Monday, January 11, 2010

Where's the trust?

A conversation has started over at the Chain Link, the blog of the Rev. Paul Moore, the organizing pastor of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities' New Church Development in Chain of Lakes. (I have to admit I'm new enough in this area that I still don't know if "Chain of Lakes" is a town or an area.) It is about the presbytery meeting that took place on Saturday and the "heated" discussions and debates that took place.

I joined that conversation in Paul's comment section, but thought I'd maybe expand upon what I wrote over there over here. This is how blogging works, folks! Neal Lloyd posted some comments afterward that have informed my thinking a little more.

I'll start here where I ended there. I am, essentially, a polity geek. I'm not the world's expert in Robert's Rules of Order, but I like them. I find them fun, as well as useful. I enjoy an intricate debate in which amendments are made to substitutes and things even further on down the line. I liked at one point at this recent meeting that we had a vote to challenge the ruling of the moderator NOT because I was a fan of the crazy arguing that was going, but because you don't see those motions being made very much, and, well, that's what we Robert's geeks live for!

I also like RRO for the reasons Neal pointed out in Paul's comments. It gives a process for the minority to be heard. It provides a framework for discussion and debate to take place in a way that HOPEFULLY is respectful and fruitful.

So anyway, my thoughts on the meeting...that's the conversation Paul started...

The meeting feel apart. It didn't get rowdy. It didn't get completely disrespectful (although, again there were moments that things were moving that direction). It fell apart as a gathering of the Body of Christ called together to discern God's will for the ministry of our presbytery. It fell apart, I believe, due to a lack of trust.

Members of and commissioners to presbytery did not trust the nominating committee. Ministers and elders did not trust each other to follow the leading of the Spirit instead of their own personal opinions. No one trusted anyone enough to set aside the idolatry of the process they liked best (here I'm speaking less about RRO and more about "the way we usually do it" or "last time we did it this way" - elect the whole slate, nominate alternates one at a time or as a whole, prioritize alternates according to the number of votes first received, etc) in order to try to find the way to do it best now.

I think lack of trust is at the core of that idolatry that Paul mentions (OK, idolatry is my word, but it's my interpretation of the direction Paul is going in his post). We want to know and stick to and have standards in our process because everyone is distrustful that when something is on the floor that is important to "me" it will be handled fairly and equitably. That's why we have chosen to govern ourselves by RRO in the past. We see that prescribed order as one that protects the voices of all. I think we cling to the process so tightly so that we can believe our pet issues won't be swept under the rug or pushed through by folks who don't want the same things we want. Again more distrust.

I haven't been in the presbytery very long at all, and I know I missed a lot of history even in recent years. I also have no idea how trust is rebuilt after, what I believe must have been, a very painful group experience. But I think, when I walk into many of those meetings (any one of which can turn contentious on a dime), we are bunch of people gathered together to make very important decisions and discernments with very little trust among us. I have no idea how you fix that.

Some things that could have happened ahead of time? At least as I seem them?
1. I agree with the member of presbytery who asked the Nominating Committee to not only take applications for nominations, but also to seek candidates to elect out, especially on something like GA commissioners. Even if there are enough applications that come in, the Nominating Committee, in my opinion has the blessing and responsibility to put together the best slate possible from among all our presbyters, elders and ministers of Word and sacrament. I know this is a huge presbytery in population. I know it's not an easy job, but it is an important one.

2. I also think that as presbyters we have a responsibility to give the Nominating Committee names of friends, colleagues, and members of churches who might be good candidates. The Nominating Committee came to the presbytery meeting in November and very literally BEGGED ministers to apply for this role. If we did not come to their aid either by nominating ourselves, encouraging others we trust and would like to elect to do the same, or sending them names to contact than I find it awful hard for us to complain about the slate they bring forward.

3. We do seem to spend a lot of time in presbytery meetings talking about processes outside of ROO - Do we examine on the floor of presbytery ALL ministers who are coming in? Do we require folks to have a call to transfer their presbytery of membership? Do we vote for a slate or one by one? Do we have to challenge a specific persons nomination with a nomination from the floor (the way they do it at GA, by the way, which on the one hand gets personal, but on the other hand forces people to speak up about why they are making a new nomination and what change they are seeking in the slate)? I think it could be helpful to distribute ahead of time in written (or electronic, of course) form exactly what the process will be. If it is a standard we have created in the past that is sitting in some policy and procedure book somewhere let us know so that we can trust the rules that are being applied are the rules to which we have all agreed.

I said it earlier (more than once I am sure), but I have no idea how you solve the problem of missing trust in a presbytery, especially such a large one in population. Maybe the discussion groups we have formed at each meeting over the last year are part of the solution, but I don't know. I don't think they hurt. Somehow we have to come to see people of differing opinions as people first, children of God, operating not out of some huge desire to spite us or ruin our church, but out of a desire to follow God faithfully. How they understand that way they are to follow may be very different from how I understand it, but I have to know and trust that their understanding comes from a place of deep faith. I have to trust they are doing the best they can, the way I'm doing the best I can, to follow God who calls us to this ministry together.


  1. Jennifer,
    You are spot on by identifying trust as the piece that is missing. I don't think that trust can be discovered through polity. I think that if our polity is done well it can keep the journey relatively smooth. But just because we follow RRO doesn't mean we aren't gong to be nasty to each other.

    The way to develop trust is to spend time with each other; to covenant that we are going to disagree in a healthy way; to respect other people's ideas.

    I think a very important question for the Presbytery is: "how do we develop and deepen trust?" if we prayerfully stay focused on this question, the Spirit will lead us to some answers.

    There must be some other comments out there too!!

  2. I don't know that we have that many readers yet! :)

    I agree that following RRO or any polity process doesn't foster nice or trust, but hopefully they can help maintain it. You have to have it first for sure.

  3. Kudos to Stephanie and Paul! This is a thoughtful and much needed discussion, and the fundamental issue I have been trying to address as moderator of our presbytery. A lot more people than you might suspect are following your lead on this. You have my vote!