Visioning for the Future Feedback

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Visioning for the Future Feedback 2016-10-13T13:28:05+00:00

Hands UpThe 2014 budget sub-committee, on behalf of the Assembly Council, is grateful to all those who responded to our request for insights into what binds us together as Presbyterians in Canada and what programs at the denominational level are important for the future of our church. Each and every response was read and the results were taken into account in the preparation of the budget. Below, you can find all the responses for which the writer gave permission for their response to be shared. The committee was particularly impressed with the time, thoughtfulness and commitment to our church that went into these responses and is glad to have them shared within the church.

Charles Greaves
Convener, Finance Committee, Assembly Council

Click on the name below to read each response.

St. Paul’s Ingersoll, ON

We continue to dwell in the joy of the Incarnation of Jesus and the eternal hope it brings. May each member of the special committee and all of our fellow servants of God find a true thanksgiving to sustain them in the purposes God has set for each of us. Thank you for the invitation to participate in the visioning and discernment process you are charged with leading as the Church seeks its faithful future. Too frequently budget development is informed more by fortress mentality and fear rather than with the hope of what is to be.

I encourage fiscal prudence as a gift to the Church, but surely we are directed by the boundless vistas Jesus foretells as he speaks of life in abundance. As to the question you have posed, “what are the programs and projects that binds us together… truly make us Presbyterian in Canada today?” I would offer these reflections:

We are to be a worshipping people. Ironically we have eliminated national staff in worship and evangelism in recent years. How we support primary worship experiences should still be a priority. Support for our colleges as they prepare ministers of word and sacrament is important. A rationalization of the colleges, new models of distant education, an openness to increased mentoring models (internships, etc) to shorten the in house preparation time (and ensuing costs) should be considered. Support for new church development must be a priority if we are to foster a worshipful spirit across our nation;

We are elder led communities. With over 8500 ordained elders we have a committed leadership team which needs empowering, equipping and releasing. Disciplining and apostleship models could be encouraged leading to more engaged creativity and wider ownership of our mission and ministry. The work of the Elders Institute and other adult education initiative should be supported;

We have a heart for mission. Our ongoing support for PWS&D and other mission work shows the deeply held desire to be a missional church. Support of local, national and international mission ministries should be seen as fertile ground for interdenominational and interfaith coalitions. We need to worry less about branding and more about difference making. I would hope our Canada ministries work would continue to be a priority particularly in inner cities and with first nations peoples;

We are called by God to a specific witness. We cannot be all things to all people; nor does God intend us to be. We are a small, family church struggling to maintain a ship of state model nationally, regionally and in many cases congregationally. we must trust others within the Body of Christ will have gifts we may not have been given. It is time to consider (and I am sure these matters have been diligently considered) the need for a large central office structure (building, infrastructure, staff and line resources); regional staff teams tied to synod boundaries rather than focused on specific needs in the current church; participation in a wide spectrum of agencies; duplication of services (including at the congregational level; and much more.

I once again celebrate that you are seeking the insight of the whole people of God as you wrestle with God’s intention for us as a servant people.

These are my initial thoughts. I once again celebrate that you are seeking the insight of the whole people of God as you wrestle with God’s intention for us as a servant people. In peace with hope,

Montreal, PQ

My passions are: To see all congregations working from the same rules of governance, i.e. Book of Forms and seeing this as a common link between all PCC teaching elders, ruling elders and members of congregations. From what I hear much time and energy could be saved to do other more worthwhile things if this was practiced in all congregations. Too often I am aware of a growing congregationalism in our denomination and this can only weaken our governance structure.

Presbyterians Sharing is a wonderful demonstration of sharing and the stronger supporting the weaker parts of our denomination and all having the chance to play a part in supporting different missions and programmes that not many congregations might be able to do on their own, but through this programme we are all in it together. As I listen to people I do not think that the average member knows the thinking behind Presbyterians Sharing and sees their contributions going to keeping up Wynford Drive and paying “executive” type salaries. My passion would be to encourage teaching elders and other congregational leaders to do some education in this area and to serve on committees, etc., at levels other than congregational – doing this is a great education in how the denomination works while contributing to the work of the church as a whole.

That I would like more time spent with potential members and new communicant members teaching them about our denomination and what is expected of them should they join in full membership of a congregation. Too often I think that we might have been working on a hope to increase membership, but without being fair to those who come to us. We cannot complain when people do not come forward to support the congregation and denomination financially or through taking on responsibilities if this has not been made clear to them before joining. An even stronger passion is to look at why young people so often stop coming to church after they have been confirmed – my passion would be to have this situation researched and moves made to help our young people stay within the church family and follow their faith. This idea comes from the fact that more and more of our new members are coming from denominations other than Presbyterian so at times there is conflict between one wanting to follow the Book of Forms and others just expecting things to be the same as the denomination that they have come from, or even at times just wanting to do things their way, a reflection of our “me” generation, but this does not work within our denomination and causes conflict from time to time, with people being hurt because they did not know the governance we should all be living by..As our membership ages, there is not the collective memory that there used to be when Presbyterianism was passed on from one generation to the other in a very informal way and by example. No more can we rely on children of members automatically staying within the denomination, so another reason for good education in governance and theological beliefs.

To have the education of ministers reviewed to make sure that the training that they receive is in keeping with what will be expected of them as they go into congregations in the coming decades. Congregational life is very different to what it was 30 or 40 years ago as is society, particularly with the loss of the army of volunteer women who are now not available in the same numbers as before due to women working outside the home.

To help clergy and lay people alike to develop their faith and then practice this together as they go out to do mission and outreach work together. If we do this, then we create a church community naturally with benefits both within and out with the congregational worship on Sundays.

Although the above concentrates on congregational life rather than the National Church Life, I firmly believe that until we have stronger congregations, we cannot do much to change things financially and in other ways at any other level. Stronger and more committed congregations will be essential I feel as we go into the future and I am not sure that any new programmes at the national level will work until we strengthen our base.

The denomination can be very proud of the support that PWSD gets throughout each year – this programme is admired for its low administrative costs and type of work that it does. People see this as a very worthwhile programme to support.

Hopefully some others will come up with passions more exciting than mine, but after being Clerk of Presbytery for twelve years, I had the opportunity to observe much congregational life and the above comes from that experience in large part.

I feel strongly though that in a nutshell my passion is for a strengthening of local congregations and perhaps Presbyteries looking once more at their responsibilities in light of changing times. I will wait with great interest for your report in light of the replies which you have received. Thank you for allowing me to be part of this process which will hopefully add to the strengths that we have as a denomination which allow us to be more effective as Christians in the wider community. Although as a denomination we contribute much to society, we can always do a little better if we work well together. I am always touched by how highly we are regarded in interfaith circles – something that is not widely known, so may be another passion is learning how to promote things that we do well and are respected for. May God bless this work and all involved in it.

Winnipeg, MB

Some thinking about the 2014 and beyond budgets

Beginning in the 1890’s denominations in Canada started adopting “corporation” models of action and programming. A corporation draws together “the means of production” to produce “a product”. In the case of the church the product was mission – overseas mission and home mission –which was evidenced by evangelism and social action; church planting and the development of educational institutions. The people in the pews and self-supporting congregations were invited in to the work by providing the means of production – money, people to be trained to do the work, and prayer support for the denomination’s work. The means of production were managed by a centralized Church Office. Prior to the 1890’s it was not possible to speak of a “National Church Office”. Denominational unity was created by commitment to a common mission – a mission led by the General Assembly.

By the 1960’s and 1970’s the model of church as corporation was showing signs of collapse. Questions were being raised about the purpose of overseas mission work, and the grand vision of a Christian Canada was in tatters. At the same time, there was recognition that a modern church was a complex organization requiring management and regulation. So the denomination as “regulatory agency” arose. The Book of Forms grew, constantly being amended and fine tuned. The question was no longer – “Is there a rule preventing us from doing this?” (if there is no rule saying “no” we are free to act) to “Do we have permission to do this?” (unless there is an explicit “yes” in the rules saying we can act this way we are not free to act). Denominational unity had come to be based on commitment to the rules – “doing things the Presbyterian way”.

I contend we need a new model – a new understanding of the denominational structures and their purpose. It is too early to propose what new metaphor will describe the new model. But I do want to suggest four principles that will mark the future shape of the denomination structure; and in the process highlight some of the implications of each for the budget of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

1. Experimental and culturally flexible

Since we do not yet know what is to come, there needs to be room for experiments. Experiments in programs, experiments in training, experiments in methods of gathering together, experiments in theological education – and on and on it goes. This will require suspending some of the rules, until we can figure out if we need those rules at all or how to amend them. It will also require suspending policies and procedures of the National structures until we can figure out what those policies and procedures need to be in this new time.

We need some simple rules like:

  • Does it damage the church’s witness to Jesus Christ as revealed to us in the Scriptures?
  • Does it hurt people spiritually, emotionally, spiritually?
  • Will people experience the grace of God?

If the answer to the first two is “no” and the answer to the third is “yes”, then we should let people try.

In addition to being experimental we need to be culturally flexible. Korean Presbyterians and Filipino Presbyterians have very different understandings of power dynamics in church. But we make both jump through Caucasian designed hoops on their way to becoming part of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. I n addition, different regions of the country have different cultures which are sometimes based on the realities of geography and typography. We need to be culturally flexible in the development of methods and models and programs.

Financial Implications:

  1. Reduce the regulatory structures at 50 Wynford Drive. Be far more prepared to say to clerks of Presbytery and others calling in for interpretation of the rules – “Read the book and use your brains. Develop a process that makes sense where you are.” This will force decision making down to the grassroots, where the decisions need to be made. ( See below the discussion of “Leadership Excellence” for re-configuring some of the work of the Clerks of Assembly.)
  2. Provide a fund of $450,000 a year for experiments. Each Presbytery would be guaranteed $10,000 a year for experiments. Un-expended funds would be added to the next year’s total.

2. Congregationally focused

Without congregations there is no Presbyterian Church. If the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Canada cease to exist there is no denomination. Congregations are the primary funders of the National structures of the church, and ignoring their well-being will be fatal to the National Church’s work. In caring for congregations the National Church must do three things.

First, respond to the “consumer needs” of congregations, helping them find the resources they need be those resources within the National Church offices or more widely within the denomination or outside the denomination altogether. (We have to trust that other Christians of other denominations and non-denominational groups can develop programs and initiatives that can and should be used by Canadian Presbyterians.) The National Office is be a store knowledgeable of the products it has and where to find products it does not have.

Second, nurture and highlight work being done in and by congregations and groups within congregations. Congregations across the country are doing interesting things – but those stories are not being told across the country. Congregational leaders are remarkably capable of translating an idea from one place and applying it another. The National Church can congregations well by telling stories of what is happening.

Third, the National Church is called to challenge congregations to move into areas they don’t want to go. For example, the denomination needs to be doing evangelism through its congregations – but few congregations are identifying that need in conversations with the National Church structures. The National Church can play a role, as it cares for congregations, to highlight things that are missing in the life of congregations and hold congregations feet to the fire on those issues.

Financial Implications:

  1. Move Justice Ministries into Canadian Ministries – eliminating the Associate Secretary position and keeping support staff positions who will continue to highlight Justice issues. Justice ministries as part of Canadian Ministries will take its lead from congregations who are working on justice issues – thereby privileging locally raised justice issues by bringing them to regional and national prominence.
  2. Move both Stewardship Office and Planned Giving – into Canadian Ministries – eliminating the two Associate Secretary positions. This would re-position stewardship and the management of wealth as congregational focused practices not as denominationally focused practices.
  3. One of the most powerful signs that we are serious about congregations is planting more of them. If we truly believe congregations are the fundamental core of the denomination we will want to plant more of them. We should expend no less than 10% of the denomination’s budget each year on church planting. And we should privilege experimentation and outside the box thinking when it comes to planting churches.
  4. How to best nurture congregations is a moving target and we will need to be constantly thinking about what the experiments are teaching us. Therefore we should make $150,000 available annually for research grants that would explore aspects of congregational life and what is being learned in the experiments.

3. Presbytery driven

We are a PRESBYTERYan denomination. And while we love to complain about presbyteries we have become part of a church that believes through the messiness of committees and the awkwardness of debate God’s voice is heard and the people of God discern God’s call.

While the average Canadian knows a great deal more about the federal government than their municipal government – if city hall quit operating the average Canadian would feel that impact far more quickly than if the federal government quit functioning. So it is with presbyteries – much attention is focused on activities taking place at 50 Wynford Drive – but if presbyteries stopped functioning that would have a far greater impact on the average Presbyterian than the ending of the National Office. Presbyteries for all their problems matter.

Experimentation and cultural flexibility will need to become mantras for presbyteries. To do that means returning to presbyteries some of the authority that has been stripped from them over the years. In particular the power to assign theological training requirements and declare people qualified for ministry in the denomination should be held in the hands of presbyteries. This would mean dramatic changes to theological education – but it would bring presbyteries into their proper role as the trainers of the next generation of clergy.

Financial Implications:

  1. If the Presbyteries take authority for training and ordination including assigning students the courses needed and where and how those courses would be taught, the colleges would need to be responsive to Presbyteries and their educational needs. Thus the colleges would be less independent academic institutions and more training collectives for the education of the students assigned to them. Presbyteries would have through the power of student tuitions to privilege schools that addressed the ministry needs of their context. (I realize this is a completely new model of education. But it would create a much closer tie between congregations/presbyteries and the colleges.)
  2. Given some of the changes suggested so far – it should be possible to merge the Deputy Clerk’s role and the Associate Secretary for Ministry and Church Vocations. The merger would allow for a new position being formed out of the two – Leadership Excellence. Leadership Excellence would look at how to best support and nurture leaders – both clergy and lay leaders. Through conversation, structured retreats and on-site presence this staff person would aid denominational leaders in being their best both as individual leaders and as collectives of leaders in Sessions and Presbyteries. Additionally this position would be on the look-out for new leaders in emerging mission contexts. The $150,000 research fund could be overseen by this position. As this role would be framed to link with Presbyteries towards future thinking it would also be able to manage the $450,000 annually experimental fund.
  3. Taking presbyteries seriously means providing them with some model of regional staffing support. As it becomes clear that Synods may not survive in all parts of the country as the new round of changes happens, it may not be reasonable to link Regional Staffing to Synods. However seven (down from the eight projected for 2015) regional staff will be needed across the country with funding totaling around $600,000. The role of these staff will be to push experimentation and risk taking. They will seek to build capacity in presbyteries to handle crises and launch new ministries.

4. Have a shared and robust theological culture

So what is the glue that holds the church together in this time of experimentation and de-centralization? The answer is theology. Our unity will be built on a shared commitment to Jesus Christ as witnessed to in the Scriptures and a shared commitment as a confessional church to the subordinate standards of the church. To build on anything else is to build on shifting sand. This shared commitment will require us committing to a robust theological conversation involving both clergy and lay people.

It will also invite us to take seriously what we have said in the past regarding our 1994 Apology to Aboriginal Peoples, and other such statements of regret and promises we have made. For we will be a people for whom words and theology are not just words and theology they will be a way of life, a call to a particular pattern of living.

Financial Implications:

  1. We keep our promise to seek healing and reconciliation with the aboriginal community.

A further note: Having reduced the number of Associate Secretaries in the Life and Mission Agency from the present seven to four (or maybe three if the merged Deputy Clerk-MCV (Leadership Excellence) remains within the Assembly Office), it seems unnecessary to have a General Secretary for the LMA. (The three other Associate Secretaries would be International Ministries, Canadian Ministries, and PWS&D). We are a collegial church and it seems logical to expect the four (or maybe three) Associate Secretaries to work together in a collegial manner, requiring no “boss”.

The above proposals would require re-thinking how we are the church together at the National level. But the time is right for a robust conversation about such things.

Cambridge, ON

Let me begin by thanking you and your fellow committee members on what must be a very difficult and time consuming project. I do appreciate the work that you all do as I would be totally unqualified for the job myself.

I have read over the letter regarding our “input into our visioning for the future” and I am afraid you will not be pleased with my response.

First, having read the letter it seems to be a letter asking for input into the budgeting process for 2014, not any kind of visioning. Choosing which programs will receive funding and which will not is not visionary.

Secondly, I am surprised that our denomination continues to view programs and projects as defining Presbyterianism. Is this part of the M.Div. curriculum at Knox College? My present experience is that people today care very little about denominations and their definitions, and more about any church that will allow them to experience God/Jesus through worship and service.

Thirdly, this letter strikes me as being somewhat similar to the report just published by Rev. Haynes regarding the future work of the Life and Mission Agency. Both presume the continuing and future work of program and project committees at Wynford Dr. Instead of assuming that the Life and Mission Agency will continue to exist or that projects and programs need to be continued because they have become tradition, why not actually create a real vision of what God is calling the P.C.C. to be, and then create a very streamlined support structure to enable congregations to follow God’s lead?

I worry that no one at Wynford Dr. is hearing what the congregations are saying! Congregations are cutting staff and redundant programs and projects because they cannot afford them any longer. When might we see a similar response from Wynford Dr.? As givings to Presbyterians Sharing will continue to dwindle due to decreased church attendance, decreased stewardship and quickly vanishing congregations, small cuts to everyone’s budgets will not work. A good hard look at what programs and projects congregations want and do not want will probably tell you what you need to know for the 2014 budget.

I am sure this is not want you wanted to hear and I do apologize. Do I have all the answers….absolutely not! Do I have the gifts to do what I have suggested above……probably not. However, I hear the congregations, I hear the Presbyteries, I see the churches closing and nothing seems to change at Wynford Dr.

Good luck in your work! It is greatly appreciated! Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your letter! I know that God will continue to guide you through this difficult process! Blessings,

North Bay, ON

As the mother of three young children, I strongly support the funding of youth ministry within the Presbyterian Church. I was recently enlightened by a seminar presented by Jeffrey Crawford in North Bay, Ontario. He discussed the changing needs of youth today and the need for adults to model faith, act as mentors and to “be present” in the everyday lives of our youth. I learned in the modern day we need to shift from our traditional model of youth groups and church school to really reach our youth and share the Good News. I feel that further funding will allow the youth ministry to explore new ways to keep kids interested and excited about their faith and about all the good things the Church has to offer. This funding would be especially beneficial in sharing of this information to congregations (especially in non-urban areas) and to provide support and ideas/strategies with all Youth Education Leaders.

The children of today are the members and adherents of the future Presbyterian Church in Canada.

My wife and I are both serving elders in our local congregation. We have served on and/or convened various committees at the local, Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly levels. Both of our children are ordained ministers. You could say that we are Presbyterians through and through.

So, what makes us Presbyterian in Canada today?

  • the preaching of the word of God
  • an emphasis on educated ministers
  • Presbyterian Sharing initiatives
  • Presbyterian World Service & Development programs
  • the sacraments of communion and baptism
  • the reformed worship style
  • committees
  • congregational input into the life and work of the church at all levels
  • the PCC website
  • the Book of Forms – all things done in good order

Guelph, ON

Some random thoughts. The millennium caused great concern for many, e.g. the end of the world; all computers would crash. I do not remember them all. One that I had heard: that it would see the return of Jesus to earth.

Are you familiar with the following time line? Starting with Moses – 1500 b.c.e., a new religion has appeared in the world every 500 years.

1000 b.c.e. -Zoroastrianism

500 b.c.s. – Buddhism

Zero – the birth of Jesus

500 c.e. – Islam

1000 c.e. – Orthodox church split from Roman church

1500 c.e. – Reformation

2000 c.e. – ?

The word/concept “spirituality” has entered our lexicon. It does not appear in the concordance in one of my bibles, and my understanding is that it does not appear in the Bible. Questions: Why has it appeared? What is it? Could we learn something from it? Can it live alongside dogma? Does it lead us to see ourselves differently? Is it related to Hope, Peace, Joy, Love? Does it move us to think globally? Whither The Church, as we know it?

Random thoughts, indeed.

Toronto, ON

Thank you for your request for input from members of the Presbyterian Church in Canada re: the present budgeting process. As the Board of Knox College and the Faculty have both responded to your committee and as I am fully in support of those responses I am writing here in my personal capacity as a Minister in the Church and as a Professor at one of our Colleges.

I appreciate the framing of your question about the programs of our church that relates to our distinctiveness as a denomination. I believe that recent debates in General Assembly around the reception of ministers from other denominations (the 137th General Assembly, report and recommendations of Ministry and Church Vocations) confirmed how important solid education of our ministers is to the denomination as a whole. If we have to have a distinctiveness as Christians, it should be in ensuring the love of God with our minds as well as our hearts, and faithfulness in our learning and practice.

That being said, the denomination is now on the brink of a new, exciting and challenging time. Going back to the past is not entirely going to help us meet the challenges of our time. The Presbyterian Church in Canada exists for the Gospel of Jesus Christ not simply for itself and for the perpetuation of its own institutions as important as they might be. However, where our institutions, buildings and structures reflect the Gospel of the love of Christ and the thriving of creation, they give meaning to our culture and society. The present context in Canada calls us to be creative and innovative if we want to be faithful to the Gospel. There are many signs of this in our denomination. Much of it is happening in local congregations and in strategic new ways of doing ministry. The motion on support for our local congregations at the last Assembly powerfully demonstrates this. In my opinion the Life and Mission Agency of the church has in the recent past not shown a strong commitment to this part of its work. This is demonstrated in its lack of commitment to supporting “The Vine” over the last two years. As I travel throughout the denomination and have conversations with minister they keep on raising their disappointment at those kind of decisions. Furthermore, on the ground ministry support within Synods is the second line of defense as congregations struggle to find direction and encouragement. We need these flexible and encouraging ministries more than anything to support local congregations and ministers. These things should be the last things to cut.

If anything, we need to be less concerned about being distinctive and more concerned about sharing the Gospel in new and innovative ways. At Knox College the faculty is taking this matter very seriously as we envisage new forms of ministry not bound specifically to large church buildings, but rather to healthy communities that might thrive with part-time and alternative forms of ministry. Our Anglican colleagues in Canada and the United Reformed Church together with the Methodist and Anglican churches in the United Kingdom have taken bold and fruitful steps through their support of the “Fresh Expressions” movement which encourages innovation and supports those in innovative ministry with on the job theological education. Some of our own ministers have supported Natural Church Development initiatives with some success. It is this kind of boldness that we need in the PCC today so that we can live faithfully for the Gospel rather than live for our own perpetuation.

As you consider the difficult budget decision before you, I pray for you as a committee. These are tough decisions and I trust the Spirit of Christ will be with you as you decide. In God’s service,

Peterborough, ON

If your committee is able to overcome (member) bias I would suggest that two areas be reviewed.

  1. The Colleges – consumers of vast sums [mainly for foreign student export] and incredibly expensive per student (of Word and Sacrament) [who enter fulltime ministry] (in Canada)
  2. The camps – huge consumers (a supposed Synod [get RID OF] responsibility but in reality a Presbytery levy. Perhaps the focus could be changed to adults (grey-hairs) – think of mobile home sites/trailers around a contemplative centre.

Perhaps we have grown “too big for our britches” – look closely at the MAX Insurance Company of Canada’s head office (formerly The Mennonite Mutual Aid Union) sitting beside a pond, in the country, with low overhead – a similar more pastoral (than we currently have) site is my idea of the proper setting for Church Offices. Try Google street view 140 Foundry St. Baden On, N3A 2P7. Incidentally, my idea to reduce college costs would be to follow all existing procedures but give the candidate for ministry a lump sum honorarium annually. [perhaps about $24,000] to attend an approved (by PCC) theological college or university. Man, am I worried. Blessings and Happy New Year!

Cambridge, ON

The 2014 Budget Sub-Committee’s question has inspired me to a great deal of thought. I attach a response in this e-mail. I do apologise for the length, and I suspect that it is not quite what the sub-committee was looking for, but I hope it sparks at least a little good conversation. At the very least it has given me some good mental exercise. Thank you for the opportunity, in any case, and all the best in the hard choices still to come. Regards,

Dear members of the 2014 Budget Sub-Committee,

“What are the programs and projects that bind us together and fulfil not just what is required but what truly makes us Presbyterian in Canada today?”

First of all, thank you for this opportunity to join the conversation about dreams and hopes for the future of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Thank you also for the reminder that good stewardship requires making the effort to discern how to apply the resources which God has given to us so that they might best support our efforts to follow the way of the Lord. Not that I wish you difficulty, but would it not be a good sign for the church if you get so many submissions that it takes you quite a long time to consider them all?

Your question is not an easy one to answer, for naming the programs and projects which connect and define us means delving into the essence of what it means to be Presbyterian in Canada. Thus, in my attempt at a reply, I am going to interpret the notion of projects rather broadly: it is easier, I think, to look at the wider overall endeavours which mark the Canadian Presbyterian effort to be faithful to God. Some of these will be very wide indeed and, I am afraid, probably will not contribute to simplifying your task of making judgements on particular lines in the budget. But I do hope these reflections might provide at least a little food for thought along the way.

1. Polity. Strictly speaking, what makes us Presbyterians in Canada is the project of our polity, as unexciting as that may sound. The endeavour to listen for God and respond in General Assemblies, Synods, and Presbyteries in addition to congregations and as individuals marks off our specific way of thinking about being church. And yes, we sometimes grumble about our system, about endless meetings and about how long it can take to get anything done. “Polity” is so close to “politics” that we can be reticent about owning it as a defining characteristic. However, our polity provides us with some tremendous strengths and insights. All of our structures demand relationship within community. We are called to make decisions through paying attention to one another; we are encouraged to respect each voice among us as equally belonging to a child of God. By having most of our decision-making bodies split evenly in membership between clergy and laity, we seek to spread power and authority throughout the group. The way that we attempt to be church together underlines the necessity of fellowship and, beyond that, friendship. Because of the significance of our polity, whatever strengthens both participation in and the functioning of General Assembly, Synods, and Presbyteries is indispensable.

One great challenge for our system is that it requires a high level of engagement at all levels for it to work properly. Participants need to be committed to attending to one another’s concerns and to creating a climate in which deliberations are not monopolized by only a few influential voices. People need to have the tools which will allow them to participate and share their gifts without fear. Any projects which help to provide those tools – the Elders’ Institute, for instance—deserve wholehearted support. Similarly, anything which comes up which might help ministers prepare to be good participants in Presbyterian polity, to attend to everyone around, and to think theologically about the system would be welcome.

2. Education and Theological Reflection. But facilitating participation in the governing structures of the church does not exhaust the importance of engagement, learning, and reflection: they are intrinsic to Christian discipleship as a whole. The Holy Spirit needs to shape us to follow Jesus along the way of the Lord, and that formation is mediated through so many sources. Other people model faith for us. We wrestle with scripture, doctrine and tradition. We get inspired by the world around us, the books we read, the films we watch, the art that takes our breath away. Our participation in congregational life – everything from worship services to cleaning up after potluck suppers – helps to form what we think and do about the call to love God and our neighbours. Our Reformed traditions have emphasized the significance of teaching and learning for all people in the church. In Canada, we have woven many programs into the work of education and they bind us together; not just the provision of resources explicitly labelled Christian education, but the work of the Archives to keep our memories alive, the efforts of the Presbyterian Record to inform us, offerings in the way of continuing education, and more, all contribute to shaping us as Canadian Presbyterians. Yet we cannot stop there. Teaching and learning is inseparable from the work of addressing life theologically. We learn to make connections to the stories and themes of our traditions, to find and make meaning out of the everyday; out of the heart of our trust in God, we are prompted also to question both what happens around us and, perhaps even more so, our own understandings. Certainly, theological reflection is supported by the best work of the denomination’s national committees and colleges. However, as theological depth is so necessary for thinking through what God’s peace might need and desire in our circumstances, I urge that we will be bound together better when theological inquiries are strongly supported. If we believe that Canadian Presbyterianism has something worth adding to the art of thinking theologically at all, we should foster the theological voices of those who might share more widely the insights which God reveals locally.

3. Attending to Our Context. The broad project of being Presbyterian in Canada finds us united by geography and history as we seek to address our particular situation and specifically Canadian issues. God did not make us to be abstractions (though we might use abstract thought to help us make models and understand) but as concrete, locally embodied persons. We cannot give up on relating to what is around us. Thus we are bound together by our efforts to minister to all Canadians, not just our own members, not just to Christians. In a pluralist and multicultural country like Canada, we function as Canadian Presbyterians when we support ecumenical and interfaith relationships, not just to understand our neighbours, but to join with them in the project of making the world a better place. As a Canadian religious institution, it is important to reach out with love in at least both official languages (and so we should encourage efforts to translate resources into French) but even that does not go far enough – we also need to be open to the languages and cultures of others, of those who join us from Presbyterian traditions elsewhere in the world, of those peoples whose ancestors were in North America long before English was spoken on the continent, and of those who are other and will always remain different. Thus one mark of being Presbyterian in Canada is the work of reconciliation, responding to past injustice with our own penitence, as in the ongoing response to residential schools. As Canadian Presbyterians, we also are bound together by efforts to engage with specifically Canadian culture, with Canadian arts, literature and music. Encouraging creativity connects us to the conversations happening around us. More narrowly, in our devotional life, this means that having our own creative resources -liturgies and worship books, hymn books and social justice handbooks and more – and supporting the production of new ones link us together and are necessary for addressing the present day. I know that resources are not cheap to produce, but if we give up on them, we close down avenues for expressing the gifts which God has given, and have less to offer that people could not get elsewhere.

4. Response to God. None of this is in order of importance, as can be seen by this return to the idea of our response to God in the fourth instance. All our project of responding to God binds us together and makes us who we are. This response comes in our worship, our praise, our prayers, our listening for God’s word, the sign of water in baptism, the acceptance of the bread and the cup at communion. It comes as we work to transform the world into a place where the oppressed can stand freely, and the poor can give widely, and the sick are comforted and the lonely know companionship. It comes in the friendships forged at the edge of sanctuaries, when we stop to talk together at the door, or over tea and coffee, or on the way somewhere else. We hear God’s call; we strive to follow, to turn towards the people God asks us to love, and to help each other as we go. This is all woven together. To me, emblematic of the connections are the Advent liturgies provided by PWS&D. They link so many of our congregations together in speaking and praying the same words. They come out of liturgical creativity. They teach us what it means to serve and to seek justice. They point to possibility.

I have a confession to make. I am a Canadian Presbyterian, but I have not spent a great deal of time in Canada lately. I have been away, studying, living elsewhere. So you may want to disregard all of this. But I remain a Canadian Presbyterian, shaped into the person who I am in large part by the PCC. I remain a minister of the church, too. When I went to Scotland to study, and to other places, I have carried that spiritual home with me; it forms the work that I do as a theologian and minister wherever I am. So I offer this as someone who watches the PCC with great interest from away, and hope that it is helpful.

You have quite the job to do. You ask a serious question, and I understand that you are trying to figure out what Presbyterian priorities should be in order to help you draft a budget in days of great change and uncertainty. Still, I worry that we Canadian Presbyterians are not opening our eyes wide enough. Why stop at what makes us Presbyterian? We run the risk, not only of looking nowhere beyond our backyards, but of never even going outside. Yes, as I hope the rest of this letter shows, I believe that our traditions as Canadian Presbyterians have many gifts to offer. However, that we are Presbyterian has grown out of people trying to be faithful Christians in a particular time and a particular place a lot more than it has grown out of people trying to be Presbyterians. Like most trees, our roots still need fresh water. I fear that obsessing over our identity will rob that identity of the very vigour it needs to grow and remain vital. In the end, if we preserve our Presbyterian nature only at the expense of giving up on joining others in God’s work of peace and hope, well, we might remain Presbyterian, but it won’t mean very much at all.

Edmonton, AB

Mr. Greaves, I want to share some thoughts I have been having about all the misery that continues to engulf the world. One thought is that the young people in the developing nations do not have the availability of an official education system. We see and hear about sporadic, individual efforts in Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Malawi. I believe that the lack of education is the root of so many problems and misunderstandings and a lack of good leadership. If Canada would dedicate more of its foreign aid dollars to education (go slow, but steady) we could make a significant difference in the world. There are so many God given talents which go unused, because of this lack of education.

Having said that, should also The Presbyterian Church in Canada think in the same direction. We should also not forget our own education and learn more about how we can serve God better in this more and more secular world. So, should education be a focal point for us all? Respectfully submitted,

Dundas, ON

In trying to respect the intent of this “Call” for input into “the PCC’s Visioning for the Future,” vis a vis the preparation of the 2014 budget of the PCC, I am assuming that to respond to the question “What are the programs and projects that bind us together and fulfill not just what is required but what truly makes us Presbyterian in Canada today?” , that what is being requested is my response, in these terms, i.e., to what I feel and have sensed, for some time now, are possible changes that might be considered within the Church’s programming and projects, and hence relative to budgeting for 2014, in order for us to be as true as possible to our Presbyterian heritage, as the Lord of the Church gives us leading to be the Church of his Word and teaching as culminating in his Great Commission”. Hence, I submit the following for hoped-for consideration in the budgeting process:

  • adequate funding for Communications to enable greater savings through advanced technology;
  • prioritize funding for Congregational Ministries” (e.g. Regional Staffing re-configuration);
  • amalgamation of Theological Colleges & strong emphasis on mentoring of students for ministry in terms of existing leadership models within congregations of the Church;
  • follow-through on bi-annual General Assemblies that will include plenaries for hearing and discussing challenging speakers, along with the “business” of the Court;
  • strong Leadership Development programming for and within congregations, vis a vis Life and Mission Agency mandate;
  • reviewing staffing needs in all areas of Church Office;
  • be more intentional in the appointment of General Assembly Committees in terms of how many required on Committees to do the work;
  • research the number of funds that are in “undesignated portfolios”, and amalgamate for funding mission priorities;
  • funding an advocate for two years to promote Presbyterians Sharing” within the presbyteries of the Church and through meetings with congregational clusters
  • within same, based on “Leading with Care” advocate and promoter, vis a vis LMA Stewardship development.

Tweed, ON

I am wondering how willing we might be to borrow a method of visioning that has been effective in the Church of Scotland – Church Without Walls. It seems to me that we need more than simply to envision and devise new programmes to help us to “do” ministry. I believe that our Church needs to return to the basics, stripping away all that has been erected over the course of 5 + centuries. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves, as did they, what is the core calling of the Church and then if applicable explore the additional questions they posed to themselves. I’m not certain that there is a need to adapt the material to fit us. Our responses, formed through a process of discernment, conscientious prayer and self-defining can provide the definitive PCC perspective some might suggest is required before we can venture anywhere and explore new avenues for ministry. We need far more than “a little bit of tinkering”, or fine tuning what we already have and do, we must be able to discover the new Church with newer eyes.

Moncton, NB

I appreciate the labours of all seeking to guide the PCC into the future. It’s not an easy job in the complex environments in which we exist. This year I removed myself from the Long Range Planning Committee, partly because it was not committed to what I understand is needed in the PCC which is indeed Long Range Planning. Such a process must be driven by visionary thinking and prayerful discernment.

While I appreciate the nature of your task in seeking to speak into the 2014 budget, could I be so bold as to suggest the question being asked is the wrong kind of question? I do not see this initiative as visioning for the future because it is far too short term. The question poised is a status quo kind of question rather than a futurist/visionary kind of question like, “What is God’s preferred future for the PCC?”

May God bless you in your endeavours. Prayerfully it will lead to fruitful exercises of genuine visioning work.

Ottawa, ON

My comments and questions to you are my personal ones. Over the next month, I hope you receive many contributions from many congregations, as your mandate is a very serious one.

As someone outside the PCC loop, I wasn’t aware that the PCC had a Finance Committee and who they report to. How come they never report into the Blue Book? I knew that there was a FC on the Assembly Council. Are these the same thing?

Let me begin by questioning your statement in the 5th paragraph. You say that “our financial resources have diminished due to the economic downturn of 2008.” I don’t agree that this conclusion is correct. You may believe it, but a statement like this needs to be supported with fact.

In your paragraph 2, the vision is reversed. #1 should be “What is required of us” and #2: “What programs do we do, as a result of #1.”

Also, what programs are essential and which are lesser priority or optional.

The fact that our overall spending exceeds income is troublesome. Were this to happen once in a while, this could be acceptable. But when it happens 4 years in a row, this is a sign that the PCC is being badly managed, fiscally.

I propose that the PCC consider a zero-based budget, where nothing, no expense, is off the table.

In my attempt to understand the 2013 budget, I read the Blue Book p. 225. The revenue is explained well, but the expenses are too often hidden from view. For instance: LMA Program Support = $2,256,526. I would like to see a detailed budget of every expense over $10,000, including salaries of our employees. If details are given elsewhere in the Blue Book, give a reference page. To balance our books, EVERY expense is to be challenged.

While I may seem critical, it’s because I care deeply. I would volunteer to help if you need any assistance.

Spreadsheet: PCC Fiscal balance

We continue to dwell in the joy of the Incarnation of Jesus and the eternal hope it brings. May each member of the special committee and all of our fellow servants of God find a true thanksgiving to sustain them in the purposes God has set for each of us. Thank you for the invitation to participate in the visioning and discernment process your are charged with leading as the Church seeks its faithful future. Too frequently budget development is informed more by fortress mentality and fear rather than with the hope of what is to be.

I encourage fiscal prudence as a gift to the Church, but surely we are directed by the boundless vistas Jesus foretells as he speaks of life in abundance. As to the question you have posed, “what are the programs and projects that binds us together… truly make us Presbyterian in Canada today?” I would offer these reflections:

We are to be a worshipping people. Ironically we have eliminated national staff in worship and evangelism in recent years. How we support primary worship experiences should still be a priority. Support for our colleges as they prepare ministers of word and sacrament is important. A rationalization of the colleges, new models of distant education, an openness to increased mentoring models (internships, etc) to shorten the in house preparation time (and ensuing costs) should be considered. Support for new church development must be a priority if we are to foster a worshipful spirit across our nation;

We are elder led communities. With over 8500 ordained elders we have a committed leadership team which needs empowering, equipping and releasing. Disciplining and apostleship models could be encouraged leading to more engaged creativity and wider ownership of our mission and ministry. The work of the Elders Institute and other adult education initiative should be supported;

We have a heart for mission. Our ongoing support for PWS&D and other mission work shows the deeply held desire to be a missional church. Support of local, national and international mission ministries should be seen as fertile ground for interdenominational and interfaith coalitions. We need to worry less about branding and more about difference making. I would hope our Canada ministries work would continue to be a priority particularly in inner cities and with first nations peoples;

We are called by God to a specific witness. We cannot be all things to all people; nor does God intend us to be. We are a small, family church struggling to maintain a ship of state model nationally, regionally and in many cases congregationally. we must trust others within the Body of Christ will have gifts we may not have been given. It is time to consider (and I am sure these matters have been diligently considered) the need for a large central office structure (building, infrastructure, staff and line resources); regional staff teams tied to synod boundaries rather than focused on specific needs in the current church; participation in a wide spectrum of agencies; duplication of services (including at the congregational level; and much more.

I once again celebrate that you are seeking the insight of the whole people of God as you wrestle with God’s intention for us as a servant people.

These are my initial thoughts. I once again celebrate that you are seeking the insight of the whole people of God as you wrestle with God’s intention for us as a servant people. In peace with hope,

Attached also is a report to my presbytery (Westminster) after I attended the 138th last June.

I have attached a link to a Korean church that worships at Central in Vancouver. They went to our camp for a retreat weekend. Awesome worship.

I applaud the initiative to seek help to define our future. Thanks.

Further Reflections

An Open letter to the PCC – A Passionate Plea for Change

In the PCC, from the top to the bottom, we seem to suffer a collective malaise regarding our future as a denomination. It is hard to find a page or read a comment about church membership that has a positive expectation. Our churches fail to attract adequate support, even from their own members, and our static infrastructure reflects a style of worship that hasn’t changed much since we were in Sunday School.

We have had workshops on every aspect of our polity but still we don’t want to change. We work hard at doing what we have done for generations without any thought as to why we are doing it. We are happy in our ignorance as spectators while we lose our youth to a different style of worship and mostly in a different denomination, — if they have a denomination at all.

Do we not realize that without our youth and the future they bring, we are a one generation church? Do we not care for the integrity of our families or the future they hold? Should we not be trying to meet them where they’re at, instead of pushing our lifeless brand of worship at them, hoping they will enjoy singing about God instead of to Him? Are we content with the “Frozen chosen” cliché?

Why do we feel good about maintaining the status quo instead of effecting change which will allow our youth and those in the spirit to worship in a more animated style?

What will it take for us to create change, or to establish a style of worship that fills the spiritual needs of our young people? Something has to happen friends and happen soon if we are to stop the drain of our youth and stress on our ministers.

Could it be that our church is governed by those who are gifted and called to preach and teach the word, but few have the skills necessary to manage their congregation or institute change to keep in step with newer trends in worship? Could it be they think their way of ‘doing church’ is the only recognized way to make it happen? Could it be those pushing for change are hampered by a greying session who like it their way and don’t want to change?

The Gospel writers say “Lift up your hands in worship” but we hear the whispers “Who does she think she is”? All the while the youth of Asian immigrants, filled with the spirit can dance, sing and wave to the beat of their music and shed tears of appreciation for the grace of our loving God as they share His presence in their worship services. It’s not hard to imagine therefore that if someone can feel the presence of God, any works they do will be done with a joyful heart, strengthening the premise that our bond to our loving God has to be heart felt and not cerebral.

We are all filled with the same spirit as our Lord and Saviour, but any Presbyterian caught speaking in tongues or trying to cast out demons, are themselves cast out. Just because most can’t do it, we say it isn’t Presbyterian, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Maybe some training in this would be a good start.

My humble suggestion to instigate regeneration is that our presbyteries need to establish a ten person committee and charge them with steering the churches into the modern era of worship. Worship, yes, because that is where it all begins.

This steering committee may have to spend many hours visiting and in prayer discerning God’s will before making any recommendations to a congregation. Some recommendations for possible focus of this committee may be:

  • First decide if we want to change, and prepare to live with the consequences
  • Revamp the worship and praise at some churches through heartfelt, lively and soul-stirring music under the leadership of a trained worship leader who can involve the congregation
  • Make the tough decisions necessary to amalgamate some small congregations and use the infrastructure and resources freed up to
  • Open a youth oriented church
  • Do nothing and live with the consequences

Dear friends, in a world where the affluent lose their grasp on spiritual life and the poor are oppressed and their churches burned, we as a denomination need to refresh our way of doing things and move out from the shadow of the mainline church and into a more progressive model of outreach. One where we can meet God where He is working and to fulfil our mission of bringing His spirit to a searching world.

Truly yours,

Ross McClelland

Winnipeg, MB

A truly formidable task you have!

I am Bruce Miles, Moderator G.A. in’88…still active in ministry as Interim Moderator for 2 congregations. Ordained in 1953 would you believe. Four suggestions for the future.

  1. One “super” college or Seminary. How can we, a church the size we are, dare to think that we need three?
  2. Assemblies, which cost somewhere in the $400,000 area (could be corrected here) be held every 2 years if not 3.
  3. Aid receiving charges – are they still called that? Be given 5 years to decide the direction in which they will go because when 5 years is up – aid ceases.
  4. a national emphasis on spiritual growth, said emphasis to include all folks affiliated with a particular congregation…this to be seen as oxygen for a church that requires some kind of stimulant in order to keep breathing!

Further note: As a life long Presbyterian, there is something that is gnawing at me. Is it so important to be a Presbyterian and hopefully present a some kind of special “Presbyterian” witness in the world to-day…or is there another question. How do we do church and BE church in our somewhat topsy-turvy world of the present moment…and thus being faithful to our Lord and Saviour?

Just some thoughts of an older, sometimes wounded, still breathing pilgrim, with some fire yet burning in the belly.

Calgary, AB

To share a few thoughts:

With the growing awareness for the need of wise financial stewardship how might we incorporate new practices in discernment so that we may align our actions/mission with our understanding of God’s Call?

I wonder is the PCC willing to SEEK council from beyond the PCC? TAKE council? Are we willing to invest in this? Is there a willingness to act upon whatever is revealed as God’s Call for the PCC no matter what the cost individually and corporately?

A helpful conversation for many congregations today, is to ask the question: what is the legacy we wish to leave behind us? Is the PCC willing to risk and answer the same question? What is the legacy of the PCC in Canada? Sometimes this conversation can bring about creativity and renewed mission.

I wonder, what are Presbyterians ready to relinquish? The structure that binds us, does it need to be examined? Are we able to name the nature of our resistance to change? Many of the items found under the “budget principles prepared by the Special Committee” have been studied and reported on over the years at General Assemblies with a lot of energy and resources not affecting any real change. How is the PCC going to engage the mind and heart, the rational and emotional, so that with hope we can reframe and renew the mission of the church and provide needed clarity for our ministry?

Presbyterians claim to have a “teachable spirit” which calls forth an attitude that is open, not afraid to question, that involves listening and learning and applying, and which begins with a spirit of humility, honesty and curiosity. As we live in the 21st century of rapid change how are we relying on our “teachable spirit” to forge a path into new terrain?

I think Presbyterians value a ministry of presence as we try to model a faith that is incarnational. In what ways is God calling us to build community beyond our church buildings of brick and mortar? How are we being called to claim the gift of community? What would it mean to go deeper?

How is our understanding of mission changing in our global context? Are we willing to develop greater community partnerships and develop new relationships? Should we be exploring new partnerships ecumenically? Is this the time to redefine our mission and ministry? What shift in our missional focus might motivate us to adapt and risk being a faithful presence in the Canadian culture today?

North Sydney, NS

“What are the programs and projects that bind us together and fulfill not just what is required but what truly makes us Presbyterian in Canada today?”

  1. I think that having a shorter General Assembly, as in 2013, is a step in the right direction. Assemblies should either be shorter than in the past or held every two years. Much of the business of the General Assembly is taken up with minutes of appreciation that are already in commissioners’ binders. Also, having fewer ecumenical visitors would take up less time and financial resources.
  2. Synods have become anachronistic. They are probably not as important as in the past. They have largely become fellowship/educational events that may not justify the expense.
  3. By my count, we have between seventy and seventy five staff at the national offices. This seems top heavy in a shrinking denomination. Three clerks of Assembly are probably unnecessary, as an example. Most departments could probably do with fewer staff.
  4. We no longer require three seminaries. Knox and Presbyterian colleges should probably merge. Presbyterian is the newer and probably more cost efficient building. VST should continue to serve those in the west.
  5. PWS &D is a very worthwhile ministry of our Church. Its work is a tangible expression of our mandate to feed the hungry and clothe the naked in the name of Christ. I would hate to see any reduction in its ministry.

Barrie, ON

You don’t know what you believe until you say it.

This statement is at the heart of what confession is about. Words have power. Whoever said “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” was deluded. I know it. You know it.

We confess – our lips express what’s in our soul – what we believe. We say out loud things that matter. Marriage vows. Baptismal vows. “I love you.” Saying something is a physical act. Stand up and be counted.

Part of the reason some kind of ‘confession of faith’ is included during worship services isn’t because we have memorized a dusty creed. It’s because it continually grounds us in a sweep of biblical insight that is grafted to us. Rescuing wisdom for living.

The word creed comes from the Latin “credo,” meaning “I believe.” But the word isn’t a kind of modern ‘intellectual agreement,’ although it is that too. The deeper meaning is loyalty. These are the truths that I would write in blood. Or, at least, cling to in Satan’s storm.

That’s part of the reason I start this new series on Sunday: “The Not So Basic Basics.” It’s designed to check our foundations as we begin 2013. I’ll tell the congregation why we need to get off the escalator (you’ll see what I mean!) as we explore things like “Christ and the Ian Virus”, sin, gospel and salvation, the 4 B’s (believing, belonging, Baptism, the Bible), prayer and worship, and the greatest commandment.

I think we often say faith statements out of habit. But look again. Tom Long says “The creeds can seem like rote, take-it-or-leave-it dogmatic moments in the liturgy, rather than the expressions of hard-won, blood-stained wisdom wrung from centuries of wrestling with the meaning of God and human experience.” Yes!

Gaze more deeply at a few of the foundational creeds. Have you taken the time to think about the Apostles’ Creed recently? What about the Nicene Creed? – one of the oldest global faith statements. Even in the earliest pages of the New Testament we find creeds:

The earliest and shortest ones are statements about Jesus’ identity (and therefore, about the kind of work he does) like “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3) or “Jesus the Christ/Messiah” (Mark 8:29)

Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1: 15-20)

God “emptied” himself into Jesus (Philippians 2: 5-11)

The great “mystery” of our faith (1 Timothy 3:16)

What we think and say impacts how we understand ourselves and how we live. In Robert Bolt’s great play about Sir Thomas More as he faced humiliation and death because he would not go along with King Henry the 8th’s reforms, he says that an oath is something you say to God. Later, speaking to his daughter, Moore says, “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then – he needn’t hope to find himself again.”

It’s not a quick and easy thing. It’s about growth and wisdom. It’s about night-vision.

So what do you even believe? Start by looking at the not-so-basic-basics. You may discover something deeper about God. And about you.

Langley, BC

The budget request is looking for ‘programs and projects’ which under the present financial stress may mean what can we do without rather than what can we add. While that may be deemed necessary the most important issue for me has to do more with attitudes and outlook. One of our senior leaders proudly pointed to our being primarily known for our polity. If this is correct -and it does carry a measure of truth — it would be somewhat like saying we are noted for leadership under our scribes and Pharisees. No one wants that.

I suppose the question posed might better be expressed as: Given our limited resources but unlimited opportunities how do we best use these resources to express the compassion and acceptance of God in a world that has changed so dramatically?

We are over-governed (synods and yearly general assembly) in a time when communication no longer requires hours of train travel or days awaiting the mail. In at least many of our presbyteries elders are afraid to speak because they do not want to transgress the law, that is, our polity narrowly defined.

In a well-educated environment many of our clergy are either ignorant or lack the courage to speak truth in love to their congregations. We are being out-thought and appear to others as resident of an earlier century who seem very much like our uneducated clergy brothers and sisters who take pride in that stance. If I could wave a wand I would insist that those heading to ordained ministry take courses that would teach them about the world (rather than theology courses that may or may not have to be untaught) centralize theological education and require another year possibly on-line, followed by a year or more under a field supervisor. We do no one a favour as we continue to cut back on requirements e.g. as with language. Those coming into the denomination from elsewhere should be required to learn in depth of the culture and history of Canada and the PCC with a strengthening of our learning of other denominations.

I hope this is seen as more than a lament but a call for a change of attitude and an openness to this world that is no longer culturally defined by our admittedly good and proud past. May you and your committee be blessed in the important task at hand.

Calgary, AB

My vision for the future – the national body of the church does collectively what we cannot do individually. It unites us in mission, nationally and internationally. It provides resources or links to resources that are grounded in reformed theology. It speaks for us on national and international issues of social justice. For further principles, I draw your attention to those approved by the LMA for their work:

  1. The renewal and revitalization of congregational life shall have the highest priority in all of the Agency’s planning and resourcing.
  2. Evangelism/making disciples will be considered a priority in the provision of resources.
  3. The Life and Mission Agency will work with presbyteries and synods to ensure regional sharing of resources across the denomination.
  4. Through Presbyterians Sharing and PWS&D, congregations participate in the church’s mission.
  5. The Life and Mission Agency understands evangelism to be a Christian outreach best conducted person to person and outwards from a congregational setting.
  6. The Life and Mission Agency will continue to strive to be of service to all congregations.
  7. The program of each Life and Mission Agency department will continue to evolve and change as the needs of the church are discerned.
  8. The Life and Mission Agency will continue to provide meaningful opportunities for service and mission locally, nationally and internationally.
  9. The Life and Mission Agency will commit to ensuring that the departmental organization acts as a gospel response of a national church in today’s world.
  10. The Life and Mission Agency commits to developing a new model for ‘regional’ resourcing that will directly address the needs of congregations and presbyteries. We will first seek to appreciate the mind of the WMS before embarking on this development.
  11. The Life and Mission Agency will uphold as a high priority leadership training for congregational renewal and vitality.

Ottawa, ON

What are the programs and projects that bind us together and fulfill not just what is required but what truly makes us Presbyterian in Canada today? I thought the statement put before the General Assembly last year was very appropriate. The parts that were most important to me are those that speak to our place in our communities – that we are trying to be a blessing in the world. We are to be good stewards of creation, and to reach out to those in our communities who need to feel tangibly the love of Jesus. (As Desmond Tutu said, “the gospel to a hungry person is bread.”) Internationally, the work of PWS&D is very important to me. I also prioritize our work with KAIROS and Justice Ministries. There is a place for The PCC to be a prophetic voice – to speak truth to power, to advocate for those who need a voice, to work for a more equal world – as Jesus did in his day.

Thanks for the opportunity to contribute.

Charlottetown, PEI

Unfortunately our church has lost its position in society since then due to large declines in membership and an obsessive preoccupation with irrelevance. It is presently in a state of considerable ill health and immanent decline and demise.

This is not a financial problem, it is a spiritual problem in that we are not meeting the needs of our own people and the community we are to serve. The dire financial situation is only partially caused by 2008, but more importantly it is because of our empty pews.

  1. Nobody with a thinking mind can expect that the exact same leadership with the same ideas and agendas can lead us upward when they have had decades of leading us downward. They simply don’t know how and are unable to change directions and address the catastrophic needs of our present situation and the reality that we will have to take unprecedented action to even survive and keep going as each year will continue the slow sickening decline and an inability to address the stagnant leadership in our denomination. The very fact that the question posed in the letter as it is shows that we don’t even know why we are failing. I have tried to talk to two presbyteries about huge decline and that it needs to be addressed: I was met with silence and nobody wanted to talk about it; the decline continued. When I spoke to the presbytery of East Toronto that it had declined by 50% in 30 years an suggested that we have to change, there was no interest in as we plunged to oblivion. My charts and graphs went into the garbage.
  2. Many Congregations are simply unable to survive another bad minister. Once the congregation’s finances are depleted, ministers look for another position that can sustain them until retirement. This reality is overlooked as you talk about “resources?” There are no resources. When I was ordained in 1990 I went to 50 Wynford Drive and asked what pamphlets we had to for people becoming new members to familiarize them with our denomination. There were none! I found some old ones in a filing cabinet at the church which although dated, I used. I checked at other times over the years and there was still none available. I have never found the PC Pak of any use. Please save the trees at least.
  3. The only resources in our church are the faithful people and they are becoming smaller, older, and poorer. We have let them down because new members have not joined to take up the cross and follow Jesus. They have done so in other denominations, so not why us? The Seventh Day Adventist Church is the fastest growing in the world with one million members a year. Does anyone at 50 Wynford even know how they do it? We rented space to a 7th Day congregation at Westview and the Pastor left his manual on my desk one day. I immediately sat down and read it! During the 13 years that I was at Westview Presbyterian Church in Toronto, the average attendance went from 43 in 1990 to over 100 in 2003: 134%!! Nobody was interested in how we did it. Under their new minister the attendance on Sunday’s is now back in the 30’s. The 4th Easter I was minister at St. Andrew’s, Pictou, (2007) NS 13 people joined. Under my successor, the attendance plummeted to 25 and I understand that they are meeting in the basement this winter. He left it in a mess.
  4. I am a resource and have conducted a ministry to men for 22 years. From 1992 – 1998 I facilitated the first group in Toronto for men who had been abused. The University of Prince Edward Island paid me $15,000 over three summers to teach “Men’ studies” but not one presbytery or synod has EVER asked me to speak on a topic that affects 50% of the population directly and the other 50% indirectly. I directly challenged the Atlantic Synod education committee to address ministry to men; that I would even attend if they chose someone else to teach. Like the Principal of Knox College, they turned their face the other way and wouldn’t do it.

I have no idea why I am writing this letter and even trying yet again, to help the church I love to do better. In the past I have only been met with un-Christian brick walls of indifference and rejection.

Best wishes that you might do better. Yours in Christ,

Toronto, ON

Now I may well be missing something, but at least on the surface it appears that the proverbial right hand does not know (or chooses to ignore) what the left hand is doing … if it is doing anything. Note: We have a long range planning committee which, after more than a decade has yet to produce a plan. We have the motion coming forth from the last Assembly by Clyde Ervine which the LMA is apparently responding to. We have the report from Gordon Haynes which, it appears, is being shelved or at least no response is being solicited. Now we have the Budget Committee jumping in. It would be really nice if we could get our collective act together and actually follow through on one well-thought-out initiative. Have we no leadership?

I am not at all sure this response will be welcomed, but I took the invitation seriously. You are most certainly getting more than you or the committee expected. Grace and peace.

Unification and Vision

Over a period of some 60 years, the various Presbyterian bodies in Canada came together in four groupings. In 1875 these four joined to become The Presbyterian Church in Canada, next to the Anglican Church, arguably the major protestant Christian denomination in Canada. Understandably, the church saw a bright future for itself. It was large and it was influential

Disruption and Determination

Within 50 years there was no Presbyterian Church, at least officially. After a prolonged and heated debate, Presbyterians effectively joined with Congregationalists and Methodists to form the United Church on Canada, 1/3, however, held out and fought over a period of a decade to retain the name, The Presbyterian Church in Canada. The events of 1925, however, had taken their toll with congregations split, buildings lost, and ministers leaving. In the wake there was determination that no such split would happen again.

A Trauma Response

What the church experienced was institutional trauma. First reacting with “fight,” it now shifted to “freeze.” The wagons would be circled, the lines drawn, and focus would be on preserving what remained of the past a Presbyterian denomination of Scots/Irish in Canada.

Some Evidences of Trauma

As this trauma is unacknowledged, not to mention unaddressed, the church has become immobilized. The Book of Forms, originally seen as a “useful guide” becomes “the law and practice of the church.” The law now established becomes the glue that will hold the church together, arguably more so than its theology or any commitment to mission. Clerks at all levels, but especially those of General Assembly, move from being the keeper of records to become the 20th century equivalent of the scribes of old, which preachers rail against, interpreting the law for the church, assuring that the church rigidly adheres to its traditions. The cardinal sin is “pursuing a divisive course.” The image of the burning bush becomes a constant reminder of the devastation and a determination that it will not happen again. We will survive. We will not be consumed.” Over time Moderators of the General Assembly are elevated in their role and accorded recognition beyond their role of simply moderating Assembly for a week. While new churches are planted, they are for Presbyterians, which in large measure means those of Scottish and Irish descent and new immigrants. Missionaries are sent down to the docks to greet new immigrants and to convince them to join the Presbyterian rather than the United Church. Well into the late 1980s, decisions on where to establish new churches were being made not on the basis of where protestant congregations were needed, much less where there was opportunity for Christian witness, but where there was a sufficient number of census Presbyterians to support a new church. Focused on preservation, the church is slow to recognize and respond to a changing society by renewing its ministry. The renewal of worship, including a steady stream of contemporary music began in the 1970s but was still new to The Presbyterian Church some 20 years later. Some dozen models of new church development have been around for more than two decades as well, but are still being talked about, not implemented, within The PCC. The church at all levels became an institution to be managed and so managers, rather than innovators and creative thinkers, staff General Assembly agencies and colleges. (This, incidentally is not intended to be critical of anyone. One does what they are hired/called to do. General Assembly is largely spent listening to reports of activities that make little if any discernible impact on the church. Despite several studies, reports, strategic planning initiatives and the like, nothing of real consequence has resulted. Gordon Haynes has documented this well. The church is encumbered at all levels with law and order. Doing things right has been substituted for doing the right things. Witness the barrage of changes to the Book of Forms that make no substantial positive difference to the church. Similarly the vast majority of reports coming from General Assembly agencies show considerable work, but little progress in moving the church forward either by action or recommendation. Following up on this, the endless recommendations to be considered and mailings to be read and programs to be initiated and the like, bog down congregations and presbyteries with maintenance issues, leaving little time for addressing renewal and growth issues, which are pressing. Despite having a “Long Range Planning Committee,” after more than a decade we have yet to see a long-range plan. General Assembly itself provides the illusion of progress with nothing actually changing. While I applaud Clyde Irvine`s motion, it is sure to come to naught as suggested by the history of such motions, the fact that we have not recognized that we are a traumatized church and that trauma needs to be named and healed, and any significant and lasting renewal of the church is going to take decades and a focused and concerted effort which, sadly, we are likely not capable of. There are a sufficient number of traditionalists, middle and late adopters, and individuals threatened with loss of position and/or influence to resist any substantial change. Added to this is the “word on the street” that there is a movement afoot to actually derail doing anything of real significance in response. Similarly, while Gordon Haynes report was apparently “commissioned” (and I understand that there is an untold story behind this, including a rewriting so as to soften some of the words) no response to it was requested and it is likely to be sidelined.

When Pickering presbytery was formed out of East Toronto, it was formed with a new vision and Harry Waite was the first moderator. Presbytery meetings were spiritual, they were exciting; they were not to be missed. It all lasted until Harry stepped down, after which they reverted to the “tried and true” ways of doing things. The Emmaus Project had some possibilities but, sadly, it took a traditional route of bringing in the high profile speakers, working with a select few Presbyteries, and then dropping the ball as we always do. Does anyone know what lasting impact it has had? Was there any evaluation? If there was, I have not been able to find it. These are all evidences of trauma response.

As a personal note, when doing new church development the greatest resistance to what we were doing came from those who were serving or had served on national staff or in our colleges. Why? Because we began, albeit with the consent of presbytery, as a self initiated and faith mission, not under the (then) Board of World Missional Life and because a different way of being Presbyterian was adopted, with a flat structure, creative worship, and a strong focus on outreach. We simply do not, as a denomination, know how to think differently, act differently. We talk much, do little. Is there reason to be optimistic? Sadly, no.

First, it is highly unlikely that we will admit to being institutionally traumatized and, by virtue of that, individually traumatized as well. Second, by temperament most of us are not innovators and creative thinkers. At best we are early adapters, most of us are middle adaptors and inclined to manage. Third, not only will it take a recognition of our trauma, it will require a radical change in culture that, even if we are up to it, which is highly unlikely, will take two generations to affect.

“What are the programs and projects that bind us together and fulfil not just what is required but what truly makes us Presbyterian in Canada today?” With all dues respects, it is a bad question on two accounts. First, I personally do not see anything that we presently say stands out in a positive way that spells uniqueness. Certainly there is nothing inspiring. Second, if that which binds us together is a program, we are even more lost than I believe we are. The church is not about programs. Programs are institutional and the church is first and foremost not an institution but an organism. What must characterize the church, whatever outward for it might take, is a shared personal relationship to God through his son and an experience of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives individually and collectively. Now I realize that this sounds very fundamentalist or Pentecostal. It is not. I am simply saying that we need to start at the beginning. We have a number of congregations that are in survival mode. A number of congregations are experiencing unhealthy levels of conflict. Presbyteries are frequently less than collegial, displaying little of being a community of faith, apart from the mandated devotions. On the national level there s bullying, a level of mistrust, and, at least one instance of blackmail. We are failing as a church on the most basic level.

I take no pleasure in saying this, but believe it must be said. If we are unwilling to face what really ails us, then any budgeting process or set of programs will continue to fail us as every other program has failed in the past. It is long past time that we get our collective heads out of the sand.

What might we do if we are serious?

I will ask this question twice and respond to it twice, the second being more radical than most, even those most committed to being “reformed and reforming” could tolerate. I would suggest that if there is anything that should characterize The PCC, given its rootedness in the Reformation and assuming that we take Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda! seriously, I would suggest that we commit ourselves to a radical renewal of our little part of the vineyard so that we are producing fruit.

So here are a few thoughts on moving in that direction.

1. General Assembly agencies need to get their act together. Whatever the priority or priorities might be,

a) everyone needs to be on board

b) it must be the priority and,

c) it must be pursued until such time as the agreed upon goal has been achieved. It cannot have an arbitrary end date. This has been the failing in the past: no commitment, no coordination.

2. There is going to need to be an assessment of current staff to discern whether they are capable of playing the key role that will be required. Experience is the best indicator. Those who have demonstrated that they are managers and traditionalists and appealers to the Book of Forms will only stand in the way of any true progress.

3. We’re going to have to unburden presbyteries and congregations with the endless mailings, overtures, remits and the like that suck up time and energy and produce nothing of value.

4. We’re going to have to set presbyteries and congregations free to do what needs to be done without getting tied up in red tape. The Book of Forms is for a mono-cultural church in a stable society. It worked up until the 1950s or so. It is now a burden more than a blessing.

5. The singular vision is to create strong vibrant congregations. This will reflect some realities and mean several things.

a) There will need to be an assessment of each congregation and a plan/strategy developed for each one. Not all are the same, not all have the same potential.

b) Some congregations should be allowed to drop out. No sense working with the unwilling.

c) An identification of an investment in key congregations and strategic locations that can be invested in. There are a number of criteria that might be used. This is recognition that some locations should be considered critical for the mission of the church as a whole. Presently we simply close and sell off property without any vision.

d) We will need to equip Presbyteries to more effectively identify emerging (unhealthy) conflict and to respond pastorally in a timely manner.

e) We will need to establish new congregations using a variety of models with no vision that all, or even any, will eventually own a building and become facility bound. Seeing new ministries develop will, in itself, create excitement.

f) We will need to resource congregations on opportunities for outreach, evangelism, and the nurturing of faith. Pastoral care needs to move back to encouraging people in an active faith. This means a variety of ways and means.

g) We need to assist Presbyteries in moving to being a support system for congregations. This would mean a radical rethinking of how we do Presbytery.

What might we do if we are serious? (Part II)

The following are, admittedly, radical. They may, however, serve as one jumping off point for discussion.

With Respect to Ministry

1. Drop the practice of ordination. Recover the gifts Apostle, prophet, evangelists (including missionaries), and pastors/teachers. Induct individuals to these specific ministries according to their identified and demonstrated gifts.

2. Drop educational requirements for the above inducted positions. What is needed is not educated people but competent and effective people. Hence, make suitability for and induction into ministry dependent upon competency alone. This means no class work is required, but rigorous examination in both knowledge and skills would be.

3. Get rid of Education and Reception and place responsibility in the hands of presbyteries.

4. Separate the colleges from the (secular) institutions of which they are a part. There will be a great deal more freedom if the relationship is severed, and we dump tenured positions. The colleges need a reworking as they are largely conserving and tend to be staffed by academics who have lost touch with the church. They and the model they follow are the product of generations past no longer serving as well as they might in the 21st century.

5. Take preparation for ministry away from academics and put it in hand of a cadre of seasoned, experienced, and competent practitioners. Doctorates indicate knowledge, not competence or experience.

6. Expand the ways in which individuals can acquire the necessary knowledge, experience, and skills required for ministry.

Reform our Theology

I am thinking here specifically about baptism and communion which are largely restricted to clergy. This practice cannot be scripturally supported and reflect a failure of the reformers to address the matter. Freeing it from tradition would give it a new meaning and broaden the use. We also need to rethink the whole liturgy which is big on theology but little on meaning that makes sense to 21st century people.

Get back into practice

The reformed tradition is big on the head stuff. Good theology is at the core. We are not always that good on translating it into everyday life. We may be critical of the scribes and Pharisees, but they understood that the really big question was how one lived. We need a theology that is practical and can be cast into a compelling vision that will set the Presbyterian Church apart and swerve as a magnet.

Respect to General Assembly Agencies

Get rid of PWS&D. There is nothing particularly unique or Presbyterian about what we do. We’re in a fraternal relationship with the CRC, let’s funnel our monies there or to World Vision or another relief and development agency. A small re-write of promo materials, easily done, means we can still look Presbyterian and put a considerable more money in the field.

Fish or get out of the boat. We have a Long Range Planning Committee that has been around for more than a decade with no long range plan yet produced. Time to dissolve it and get people who actually want to develop a plan and have the time and energy to commit to it.

Build on The Vine. Long before there was The Vine I suggested that what we needed was a resource person who would not run around doing workshops but rather point to resources already available, of which there are an abundance. The Vine was a good start. Where to go? A number of companies provide “executive book summaries” so why not the same from The Vine? There are good books, good resources, but no time for ministers and others to even become familiar with, let alone read, them all. Recruit a few individuals with reasonable skills and have them condense books, articles, etc. and make them available. They get the book for free, write the paper, it’s made available on line and little cost is involved. The Paredo principle does work for written material!

Online database. There are also a number of creative approaches to all aspects of ministry going on within The PCC and elsewhere. Set up and online database, indexed, where such can be shared. Basic information, not long articles. Anyone can contribute. A simple form would make it readily accessible and easily and efficiently accessed.

Support Continuing Education … with a caveat. My suggestion to M&CV was that educational grants should be limited to ConEd that would benefit more than the individual and the local congregation and that a clearly articulated goal should be in view. I would further suggest that such grants be given for further education/training in an area, not for initial education or training.

Get away from committees. Develop a database of individuals with particular skills and interests who would like to collaborate online. This would help eliminate people who like saying they are on a committee but don’t want to work or have nothing to contribute. Work with the serious folk. Be positively critical, evaluate and then start, stop, or adjust. Rarely do we ask whether what we are doing and how we are doing it is meeting any real need or achieving our objective. We don’t ask because we may well be putting our jobs or positions in jeopardy. General Assembly is a colossal waste of time as rarely does anything come forth than makes a substantial difference. The same can be said for Presbytery meetings. Both, of course, reflect the work of staff and committee which often accomplish little of significance when carefully considered.

Make available a brief on the various models and approaches and then actively encourage new church development. If we have identified individuals with gifts and a passion for new church development, we’re half-way there. Invest cautiously but support generously.

Ditto congregational redevelopment. The church at all levels needs to identify strategic locations and strategic congregations and invest in them. Investment does not necessarily mean money. It may mean resourcing to revitalize and renew. There are an abundance of ways to go about this.

Learn more about ministers “without charge.” A quick survey reveals that there are as many ministers listed as being “without charge” as there are congregations without ministers. Who are they? What are they doing? Why are they not serving a congregation? What are their gifts, skills, passions? Are they open to using their gifts, skills, passions in some form of ministry if only volunteer or part-time.

Clear the agenda. This was alluded to above. We need to work at clearing the agenda of our Presbyteries to enable them to focus on what needs to be done. Presbyteries are burdened with all manner of material coming from Assembly, national offices, etc. demanding attention. As a consequence there is little time for addressing matters of new church development, congregational renewal, conflict within our churches, etc. This needs to change. Sponsor think tanks. By sponsor I do not mean picking up the entire tab. This might be done regionally. Set aside 3-4 days for individuals to come together to brainstorm areas such as approaches to worship, evangelism, pastoral care, etc. Make it a 50/50 split, participants pick up 50% of the tab, results are made available online.

Get serious about Transitional Ministry. If we are going to have transitional (interim) ministers and encourage congregations to avail themselves of the same, then we need to assure that those transitional ministers are trained and competent. I would also suggest that each transitional minister have identified their particular strengths as all are not created equal and all are not competent in every area. Would suggest that each such approved transitional minister have a bio that introduces them to Presbyteries so considering.

Get Mission back into Mission. Few, if any, of our missionaries are actually doing mission in terms of communicating the gospel to those who have yet to have the opportunity to hear it and respond to it in their own language and their own cultural context. This despite the fact that there are still some 7,000 unreached people groups representing nearly 3 billion individuals.

Develop a National Strategy for Congregational Renewal and New Church Planting. The problem we face is nationwide which strongly suggests that we need to address it as a national issue. This should not be a staff responsibility save, perhaps, to facilitate. Those developing should have a passion and experience in one or both areas. This entails identifying strategic opportunities for both church planting and for the renewal of existing strategic congregations. We are selling off buildings and property and closing churches with no plan, not strategy, no vision for growth or renewal. This cannot continue. It must be a priority on all levels.

Identify retired minister with particular skill and experience sets who can be used as facilitators and consultants on an honorarium basis. This is a means of staffing the church with experienced and gifted individuals at a fraction of the cost of hiring a full-time staff person. Indeed, for the cost of one staff consultant, one could expect to have 6-8 such individuals functioning as a team and resourcing the church.

Place every minister and every executive on the same stipend and benefits. Larger churches typically come with higher stipends. In reality, the greater challenge in ministry is with new church development, transitional congregations and remote ministries. Having the same stipend means there is no incentive to move simply to get more money … which is, sadly, but understandably, a reality in clergy mobility. Adjustments would be made geographically for higher costs of living, and more extensive travel that might be required as in multiple point charges. I say this as someone who has been in an executive position, senior pastor with multiple staff, new church development, and rural ministry. It is not unheard of.

Give Permission. I am not at all sure who does this, but we need to give permission for individuals and groups of people to try and to fail and to learn from failure as well as learn from success. To do this we will (off the top of my head) need (as mentioned above) to dump unhelpful qualifications for ministry. We will need to determine what the absolute minimum criteria are for being of the Reformed faith in-so-far-as The PCC is concerns. We will need to determine what the absolute minimum criteria for being considered Presbyterian in polity are in-so-far-as The PCC is concerned. Then we need to set people free to go out and make disciples and plant congregations.

Provide Models. It is not good enough to talk about new ways of doing ministry. It would be helpful, if not needful, to provide models for consideration with the understanding that nothing is rigid. The ends justify the means. We need to worry less about how it is done than that it is done.

Be Wary of Programs. At the moment, I have in mind NCD. My critique is not that it is not helpful, but rather that it presumes what the church is and, more specifically, what a church should be. It thus has the potential of actually being damaging. It, along with Callahan’s work which we actively encourage individuals and congregations to embrace, is almost exclusively founded on an institutional model of the church.

Beyond the PCC

To be honest, I am not convinced that God cares about the PCC any more than he cares about any other denomination. I expect what he cares about are people and The Church, not how it is organized, by what name it is called. The journey is ultimately the journey of one church and it may well be that that journey will see some die in the wilderness.

While the major denominations that were the Christian church in the 1950’s have declined and declined significantly, there has been an emergence and growth of both newer denominations as well as a growth in the number of independent, loosely affiliated churches, and those apart of fellowships rather than denominations. Why? First, they did not come with the same baggage to hold them back. To reiterate, Presbyterians never really had to do evangelism as we relied on immigrants. So we forgot how … if we ever knew. We simply invited those who were inclined to be Presbyterian. Second, we have our trauma response to 1925 with one of the most significant aspects being “Don’t change.” Independent, unaffiliated, and loosely affiliated congregations do not have this baggage, do not have life-support systems, must be entrepreneurial, and will survive only if they succeed in reaching people. Most can have a pastor with minimal academic training. Given this, there is an almost infinitely greater freedom to adapt the message to the culture. Anecdotally I have attended congregations where there is a preponderance of individuals is their 20s and 30s and I am aware of congregations where these 20s and 30s listen eagerly to 45 minutes sermons. And, yes, we do have Presbyterian congregations that are growing. We also have some that have found it difficult to grow within the context of the culture of the PCC. Some have or will leave for that reason.

Regina, SK

I think we need to focus on the ministry that affects individuals – that cares for the grass roots. What really affects the person in the pew?

I think we need to support ministry that is already happening, rather than new ministries We need to help small, dysfunctional Presbyteries or better yet what can be done to get rid of the excess work of Presbyteries and Synods and focus on ministry.

Things like Canada Youth, Camp providing ministry to children and youth and activities that develop community. We also need to care for our seniors – support them in the transitions and changes of life. Hope this is helpful.

Please find below a report from the task force on Future of Synod, of which I was convener. Perhaps there is something here that might fit into your Visioning Process for the 2014 GA Budget. – Rev. Harvey Self

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input into this budge. This is a critical time for our denomination and requires different ways of thinking and prioritizing if we are to respond creatively to our current situation. As an employee of the Synod, largely funded by the Presbyterians Sharing Budget, we have already been informed of cutbacks beginning in 2015. I hope this does not mean that the decisions have already been made and that this process is simply lip service. As an employee I have already felt the impact of “death by a thousand cuts” and pray that the Assembly Council would have the courage to support a few things well rather than many things poorly. Ironically, the letter from the LMA concludes with this statement; “These are challenging times for the church in all aspects of its life and ministry. Many other programs have been similarly affected within the Life and Mission Agency, but we are seeking to do ministry in new and creative ways in the 21st century.” (emphasis added) I find it sad as the letter does not actually propose anything new.

In terms of the priorities requested by the special committee, I believe the guiding principle must be the motion of Dr. Clyde Ervine at last year’s Assembly, “That the 138th General Assembly go on record as giving priority to the reimagining and renewal of congregations, and that it ask the Life and Mission Agency to consider how new energy and resources may be focused on congregational vitality, and that the Life and Mission Agency share the mind of the Assembly on this matter with the Assembly Council as it further develops a national mission and vision statement.” To simply acknowledge this and not reallocate resources to accomplish it is more than putting new wine in old wine skins, it is contrary to the will of the church. Thus my suggestions are not simply a plea to keep cherished programs but some thoughts about things which might change to free up the resources to fulfill the mandate the General Assembly has laid upon the LMA and the Assembly Council.

The first thing I would note is Gordon Haynes report (commissioned by Rick Fee). This is an excellent starting point and represents the closest thing we have to a current “state of the church” address – with recommendations. It is worth noting that here as well, congregational resourcing is the priority. I will not repeat these recommendations except to pray that the committee validate the report by taking seriously what it says.

In terms of the 2014 budget itself, here are some recommendations for the committee to consider.

1. National Offices. I am aware that there is a committee currently studying this question. This can no longer be a matter of debate. Our current facility is outdated, inefficient and no longer suits the needs or supports the image of the PCC. Without having actual numbers, I am confident that we could sell this facility, build a more appropriate – multiple use facility at Crieff, one which would be accessible and useful – and save money.

2. The Missionary residences. These simply need to be sold

3. Seminaries. Again, I am aware that discussion has begun. Sadly I am not confident that we possess the fortitude to make the decision. Ideally the church’s relationship with two of the seminaries would cease as of convocation, 2014. Another option would be to close and sell all three seminaries and either relocate all to a less expensive learning centre (our three are in the three most expensive communities in the country) or perhaps we could take the proceeds and permanently endow an independent seminary with a chair of Presbyterian Studies, effectively outsourcing this part of the process.

4. Canada Youth. For some reason the decision was made to make this a bi-annual rather than a tri-annual event. Canada Youth is extremely expensive, costing the church hundreds of thousands of dollars per event. To make the event bi-annual will increase the cost by at least a third. As this decision seems to be an answer to a question no one was asking and since it actually negatively impacts our church camps, it would make sense to cancel it immediately and return to the tri-annual schedule.

5. Communication Services. Currently the church is served by five separate communication departments.

a. The Presbyterian Record

b. The Book Room

c. Communications

d. Computer Systems

e. Copy and Distribution Services

This does not include the communications arm of PWS&D, nor does include the work that is contracted out or Glad Tidings. The Associate Secretary for Communication’s position was created when the Internet was for experts; a situation which no longer exists. I am aware that the Record is an “arm’s length” publication and that the Book Room is under the WMS, however, in this age of integrated communication, this model no longer works. There are a number of ways to think of an integrated communications strategy; perhaps the easiest would be to give the Record oversight of the communications of and to the denomination. Certainly there is no longer a need for an Associate Secretary for communications, though it is critical that every Associate Secretary receive media training.

6. Staffing. In addition to the Associate Secretary for Communications above, here are some other thoughts:

a. Combine International Ministries and Canadian Ministries into one grant distribution and liaison body. This frees up one Associate Secretary to focus solely on congregations.

b. Ministry and Church Vocations could easily become a part of support services, eliminating the need for an Associate Secretary.

c. Combine Planned Giving and Stewardship into one body, use some surplus to hire and train local contract workers to interact directly with congregations.

d. Make justice ministries the same as the church doctrine committee. By inviting broad input and perhaps cooperating with other denominations, justice may actually become more broadly embraced rather than just the purview of and expert. This will eliminate the need for an Associate secretary. Another option might be to ask PWS&D to include Justice in their portfolio.

e. General Assembly. Again, much discussion has taken place around bi-annual assemblies. This is no longer an option and must be implemented ASAP.

There are, no doubt other options for the denomination, these might include such relatively small things as internships and larger things like international alliances. All these are however cuts, and while some, like communications and justice and Canadian Ministries could actually improve ministry, it is naïve to presume that the church can promise to do more with less. This does however free up resources to help congregations grow and thrive. In terms of this, might I suggest four strategies:

1. That we continue to resource Regional Staff as the only ones currently working with congregations in an ongoing way. Yes, I write this as a regional staff person but it is more than protecting my job. Regional Staff are at the front lines. For many years now, the national church staff have had a “hands off” relationship with Synods and their staff. This cannot continue. A dialogue must commence around the best use of regional staff in the local context (what their actual job is)

2. That we find a new model for church planting. The current model is outdated, costly and ineffective. There are different models in use by other denominations and groups which are far more effective – and cost effective.

3. That we begin to intentionally help congregations through size transitions. This particularly includes transitioning from Pastoral sized to Programs sized churches. I would suggest we learn best practices from our largest congregations and target congregations in transition.

4. That we help congregations close or amalgamate with dignity and grace. This will be an increasing need over the coming years and our concern is mostly with assets and records rather than people and communities.

While it is not likely possible for this budget, it is probably worth considering what services could be done in conjunction with other denominations. Certainly, many of our support and financial services could be done together with other bodies with an attendant saving due to economies of scale. At the very least, if further cuts must be made, from the point of view of optics, equal cuts must come from the Assembly Office and from Support Services as from Life and Mission.

Finally, as the committee considers the changes necessary in this budget, let me suggest two overarching principles. The first is that a budget truly is a statement of our priorities as a denomination. Jesus said it very clearly when he said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:34) It is my prayer that this budget could become a statement of where we want to go rather than what we used to be. The second has to do with change. The maxim of church life in this age is summed up by Robert Quinn who said we must choose between deep change or slow death. If change is to happen at the congregational level, it must be modelled at our National Office and in our National Committees. It is my hope and prayer that this committee and agency would have the courage to embrace this.

The Presbytery of Halifax and Lunenburg met on February 19, 2013 and reviewed the letter of Dec. 21, 2012 received from you. The Presbytery sat as a Committee of the Whole and asked me to send you these observations:

  • The Court was puzzled about the very short time given for a response.
  • The Court found it curious that this sort of subject/question/concern did not come through the usual channels i.e. the courts; mused one member: “a sub-committee circulates the church?”
  • The Court wondered about the fact that this letter came from a budget committee; it had the “feel” that the “fox is in charge of the chicken house” i.e. it had a feeling of being weighted.
  • The Court felt that money not theology was “in the driver’s seat”; too much focus on finances i.e. financially driven.
  • The Court felt that the letter had a tone of bleakness and lacked enthusiasm for mission.
  • The Court was confused by the fact that the “budget principles” were not attached to the letter.
  • The Court finds while “navel gazing” is necessary, it feels that more re-structuring serves to use up precious resources of time, energy and money and is distracting.
  • The Court feels that vision should precede budget making, not the other way around.
  • The Court suggested that the an important focus should be training and continuing education for ministers, elders, other leaders, camp staff, national and regional staff, etc.
  • The Court wonders if we are having difficulty discerning who we are at this time i.e. who we are as Christians serving through the Presbyterian family; a grieving process is going on or should be going on.
  • The Court noted that as we get smaller, we may in fact have more influence and effectiveness.
  • The Court feels that we carry much weight in the Christian community in Canada.
  • The Court was not at all “taken” with the letter from Karen Plater concerning the proposed way of generating support for Presbyterians Sharing. That reply will go to her but I felt that it would be helpful to note it here. We see congregations that are giving a lot sliding backwards quickly. The “Fair share formula” is much better.

Please receive the following as the official input of the Presbytery of Newfoundland, which met in special session to consider these important matters. A discussion of the 2014 budget principles followed:

1) That we agree with the 500k contribution to the pension and health and dental, while noting that a 500k reduction in revenue will regretfully need to be reflected in the expenditures side.

2) That we agree with the congregational tithe to Presbyterians Sharing.

3) That we disagree with the proposed fixed grants to the colleges. If the whole revenue goes down, the assembly budget is stuck with the larger figure.

4) That we strongly oppose moving to biennial Assemblies, citing the decision of the 2010 Assembly as the correct direction of the Church. Commissioners who currently go every four or five years to the Assembly would be limited to every eight or ten years and this is not acceptable.

5) That, as per principle #1 above, reduction of revenue must be seen as reductions to staff or programs. That we encourage a deliberate plan of downsizing that includes all staff, secretaries and employees of the national church with reasonable notice of such, and include terms of severance in every new contract. Such downsizing should be done by a Special Committee from the Church as a whole, distinct from 50 Wynford Drive, appointed by the General Assembly.

6) That rather than review the size of the committees, we mandate meetings by video or audio conference calls or other technologies, making huge cost savings for Committee expenses, while including voices from across the country.

7) That we agree with the regional resourcing.

8) That we agree with the consultation with WMS and AMS.

9) That we agree with the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), excluding those earning double the minimum stipend or more.

10) That we strongly disagree with the undesignated bequest policy and support continuation of the current policy, given our context of decreased revenue.

The question posed was, “What are the programs and projects that bind us together and fulfill not just what is required but what truly makes us Presbyterians in Canada today?”

Twenty four responses were received at the January 2013 Meeting of Presbytery. Each response was unique yet common themes emerged. Matters of faith and belief as well as ways to live out of those beliefs were repeatedly raised.

It was clear the presbyters were focused on the future of the church without being restricted by the question asked about programs and projects.

One respondents wrote:

1. ruled by elders and sessions;

2. ordained ministry: Word and Sacrament;

3. belief in Triune God: Father, Son and Spirit;

4. worship as central to life;

5. education to make disciples.

We don’t need programs or projects.”

In many ways this was reflective of a significant number of others’ responses, including governance. (See the texts of similar responses in 1. below)

It was important to many to support local congregations in the proclamation of the Gospel. (i.e.; “those programs which enable the local congregations across the country to proclaim Christ as Lord and Saviour, leading to the extension of the kingdom of God in the lives of people and in the world.”

The church’s engagement in mission and justice was raised as well as nurturing faith in younger believers.

Folk repeatedly asserted what binds us in not programs and projects but shared faith. Cautions were raised about being distracted by the question and failing to see the possibility of other ways to be the church.

Here are the texts of the responses:

Section 1 responses describe a general view of the Church and its ministries.

a. emphasis on sound doctrine and our standards;

educated church leaders (ministers);

exaltation of the scriptures;

cooperation with indigenous churches in other parts of the world.

b. combination of rich heritage and vibrant congregations;

academic institutions (colleges);

national church office in consultation with presbyteries;

system of checks and balances.

c. affirming and highlighting the glory and sovereignty of God especially in worship;

enabling presbyteries to assist congregations within their bounds to reflect with passion and vitality the grace and truth of Jesus in their community;

supporting our seminaries so they might equip and shape ministers of word and sacrament who can with compassion and insight lead congregations in proclaiming in word and deed the good news of redemption in Jesus/

d. Christians: faith in Jesus the Christ as Saviour and Lord;

the confessional base (doctrine);

programs: colleges, mission work in Canada (examples)

e. following Jesus;

Bible based preaching;

prayer;

hospitality;

mission: local, national, international (PWSD & Pres. Sharing);

evangelism: share the word;

young people;

community church

f. Centred in Christ;

Reformed and Reforming Worship;

Living as Christ at

Praying: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

fellowship with our brothers and sisters in community;

g. Governance: representative, fair, corporate authority;

PWSD;

ecumenical and interfaith relations;

theologically grounded, “Middle of the Road” approach to faith and discipleship;

reformed and reforming;

hospitality;

generosity when called to help

h. we stand on The Word;

we believe in His power, not ours alone;

we believe in His redemption for my sins;

Section 2 responses highlight specific areas of emphasis.

a. What defines the Presbyterian Church in Canada?

Excess focus on regulation and polity

b. My worry is in an attempt to be Presbyterian, we are losing our focus on witnessing for Christ and serving others;

We need to be reforming and willing to make changes even when it is not the “Presbyterian” way.

c. What truly makes us Presbyterians in Canada today is not captured in programs and projects. What binds us together and truly makes us Presbyterians is the joyful proclamation and living out of the Good News of the Risen Lord Jesus as we join him in his healing live giving ministry in our world – deliverance to the captive, good news to the poor, binding up the broken hearted, sight to the blind…

d. Through the General Assembly the voice of the individual can be heard and so must continue to convey that message so that we have a strong voice that will be heard in the world where we serve our God as Lord.

e. We lack in reaching out to young people.

f. Participate and be advocates for the education and early development of our young people;

Be prepared to offer and lead in programs that bring a quality of life to our aging citizens;

Be strong advocates for a clean and sustainable environment.

g. Missions at home and around the world;

Bible Study and Sunday Worship: teaching God’s Word not only social issues.

h. Vision to reach out in mission;

We know the themes of scripture; Solemnity of worship.

i. PWSD

Projects for women (international), safe schools for children;

Mission trips to help build schools, clinics, etc.

j. The second mile: if we did the first mile as a must, we should do the second mile as a joy;

Welcoming ministers and newcomers in a way that they can feel at home;

Worshipping the Lord not only with mouth but with hands;

Different programs like: premarital, young couples, grief support, addictions.

k. the work of social justice: locally, in Canada and overseas;

the ability to dialogue both internally and with other faith groups to be reformed and always reforming;

a community of diverse views; making disciples of Christ.

l. we are regulated by the beliefs of our congregations, presbyteries and assembly and not by the regulations of other organizations or ruling bodies of other denominations.

m. the combined concern for the health of our congregations: large/small, rural/urban; the focus on revitalization binds us on the national and local level.

The presbytery does not think it is programs that make us Presbyterian, and wonder if the question that really should be asked to answer is “What programs, provided by the PCC do we consider to be essential to the work being done in our congregations? These following observations, comments and questions were made by the members of the Presbytery of Prince Edward Island:

  1. The support of competent and friendly staff in the PCC office is a most valuable resource that we would sincerely hope can be maintained. Answers to inquiries by either phone or email are very efficiently handled; personal contact is very much appreciated.
  2. A quotation from one of our younger clergy: “Our National Church makes me feel like they want me to succeed; they are ‘someone in my corner’”.
  3. While we might think small Presbyteries or congregations away from the populous hub would be seen as insignificant, we actually feel that the National Church knows us and has a pulse on what we are about. One minister expressed deep appreciation for being contacted to attend a PCC-sponsored educational event.
  4. Worship Resources are very helpful.
  5. Support for mission staff/projects needs to be maintained.
  6. While some members don’t use PC PAKs, others found them to be an invaluable resource, providing helpful and thought-provoking materials. Most thought fewer Paks could be distributed; a suggestion was made that mailing lists could be better coordinated.
  7. Church wall calendars are not widely used now and could be dispensed with.
  8. Is the Book Room still a needed/ valuable resource?
  9. Could psychological testing for ministry candidates be done in candidates’ home towns? Suggest – assessors be evaluated to ensure we are getting good value for the service provided.
  10. Consider reducing the size of committees – maybe the number of committees also; but, at least, the number of committee members and the amount of travel for meetings.

The task of your committee to provide good stewardship of resources and to maintain ministries during a time when resources are less plentiful is a daunting one and I pray that you will be guided by input from across our church and especially by the Holy Spirit.

Good afternoon. I have attached the compiled responses from the members of the Presbytery of Seaway-Glengarry to the question posed in your letter of December 21, 2012: “What are the programs and projects that bind us together and fulfill not just what is required but what truly makes us Presbyterian in Canada today?” Your letter was considered at our January 15, 2013 regular meeting, and the presbytery members were asked to submit their responses to me for submission to you by today’s deadline of February 15th.

General Responses

  • We need to build upon the strengths of the PCC: our reformed heritage… our strong educational emphasis for clergy and laity…our grounded worship traditions… our collegiality through our system of polity and practice (when it works well for we are a connectional church)… our mission heritage… our thoughtful, careful and compassionate involvement with our community and world.
  • We need to emphasize co-operation… care… Christ. The unchanging values of the Christian faith bind us together. We need to share our faith stories and open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit as we continue to be the Presbyterian Church.
  • We need to dream and move beyond… we need to get past the ‘we’ve never done it that way before’ mentality… we need to let the Holy Spirit takes us on a grand adventure of faith.
  • We need to have more presbytery wide events that bring us together.
  • We need to build strong relationship between the congregations of the presbytery in terms of visiting one another as well as planning and sharing events together

Ecumenical Efforts

  • We need to break down the denominational walls – a reformation is in process.
  • We need to encourage one another in our faith and in what we are doing. Such activities help bind us together and encourage out mission and witness in Jesus’ Name.
  • Combined worship services with other churches – celebrating our common understandings, language and beliefs amid the diversity.
  • Ecumenical shared-mission collaboration in our respective communities.
  • Local co-operative ventures with community organizations that focus on social justice concerns.
  • Events and programs within and with other congregations that make us active Christians alive and at work.

Leadership and Leadership development.

  • We need a greater emphasis on vision and strength
  • The levels of church government are not understood by the people. They are seen as separate from congregational life and not helpful.
  • We need to learn to share leadership.
  • The history of our denomination… our church government… our traditions bind us together .

Discipleship and discipleshipping.

  • We need to share our faith stories… and we need tools for learning and sharing the faith.

Prayer

  • We need to make more opportunities to listen to the Spirit and step out in faith rather than stay where we are in fear.
  • We need prayer outside of corporate worship.
  • We need to pray for people who are no longer connected to the church prayer meetings.

Education

  • Programs that support and strengthen rural ministry.
  • Programs and resources that help congregations deal with, work through and embrace change without fear or compromise. This will give rise to a new energy and renewed sprit. The faith is there it just needs to find new life and meaningful ways to be expressed in our churches and communities.
  • Pre-assembly workshops.
  • Running videos on faith with pot-luck meals.
  • Bible studies.
  • The Record is an excellent resource.

Worship

  • Regular attendance.
  • Listen to the gospel.
  • Let the Spirit speak.
  • Special services that bring the worshipping community together to celebrate.
  • Involve laity in worship.
  • Choir.

Mission

The opportunities to work together in the faith in our churches and communities take us beyond ourselves into Christ’s kingdom in wonderful and exciting ways.

  • Outreach to the public – events and programs that will interest both those within and outside the congregation.
  • Presbyterians Sharing joins us together in mission – both locally and world mission.
  • We need to be more active in supporting local mission… projects that people can understand and relate to.
  • We need to get people involved in hands on projects – Samaritans Purse – Andy Gump Foundation – assisting local soup kitchen by preparing lunch – once a month.
  • Supporting those who are ill – being present with them and offering care and compassion to family members.
  • PWS&D
  • WMS – Mission Awareness Sunday
  • Cariboo Ministry

Children and Youth

  • Canada Youth
  • Regional Youth events, especially for those in small congregations
  • Presbykids and PresbyYouth
  • Youth choir
  • Sunday School – community children’s programmes
  • Vacation Bible School
  • Blessing of the knapsacks
  • Hosting Scouts, Cubs, Beavers

Fellowship

  • Before and after worship
  • Women’s groups
  • Men’s breakfasts
  • Hosting meals open to the community
  • Building relationships
  • Fellowship with non-Presbyterians
  • Music nights open to the public

Scotsburn, NS

Resources and help with Christian education (within Canadian Ministries) was identified as a vital area that enables us to reach the youth and children in our midst, and teach them what it is to be people of faith and to be Presbyterian.

The Bookroom is a vital part of finding resources, especially for a rural charge. A few elders have used the Bookroom to find help as they served as Sunday school teachers, and as leaders of midweek groups.

Ministry and Church vocations was noted as crucial to help congregations navigate the call system, which makes us Presbyterian, and find a good leadership fit for the congregation. Elders see this need as they talk to members of other congregations, and hear reports about all of the vacancies around our Presbytery.

Pension and Benefits were also identified as necessary to support our (almost volunteer) treasurers, as their work gets more and more complicated. As money gets tighter in congregations, it is helpful to have that technical support. Compensating our leaders fairly has always been a part of our tradition.

Learning about planned giving and stewardship has helped us to set up funds, and reach beyond the everyday ministry, to do something extra, as we reach out in our community. This support is important as we are called to ‘dream dreams’ into the future.

Beaconsfield, QC

Discussed the budget cutting for 2014 and the suggestions are :

1. Like having the GA over a long week-end.

2. Every three or four years

3. Look again at the buildings owned by the church – head office, missionaries’ building, sell and buy new in a less expensive region.

4. Keep all PCC staff whatever you do.

Orleans, ON

Re: Visioning For The Future

1. Our Session has considered your letter of December 21, 2012 , in which you request a response to the question “what truly makes us Presbyterian in Canada today?” and seek comments regarding the proposed budget for 2014.

2. At Grace Church, particularly when we hold our membership classes, we answer that question in this way:

a. It means first and foremost that we are Christians. We understand that to mean that we are individuals who have an ongoing, intimate, dynamic, relationship with the Living Lord Jesus Christ lived out in community with other followers of Christ. We teach people that to be a Christian is to be in a redeemed, life re-orienting relationship with Christ exercising a real faith, in the real Saviour, in the real world, so that our lives are redeeming where God has placed us. We do not believe in the Church as a holy huddle but as an active mission outpost seeking to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

b. It means that we belong to a faith community that governs itself by elders (presbyters). Presbyterians follow a protocol for governance using ruling and teaching elders who are responsible for the ministry of the local church and accountable to the broader community of churches in the denomination. Being Presbyterian means we have a way we govern ourselves.

c. It means that we are Reformed in Theology.

i. Presbyterians have a theological framework we believe is grounded in the primary standard of God’s Word (Scripture) which is the authority on which our lives and ministry are based.

ii. We believe that theological framework is best summarized in the teachings of the secondary standards of the Church which are Reformed in doctrine as expressed in the Westminster Confession, etc. Being a Presbyterian means being Reformed in theology.

d. It means that we responsibly steward God’s resources by investing for today and planning for the future.

i. We believe this begins by building and managing a balanced budget of ministry activities that stem directly from our vision and mission statements and reflect our core values.

ii. In general, we do not believe the intentional use of reserve funds to increase cash-flow or make-up shortfalls is responsible stewardship. The exception to this would be to enable the conduct of a ministry that not only meets the mission-vision-values criteria, but that must be done now to have the required effect. Otherwise, it must wait for a more fiscally opportune time.

3. For a more detailed description of how we understand our own identity and purpose as a congregation see the attached vision, mission, and core value statement of Grace Church.

4. Finally, we would strongly endorse Reverend Doctor Clyde Ervine’s motion at the 2012 General Assembly as a reflection of our own understanding.

Winnipeg, ON

Your question, “What are the programs and projects that bind us together……” was difficult for us to answer. Instead, we focused on allocation of resources.

Regarding priority ministries:

  • Ministries that help us to ‘be the church’ locally and throughout the world should be the focus for our resources. Service to others must be central.

Regarding good stewardship of our resources:

  • Theological Colleges: One theological college would meet the current and future needs of our denomination.
  • National Committees: We should continue to look for alternatives to having in-person meetings in Toronto (conference calls, Skype, etc.).

Waterloo, ON

Knox Waterloo Presbyterian Church appreciates the opportunity to comment at this time. This is an important time of transition which requires of the church difficult decisions in a responsible and compassionate manner. This is not easy. At a recent Session meeting we took time to gather some key thoughts and strategies that we would like to pass on to you.

We are blessed to be in a vital growing congregation. We are also a large congregation. As a congregation that is both growing and large, Knox is a double minority within the Presbyterian Church in Canada. We feel this keenly and know that we have few similar congregations across our country.

Thus our perspective might be different from the perspectives of other congregations, which is a diversity to be celebrated. We believe that a significant portion of the resources of our denomination should be invested in congregations with more than a vague plan to “grow someday.” The current mindset of holy decline might thus be addressed. By “holy decline” we mean an unspoken, but nevertheless powerful assumption within our denomination that decline is the natural state. It is taken as a truism that numerical decline happens at the same time as spiritual growth. This indeed may be the case in some circumstances; but we have found that spiritual growth also happens in a growing church.

If the Presbyterian Church in Canada is to thrive in the future then we would recommend a responsible pattern of investing in congregational ministry that has a real possibility of viability for the future. Experimental and Emergent ministry, under many names over the years, has long been invested in by the LMA and its predecessors. We believe that the church could benefit from an honest and transparent process of statistical review. It would seem from a cursory look, that very few, if any; self-supporting viable congregations or institutions have been the result of this investment. We propose that good stewardship would indicate an increased investment in viable congregations. These congregations could be of any size, and in any location. This would be supported by increasing accountability beyond anecdotal reports. We feel leadership is vital. Excellence in planning is only possible by informed leaders. We suggest empowering our leadership with the solid data and wisdom of the Alban Institute and by the Natural Church Development (NCD) process. This new emphasis upon supporting viable congregations can lead to regional “centres of excellence” in ministry where numerical growth is already happening, or likely. The use of the best available resources whether Canadian or not, is required in this 21st century.

The report of Gordon Haynes made in 2012 is a helpful beginning place for planning.

The continuance of regional synod staff to support the growth initiatives is vital. If the regional staff are appropriately trained and equipped, this will increase the likely hood of success. It may be responsible to increase the compensation of those so equipped to retain their service to the church.

The Christian Education Team at Knox has found the sudden change of “Canada Youth” to biannual conferences puzzling. This will severely disrupt our highly successful three year cycle of summer ministry to youth with mission trips away, local mission focus, and “Canada Youth” on a three year rotation. We do not understand the rational for this as this will certainly cost more and not be as well supported as the once every three year events.

Our congregation has benefited from sending elders to represent our Presbytery at the annual General Assembly. It well may be advisable to restrict these assemblies to once every second year.

It may seem typical of Waterloo in that we found our discussion focused upon the need for more extensive research. As a university city we place a high value upon solid research and careful analysis. Getting the advice of the Alban institute seems like a no brainer. They are the gold standard in church analysis. They have consulted with many denominations in North America and have Canadians on staff. It would seem wise to invest upon the honest research and wisdom that is already available as we collectively look to the future. It will ultimately cost us far more to not use the very best research tools in our quest for a realistic and faithful future.

We appreciate the opportunity to reflect and to participate in the discussion posed by your timely question “what are the programs and projects that bind us together and fulfil not just what is required but what truly makes us Presbyterian in Canada today?”

This topic and the broader issue of church growth has frequently arisen in our meetings. Our study of Church History has reminded us that each generation of the Church has not only asked these same questions — wrestling with its own identity and relevance – but also discovered fresh and meaningful ways to live out the meaning and vitality of the Gospel. We would like to remind the Special 2014 Budget Sub-Committee some of the ways in which this is being actively carried out within the contemporary context of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Firstly, through the activities and events of the Committee on History. The Committee on History is a unique group of professionally trained historians and dedicated clergy and lay people who are committed to educating, celebrating, and preserving the history of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Such events as the upcoming “Reformation Solas”, the annual Book Awards, “The Oral and Visual History Project”, and the recognition of retired clergy and church workers, are but a few of the projects carried out by the Committee on History. The Committee operates on a most modest budget because of the voluntary commitment of its members, and its funds primarily cover the travel expenses of its participants. Maintaining General Assembly budget support at its present levels for the Committee on History would ensure that the committee is representative of members from across our country, and not just from the greater Toronto area. It would also ensure that our projects can proceed forward.

Secondly, through the Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. As a denomination we are in an enviable position with our archives. It is strategically situated to provide the essential services necessary for corporate records management and risk management. We are blessed with the high level of service provided by the information management professionals on staff in the Archives. It is our sincere hope that the Special 2014 Budget Sub-Committee will ensure that present funding levels are maintained.

Thirdly, through the National Presbyterian Museum. One of the unsung treasures of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is our national museum. It is the only ongoing project in our denomination which allows individuals to experience a virtual, hands-on, interactive understanding of our past. It is staffed by deeply committed volunteers who have provided years of time and talent because of their love for our Church. The Museum has operated exclusively through the generous donations of individuals and churches, but is in desperate need of an ongoing basis of support. The Committee on History strongly encourages the Special 2014 Budget Sub-Committee to include the Museum in its budget preparations so that the Museum’s basic infrastructure necessities may be met.

Fourthly, through the establishment of a national Church Growth Committee. In our meetings we have frequently identified Presbyterian churches across Canada who have experienced tremendous congregational growth in recent years and who hold great relevance within their communities. These dynamic congregations stand in solidarity with similar churches throughout our history and heritage that have experienced unprecedented growth and renewal. The establishment of a national Church Growth Committee would provide a unique opportunity for the national church to be influenced by the “grass-roots renewal” occurring now at the local level. This committee could give voice to the timeless principles behind effective fund-raising, children’s and youth ministries, evangelism, and meaningful worship which are helping to foster growth in many Presbyterian Church in Canada congregations. Finally, the committee could be comprised of individuals from churches who have experienced dynamic growth and who are available to meet with congregations to encourage and to foster various ways of implementing church growth principles. In other words, rather than a committee which would be structured to meet at Church Offices, it could be regionally focused to work, almost exclusively, within local congregations. This unique type of committee structure underscores an important principle of church growth which has been frequently noted at meetings of the Committee on History: the spiritual renewal movements of the past three centuries have almost always begun and been nurtured at the local congregational level.

At this pivotal epoch in the life and history of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, we would like to thank the Special 2014 Budget Sub-Committee for their diligence in fulfilling their mandate; but we would encourage its members to see themselves as much more than a group providing suggestions for fiscal responsibility. The Special 2014 Budget Sub-Committee may be a catalyst for significant spiritual renewal and dynamic Church growth.

We believe that with the right combination of spiritual maturity, dynamic leadership and bold decisions the Presbyterian Church in Canada has every reason to be optimistic as it dreams and plans for the future.

If there are any ways in which the Committee on History can provide further detail to the items we have mentioned in this letter we would be pleased to do so.

For questions or comments, send an email or direct mail to 50 Wynford Drive, Toronto ON M3C 1J7 (attention: 2014 Budget).