at least every other meeting. Or have them on a Saturday!! I realize that Saturday is for some ministers a day off, for others another work day, but on the week of the meeting, another day can be taken off during the week. It may be an inconvenience for some ministers, but it would possibly allow more elders from more churches to attend.

And have meetings in a location that is easy to access!! Not the presbytery camp located in the middle of nowhere that requires an hour to drive to, but somewhere where those who have to take public transit can take a bus to, or else can carpool with another church to. Think about using teleconferencing, you can have two remote sites along with the main site, the remote sites can vote and ask questions as easily as those in the room.

Finally, why do you need to take all day for a meeting that actually took only 4.5 hours ?? Why schedule an hour and a half for lunch, when no one is leaving the location to get lunch? Add in a half hour for worship, and you have 5 hours for the meeting. Having the meeting from 1pm to 6pm would work fine, if you want to leave time in the schedule for networking, add some time in the middle for a half hour coffee and cake time.

A better idea is to have evening meetings!! WHOA ... all the little old ladies won't be able to attend as they don't drive in the dark. I hate to say it, but that may actually revitalize the presbytery when you have some younger participation.

Start off around 3PM for registration and welcome, 4PM for light dinner, 5 to 8/9 for worship & business. This allows people to arrive and sign in before full business begins. Leaving work for 3:30 or 4 is do-able for a lot of people, allowing more elders from more churches.

Some random thoughts, from a new elder-commissioner.

And so it goes.

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