A week and a half ago I ended my one year term as Moderator of the Presbytery of Chicago by handing over the cross and gavel to Sonia Bodi. Serving as a presbytery moderator was a challenging and rewarding experience and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it. In no particular order, here are some reflections:
- Even though it required precious weekend time from my schedule, one of my favorite parts of being moderator was representing the presbytery at teaching elder ordinations and installations. These are always celebratory occasions that lifted up both the call of the individual and the shared ministry of the church.
- I was less thrilled about the at least three and often four meetings that I attended in preparation for each assembly meeting. I wonder if this could be streamlined into a more efficient schedule, but there are a lot of moving parts in a presbytery. And it is important to be well prepared for assembly meetings.
- I continue to have a love-hate relationship with parliamentary procedure. The formal way in which Presbyterians go about our business can be cumbersome and I don’t like how it inevitably creates winners and losers when decisions are made. But there is also much to be said about how order and structure helps keep difficult debates both civil and faithful.
- If Presbyterian gatherings must be moderated I think they ought to be moderated well, and that was always my goal. Again, preparation is important. There is nothing worse in Presbyterianism than a poorly moderated meeting.
- My sense is that moderators have different levels of influence and power from presbytery to presbytery. I entered this year thinking that the moderator of our presbytery had relatively little influence in what looked to me (from the outside) like a largely staff driven system. But my experience has been that if a moderator exerts leadership and wants to have a voice it will be heard. Taking initiative is key. I was motivated, in part, by a desire to ensure that the recommendations of the Vision and Praxis Task Force were carried out in our assembly meetings. I found the presbytery staff to be receptive to this desire an attentive to my vision for how assemblies should flow.
- To moderate a large meeting one must be able to see both the big picture and keep all of the small pieces in order. It is an exercise in focus and quick thinking.
- Moderating and pastoral sensitivity sometimes come into conflict. It’s not always easy to balance firmness, equity, grace, and care.
- A moderator cannot be afraid of challenges from the floor.
- Sometimes it’s hard to keep a poker face during debates, but it is absolutely necessary.
- I loved the privilege of choosing a theme for the year and inviting preachers to reflect on it.
- A little humor and levity helps a lot.
- So does prayer.
- Presbyterianism has its quirks and shortcomings, like any form of church organization and governance, but I’m still convinced that this is a good and faithful way to be in ministry together.
All in all, I really enjoyed being presbytery moderator. It’s not at all like moderating a session or leading a committee meeting. I hope I will get the opportunity to do something like this again.
Finally, it was serendipitous that Adam Walker Cleaveland got into sketchnoting during my moderator year because I really enjoyed his drawings from our assemblies. (In fact, I’d love for him to illustrate my entire public life.) Here are some highlights from Adam’s sketches: