This is the second post in my new series, 365 Days with a New Presbytery. You can find the first post here.
These are challenging but exciting times for ministry in Pinellas County and Pasco County in Florida. There are many opportunities for education, ministry and mission all around us. About a million people live in the West region! Pinellas and Pasco are also some of the wealthiest counties in the country. We have lots of people and money. But most of the people and their money don’t intersect with our congregations. How will Presbyterians respond? The West region also is home to some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, and some of the most challenging school problems in the state of Florida. Poverty and homelessness are, also, significant issues in the midst of great resources. How will the West region respond?
Saturday, I attended my first meeting of the West region of the Tampa Bay Presbytery, and after taking my seat, talked with Bill Hemme, a math professor at St. Petersburg College and a ruling elder from First Presbyterian Church, Dunedin. The 60 or so participants sat at round tables of 7 or 8 people each in the fellowship hall of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Clearwater. Various speakers throughout the morning repeatedly mentioned the words “relationship” and “those relationships.”
Leaders of the new “West” region guided participants in a discernment process in order to consider possible mission priorities. At our individual tables, we discussed the issues of homelessness, hunger, poverty, human trafficking, and youth. Presbytery leaders also explained to the gathering how we would make decisions in the new region. They explained the work of the three committees of the regional body, outlining the number of meetings per year, the forms and steps in the process for doing business in the coming months. I left the meeting intrigued by the possibilities before us in Pinellas and Pasco County, and with the following questions:
- Do we need to reevaluate the process of discernment and decision-making within the new West region? Will the use of committees, forms and detailed requirements be the best way forward as we discern vocation, mission priorities, and oversight of congregations in the 21st Century?
- Many of our congregations in the West region are moving toward part-time paid pastors, and have sold their manses. How will a new pastor be able to support him or herself?
- Do we need to reconsider the “business model” of congregations in the West region. What can we learn from congregations like Hot Metal Bridge and Open Door in Pittsburgh Presbytery, and other new congregations, which have an abundance of young adults participating in their ministries?
Meeting the challenges and opportunities before us, in the new West region, will need a lot of conversation and creativity, as we move forward into the 21st Century.