The seasons of Advent and Christmas provide me with a lens to process my experience. As 2014 comes to a close, I can name some Advent yearnings and celebrate the light that shines in the darkness. I can give witness to the transforming love of God incarnated in Jesus.
2014 was full of challenges. The Committee on Ministry and the Organizational Design Team reviewed the Book of Order's mandates for Presbyteries and are dreaming how we might organize differently to fulfill those functions in the future. Anticipating and managing change seems always challenging. The General Assembly made some difficult decisions on divestment and an authoritative interpretation that delighted some and angered others. We have one discernment team working and two listening teams in formation. We processed three disciplinary cases. None were easy, two continue in process. Two administrative commissions were appointed to resolve congregational issues. Our moderator has been hard pressed to appoint all these teams and commissions. Our Mediation Team was also active. The camp experienced a perfect financial storm: our camp director resigned due to family reasons a month before summer camp opened; a grant the camp had the past few years was not renewed this year; and non-compliant renters of the camp manse. 2014 was also our first full year of not having an associate presbyter working along my side. We now know how that feels! My performance review in the spring illumined that something had to give!
Challenges can also lead by God's grace to blessings! I was blessed by the Staff Services and Leadership Team with a three month Sabbatical. This was a wonderful blessing, which renewed me in body and spirit. I thank them! I hired Nelson Lumm and Larry Boutelle to fill in for me during this sabbatical. I hired Verla Custer as interim camp director. She has the right credentials, gifts and experience for the camp at this time. I contracted Sarah Schmidt-Lee to serve as COM secretary and Pastoral Transition Coordinator, and Kurt Kremlick to orient her and provide a smooth transition. The Thriving Congregations Initiative completed a second round of assessments of two polarities. Over all 22, or one third of our congregations were introduced to polarity thinking. The Greenwood Alumni Gator Association (GAGA), a new group formed to support the ministry of the camp. The Greenwood Agency is exploring a creative new vision for the camp. A task force to be appointed and led by our moderator elect, George Hunsberger, will identify and recommend benchmarks for the camp. We were blessed by visits from the Presbyterian Mission Agency staff at our Presbytery meetings: Eric Hoey, Director of Evangelism and Church Growth in June; Ray Jones, coordinator of Evangelism Ministries, and Ann Philbrick, Associate for Church Growth and Transformation, who introduced the New Beginnings Assessment Program at the September retreat; and Charles (Chip) Hartwick, Director of Theology, Worship & Education at the November Presbytery meeting. Nine congregations were awarded six Deep & Wide Grants by the Leadership Team in 2014. Several of these are multi-year grants.
Life in community is not easy. In her guest editorial in the December 8th Presbyterian Outlook, Jan Edmiston writes about the church family and the PC(USA) as an imperfect or perfect family.
"What makes us perfect is not our lack of guilt and secrets and deceit. What makes us perfect is that we are a mess and God still loves us and we are keenly aware of that particular soup. The perfect family is not the one that hides its flaws and shameful secrets. It's the one who acknowledges that Mistakes Were Made, that confessed, then redeemed--because God loves us enough to die for us and because God is the ultimate steward who uses everything--even our imperfections--to bring something good and amazing into the world. God even uses The Worst Things That Could Happen towards something redemptive."
"...The marks of a healthy congregation include authenticity, courage, honesty and grace--which also happens to be some of the characteristics of Jesus. Families that pretend that everything is perfectly whole are not real families."
"The perfect church family acknowledges personal brokenness, shares mutual failure, holds each other accountable and offers forgiveness and grace in the name of Jesus. The perfect church family is full of misfits and miscreants who find welcome and community and redemption--in the name of Jesus. This is the kind of real church that looks like heaven. This is the kind of family that Jesus came to save. They are perfect." (p. 5)
God's light shines in our Advent Seasons! We celebrate at Christmas God's transforming love embodied in Jesus! I praise God for the tangible expressions of love shone on me by this Presbytery. As disciples of Jesus, may we recognize God's transforming love in our lives, give witness to it, and in some small, tangible and imperfect way make it real for another needful soul!
Merry Christmas! And looking forward to another Blessed New Year.