State of the Presbytery 2018

Executive Presbyter Report to the Presbytery of Chicago

State of the Presbytery – December 1, 2018

I have been in Chicago as your Executive Presbyter for one year now. I thought it was time for a state of the presbytery report. Before coming here, I served one presbytery for 11 years as Stated Clerk and Executive Presbyter. I also served a different presbytery for eight years as Stated Clerk. In my role working for the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency, I visited numerous presbyteries. I was also a member of the Committee on Ministry in three different presbyteries before I started doing Mid-Council work. In other words, I have seen how a lot of presbyteries work. Here are a few things that I have noticed about Chicago Presbytery.
  • Of our 89 congregations, 34 are under 100 members and, among those, there are several very fragile congregations. Huge buildings are sinking some of the congregations; in others, the congregation is serving as a landlord and has lost focus on mission and ministry for themselves. I will be bringing a proposal to Presbytery Coordinating Council in January for a different way to focus our 21st Century Funds in an attempt to bring new life into our smaller congregations.


  • We have financial resources which we are not tapping. I will also be bringing a proposal to revamp the Mission Committee so that it is, instead, a funding committee, allocating the funds available to the presbytery for disbursement.


  • We have a dedicated staff. It is also greatly reduced in numbers from what some of you remember. The work of the presbytery must rely on dedicated volunteers supported by our small staff. We continue to encourage our volunteer members of committees and commissions to claim their authority and to take on the work before them. We need you to serve in places that match your gifts.


  • There is an apathy or disconnectedness among minister members and other leaders alike. Part of that is driven by the demands of local mission and ministry and a feeling that, for some of our congregations, this is their last chance to remain viable. Exhaustion and depression are a part of the lives of leaders in such circumstances. The disconnectedness also comes from the hard decisions that have been made over the last few years by the presbytery. From reduction in staff who had become friends, to the sale of a camp that still lives in the memories of many people, the last few years have been tumultuous. Of course, the crime that was committed several decades ago and the price that was exacted from the presbytery for that crime lies at the heart of both of those outcomes.


  • Overt and subtle racism in the way we conduct our business as presbytery and congregations needs to be continually addressed. Even the crime that has driven the life of the presbytery for a decade or more has racism at its core. I have heard that people who had suspicions about the actions of a presbytery employee were afraid to come forward because they were afraid of being called racist. The true racism is treating people whom we define as being different from us as if they were objects instead of human beings. When we hold the same high standards for everyone who conducts mission and ministry in our name, we can begin to address racism. We need to examine our mission practices as well. Are we treating the children and adults who receive our mittens, or our food, or our visits for mission work in the summer as if they were in dire circumstances in order to provide us with a way to make ourselves feel good by offering this small token of Christ’s love? When we ask this hard question we begin to address racism.


  • We have the opportunity to address the sin that is at the heart of the American story and the story of Chicago—the sin of slavery, the racism that perpetuated it and excused it, and the fear of anyone defined as being different from us that grows out of it—in a way that many presbyteries do not. Look around this room. We sit beside people in worship or at a presbytery meeting who experience the world in a way that we do not because of the way they are perceived on the basis of race. This is the greatest resource we have—proximity to real people with whom we can have real conversations. We need to decide how to use our money well and how to use our buildings well. We also need to decide if we have the courage to stop treating other people as objects and instead to recognize in them the same wants and needs and inadequacies that we recognize in ourselves. Only then can we bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ in a way that will change their lives and ours as well.