What’s a Frustrated and Impatient Presbyterian to Do?

My son and I enjoying some quality time at Montreat

Evidently, take a month-long hiatus from blogging.

(A great way to capitalize on the readership bump I experienced at GA, huh?)

As my most recent posts indicate, I was more than a little discouraged and burnt out by the time I left the General Assembly last month. In my estimation, it was pretty much a “do nothing” GA. At one point, the only thing I thought this GA would pass was an approval of the MRTI recommendation on divestment, and that didn’t even happen. (I oppose divestment, by the way. When I told a like-minded colleague that its failure had more to do with the GA’s inability to pass anything, he told me I could find a cloud for every silver lining. Yep, that pretty much summed up my attitude by the end.)

Throughout the week I found myself at odds with my friend and former Vice-Moderator Landon Whitsitt when it came to analyzing what was going on. Landon thought my sense that our denomination is afraid of change was misguided and suggested that after passing 10-A and the (new) Form of Government we deserved a break from change. He also insisted on euphemistically describing our divisions as “balance.” I find it hard to call the distrust and sometimes vitriolic animosity I witnessed “balance.” And, when your denomination (and all of Mainline Protestantism) is hemorrhaging members and becoming irrelevant by the day, we can’t afford to change at a slower pace than the rest of the world.

Licking our wounds after the rejection of the Mid Councils Commission report, I asked commission moderator Tod Bolsinger what he was doing next and what he suggested I should do. He said that I should go back home and be the pastor God has called me to be. I think Tod is right. It’s probably premature to say that I’m hanging up my denominational hat, but my frustration with this General Assembly—and the month or so it’s taken me to recover—has helped me refocus and re-prioritize.

Here’s what I’ve done since GA:

  • I came home and officiated two weddings, just hours after listening (via live stream) to GA debate marriage. That was a little surreal.
  • I went canoeing with my family and a group of high school students from church.
  • I took a group of junior high students down to Indianapolis on a mission trip.
  • I spent some time looking for a bigger home in a better school district for my growing family.
  • My son and I enjoyed a great week at Montreat Conference Center for one of their summer youth conferences. Being a small group leader for the first time was a blast. Working with my group of youth and soaking up some great keynoting and preaching from Reggie Weaver, Corey Nelson, and Margaret Aymer filled me with as much hope as GA sucked out of me.
  • My family visited my parents, sister, and my uncle’s family down in Florida. Some time back on the Gulf is always good for the soul.
  • I kept working on my BBQ repertoire and had a blast competing against a colleague in an East vs West BBQ Throwdown (Korean vs Southern BBQ) that benefited the mission programs at church.

I’m in a much better place now than I was a month ago. I’m prioritizing my family, my calling in youth ministry, my DMin studies, and taking better care of myself. Along the way, I’m sure I’ll keep thinking and writing about broader church issues. But I recognized at GA that I had invested a lot of personal energy into my work on the Mid Councils Commission and was carrying a bigger burden than I realized. It’s time to redirect that into other ventures.

Comments

  1. Sue Krummel says:

    I’ve been doing some thinking about GA in the last month as well. The defeat–no, really the dismissal–of so much of the work of commissions like yours was disheartening. As I have ruminated about how to address this issue, several things have come to mind. First, the naming of so many commissions to work between Assemblies is something fairly new in the recent history of the church. We once relied much more on the “static” structures–national, ongoing committees and staff–to address issues before the church. The recent reliance on commissions is a recognition, I think, of the fact that we want things to happen more quickly. As we saw this year, that is not always the case.
    The biggest problem with the commissions, though, is the way they are perceived at the GA meeting. Somehow people think that they are made of people who have some ulterior motive to harm the church when they are, in fact, made up of people who have just given a huge amount of time and energy to discern God’s will about how to be more responsive to our call. At this GA, some commissioners saw the commissions as outside agitators. Instead, we need to find a way to remind commissioners to GA that the reports of these commissions is like the report of the Christian Education committee at your session meeting. We (as the GA) sent these people off to do some work for us that we did not have time or energy or insight to do during a previous GA meeting. When they bring their reports back, we need to receive them the way we would receive the report of a session committee. We need to welcome it, to listen very carefully to the recommendations that are being made, to realize that this is the best effort of some dedicated colleagues of ours, and then to wrestle with whether or not we want to approve the recommendations. I was on a commissioner committee that dealt with one of these reports and our committee, in general, acted like the recommendations were coming from someone who had not really thought very clearly or very deeply about these matters.
    I had not been a commissioner for fifteen years before I served this year. The last time I was a commissioner, I was the moderator of a commissioner committee. So, this was the first time since I was a commissioner in 1982 that I got the full experience of sitting in a committee as a member and then sitting on the floor of the Assembly as a commissioner. The polarity of boredom, tedium, and high anxiety produces an interesting mix of emotions and reactions. Add the exhaustion by the end of the week and it becomes a marathon. Surely wise Presbyterian heads can find a better way for us to discern God’s will together.

  2. Cindy Bolbach says:

    John — I can apprecate your frustration and your inclination to forego denominational involvement. In 2008, the Form of Government Task Force brought our proposal to GA, and, much like the Mid-Council report, it was clear early on that the Assembly had no intention whatsoever of dealing with it substantively. It took two more years, but in the end we do have a new Form of Government, which I hope will — gradually — infuse the church with a new sense of flexibility and willingness to try new things. At the same time, I also appreciate what you identified in a blog post some months ago — that the way we’ve structured ourselves tilts the balance heavily, very often decisively, towards maintaining the status quo. What I see as different now is a new generation of teaching and ruling elders like you who simply will not stand for the status quo. So, I’d say you’re entitled to a little time off, but no more, because the PC (USA) needs your continued insights and perspective, and your disinclination to accept the status quo.

    • I really appreciate this helpful reminder, and the show of support. It means a lot. Thanks for your hard work as Moderator. And blessings in these days.

  3. Jean Marie Koon says:

    Amen John.

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