“It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another...
There is one core principle for developing these relationships. People must be engaged in meaningful work together if they are to transcend individual concerns and develop new capacities."
“Also prominent in the Commission’s polling of the Church were the expressions of deep and abiding mistrust – fueled by a general absence of meaningful connection to the national, regional and even local judicatories.”
We do not believe that this is due to any individual persons acting in any particularly egregious and untrustworthy ways. Indeed, we believe that the great majority of General Assembly, presbytery, and synod staff members and leaders are trustworthy people. But the system itself fosters mistrust.
Generations of attempting to solve problems by constitutional fiat have left us without the ability to build relationships with those who deeply disagree with us. We have trusted that our membership in presbyteries and synods, and our participation in council deliberative processes and committee assignments, would be context enough to build trust. Once again, a reliance on compliance with regulation has not only sapped our creativity, it has made it impossible for us to give ourselves enough “room” to trust each other again. Indeed, at the center of the Commission’s own work of deliberation was a commitment to transparency through our entire process. We have used media, including social media, to engage in a conversation with the entire church. We have traveled many miles, engaged in numerous conversations, and listened deeply to people who disagree with each other (and often ourselves!) about the causes of concern and the potential future of the church. We have engaged people from across various spectrums in a conversation with full disclosure, even taking our most provocative proposals to the church before the final report was finished to allow input. Within the Commission itself, we have come to realize that, for the sake of the mission, nothing can substitute for taking the time to build relationships, work through conflicts, and get beyond the stereotypes that we each bring into any circumstance. Indeed, we needed to learn to trust each other enough to become comfortable with discussing, debating, and finally deciding to bring even these proposals to the church.
Perhaps the greatest effect of our proposals is that it will by necessity bring the church closer. Now, for congregations to have more flexibility they will necessarily practice discernment within both presbytery and General Assembly processes. While the flexibility to experiment comes with built-in mechanisms to insure relational and constitutional fidelity, the true test of our trust will come as we allow room for others to create presbyteries that are different than our preferences and maybe even contradictory to our convictions.
The Confession of 1967 has this poignant line: “The quality of their relation with other persons is the measure of the church’s fidelity.” Trust is the life blood of a community. Without rebuilding trust we will never have the quality of relationships that we desire. We are under no illusions about the sorry state of trust in our denomination and know that our proposals will not pass through the Assembly without it. We also believe that if we engage in this provisional presbytery experiment, we will need to trust each other more than some of us think possible. We hope that even the conversations about our recommendations will be a spur for rebuilding the trust to truly enable us to be a dynamic missional denomination again.
Jesus said, “The time has come…I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:31-35