Thank you to our fabulous hosts @ Redmond PC!
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
This post was written by Bennet McConaughy from Seattle, WA, a delegate on the PPF Delegation to Colombia.
One of the disciplines of traveling as a group in a foreign country is to “count heads” before leaving any place. We want to make sure that our group stays together, and that no one is left behind in an unknown setting.
On this trip, we first visited with a community of people displaced from their shared land by paramilitaries. After a brief period of refuge in a shelter, they were provided with a mountaintop parcel that they have worked hard to till and develop. The group of 20 families totals about 140 people, and their parcel is around 250 acres – not enough to sustain them long term or permit the coming generations to continue living side-by-side with their parents.
From Lois Parkinson (former member of Kent First Presbyterian Church):
Seattle Presbytery donated a Nativity from Kent First Presbyterian Church to the United Methodist Church in Kent. The Nativity was dedicated by Pastor Jim Head-Corliss on December 9th and the James Family from former KFPC gave the history of the Nativity:
Through a series of awesome and improbable events, Kent United Methodist Church recently received the Nativity used at the Kent First Presbyterian Church. Seattle Presbytery gifted the Nativity to our Church in early November. They have asked that when it is used this Advent Season, that pictures be taken and sent to Presbytery so they can share the “new life” of this Nativity with their Presbyterian Congregations.
Many former members of Kent First Presbyterian Church are members or attend church regularly so it especially joyful that this rich tradition can be passed on and be enjoyed by this congregation.
Josephine Hayes, sister of Pat James, a long-time member of the former Kent First Presbyterian Church, crafted the Nativity between 1995-1997 and donated it to the Kent First Presbyterian Church. Josephine poured the molds and then hand painted several Nativity Sets for her family and for the Kent First Presbyterian Church. Dan James crafted the Manger that accompanies it. The Nativity was an integral part of Worship throughout the Advent Season for more than twenty years. During the Advent Season, various pieces were added each Sunday culminating with the addition of Baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Service.
Today, Josephine is 100 years old and lives in Oregon. Pat James and her son, Dan and daughter-in-law, Rhonda regularly attends Kent United Methodist Church.
“The gifts he gave were some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ....” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
“Ruling elders, together with ministers of word and sacrament, exercise leadership, government, spiritual discernment, and discipline and have responsibilities for the life of a congregation as well as the whole church….” (Book of Order G-2.0301)
At our recent presbytery meeting, there was concern raised at the lack of ruling elders serving on the Presbytery’s executive board. As the staff person assigned to the nominating committee, I can tell you this is probably the most difficult task before us. And it’s not because there aren’t highly qualified, faithful elders throughout our churches. It all lies in connection and relationship.
Members of the nominating committee reach out to folks they know and have been recommended to contact for serving on Presbytery commissions or committees. And that’s usually ministers nominating each other. But when do ruling elders get recommended?
That’s where the pastor of the local congregation comes in.
Pastors know of folks in their church who have served as elders and would be an asset to the Presbytery. We depend on this connection.
Here’s a challenge for all you church pastors out there: think of one person you can ask to serve in some capacity of their interest.
Our councils, commissions, boards, and committees reflect the fullness of service and God’s gifts when it has equal representation of ruling and teaching elders (gender and race balance as well). Besides, it’s in our bylaws. :)
If you or someone you know would like to serve the larger church in Presbytery service, please contact Rev. Doug Early or myself. We welcome the introduction!
Also, please take a moment to review the proposed Property Guidelines and provide us with your comments. The executive board is looking forward to finalizing this document and adopting it at the next Presbytery meeting (April 30 at John Knox Presbyterian Church).
In grace and peace,
Rev. Eliana Maxim
Associate Executive Presbyter
IMMERSE is a seven-day summer intensive for high schoolers like you, hosted on campus at SPU and at our beautiful Camp Casey Conference Center on Whidbey Island.
Through a week of living in community, learning, service, and worship, you will be encouraged in your vocation as a servant-leader in Christ’s church and commissioned to serve in your congregation and community back home.
Since 2017, students from Hawai'i, Kansas, California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State have attended SPU IMMERSE. You can be next!
Colombia Task Force December 2018 Report to Seattle Presbytery Executive Board
The Columbia Task Force will foster and oversee the covenant relationship between the Presbiterio de la Costa and the Seattle Presbytery. This partnership began in 2016.
Focus of the partnership: Based on John 17:21, that they may all be one, and through the unique missions of our Presbyteries, we covenanted by the guidance of the Spirit to partner with one another in these areas:
· Ecclesial engagement through the sharing of liturgy, worship resources, biblical and theological reflections, pulpit exchanges and internships.
· Educational engagement through partnership with Seattle Pacific University.
· Diakonia engagement through a mutual vision of accompanying the stranger in our communities and presbyteries as we pursue together the work of advocacy, humanitarian relief, reconciliation and sustainable development.
Task Force members: Doug Early, Staci Imes, Eliana Maxim, Renée Notkin, Mark Zimmerly
2019 Seattle Presbytery Colombia Delegation: Steph Boyer, Doug Early, Tali Hairston, Nancyrose Houston, Paul Kim, James Kumin, Aleco Maxim, Renée Notkin, Leigh Weber
This year our delegation, representing 7 of our Seattle Presbytery churches, as well as Seattle Pacific University and Soundview Camp, will spend time in Barranquilla and outlying communities during the week of February 4-11. We will strengthen our relationship with our brothers and sisters of the Presbiterio de la Costa, through immersing ourselves into the community life of 7 churches and accompanying them in their ministry of Diakonia (accompaniment and advocacy work in their neighborhoods). Some of our focus will be with Venezuelan immigrants, displaced campesinos (farmers), and outreach to children and youth. We will divide our time between city and rural neighborhoods. We are especially excited to spend time with the pastors and elders of each community through bible study, conversation and prayer. During our time, Nancyrose Houston will interview for possible summer staff at Soundview Camp for 2019 and Paul Kim will make preparations for the second year of the partnership between SPU’ s SPRINT program and Corporación Universitaria Reformada (Reformed University) of the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia (Presbyterian Church of Colombia) in Barranquilla. In addition to the 2019 Delegation, Doug Early, Ben McConaughy and Renée Notkin will attend the Colombia Mission Network in Bogota, February 1-3, 2019.
We are grateful for your partnership in prayer as we prepare for our trip, spend time in Colombia in February and pray for the Spirit’s guidance as we grow in faith and love together as God’s people of hope and reconciliation.
With deep gratitude,
Renée Notkin on behalf of the Colombia Task Force
Dear Pastors and Clerks of Session,
The Clerk of Session is responsible for these reports, but if someone else is completing them, please reply and let me know. If the Clerk does not respond, the Moderator of Session will be responsible. Other people can help, input data, etc., but the Clerk of Session is responsible to see that it all gets done.
All reports are done online only through the presbytery
ALL REPORTS ARE DUE FEBRUARY 4, 2019:
-Annual Statistical Report
-Clergy 2019 Terms of Call (To be reported to the Presbytery. Must also be reported to the Board of Pensions. Due to matters of privacy, the Board of Pensions may not just report the information directly to the Presbytery.)
-2018 Necrology Report (to be reported to the Presbytery)
PLEASE UPDATE YOUR CHURCH CONTACT INFORMATION:
We need contact information for: Pastors, Clerks of Session, and Finance.
Contact EJ Lee with any changes.
Rev. Dean Strong
Our family sat around the table (where you can usually find this clan) on New Year’s Day and talked about aspirations and hopes for 2019. We refrain from using resolutions because they just seem fraught with inevitable disappointment. There was the assortment of the get healthy, read more variety, but one that stood out and was repeated by most was “be more intentional, more present”.
Perhaps it was the loss of a beloved family member and the reality of life’s fragility, or maybe the general sense that the world seems colder and meaner somehow with children separated from their parents, famine decimating an entire generation, rampant acts of blatant racism, senseless gun violence … all this brokenness seems to urge us to a place of being more mindful of not just the world around us, but our own selves in relation to it.
This past year was a difficult one, and though we have barely broken through to the new one, there is already heaviness coming from our nation’s capital and other countries around the world.
And yet our hope does not reside in the magic of turning a calendar page. Or the ability to close our eyes and retreat to our safe spaces.
Our hope lies in the One who dared to step into those very same places to love and serve.
Perhaps the gift of intentionality and presence is the opportunity for us to emulate Christ and step into the new year with clear eyes and an open heart, to proclaim that our story is still being written, and that we do this messy thing called life together. With the grace from God, the love of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
This is my hope for us all.
Rev. Eliana Maxim
Associate Executive Presbyter
Photo: December 2018 Honorably Retired ministers luncheon
When I was much, much, yes MUCH younger, I would speed read (okay, I admit it, I’d skip over) the better part of Matthew’s first chapter. All those names! Good grief, I’d think to myself, get to the good part. “…they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.”
As time as passed though, I have come to value the history and remembrance of those who came before, before the good and not so good parts of our personal and collective stories. And for some reason, it is this particular season that lends itself to this practice.
My family insists on sharing hard cider and almond nougat on Christmas Eve because our great-grandmother from Spain always served it. Stories are told about Christmases past of long gone friends and family, their struggles and their triumphs. Our personal story of immigrating to this country is usually retold and inevitably, one of our elders will look at the youngest generation and remark what a long way we have come.
And though we may wax a little too nostalgic sometimes, we are centered by the truth of who we are today, what we are doing, and how God has continued to be faithful throughout the generations.
At different times the church is also called to lift up its own “genealogy of saints”, those on whose shoulders we stand upon today. This recognition can provide us a snapshot of where we have been, the challenges faced, how we navigated them, and how God has remained faithful in each season. I believe it also gives us the blessing to sit up and take notice of who we are today and the journey we have traveled together.
“…they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.” That has never, nor will ever change. May this Advent season provide you and your congregations with the gift of celebrating all that has been and rejoicing in anticipation of all that is yet to be.
In grace and hope,
Rev. Eliana Maxim
Associate Executive Presbyter
The mutual interconnection of the church through its councils is a sign of the unity of the church. Congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), while possessing all the gifts necessary to be the church, are nonetheless not sufficient in themselves to be the church. Rather, they are called to share with others both within and beyond the congregation the task of bearing witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the world. This call to bear witness is the work of all believers. The particular responsibility of the councils of the church is to nurture, guide, and govern those who witness as part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to the end that such witness strengthens the whole church and gives glory to God.
(Book of Order G-3.0101)
Sticky situations or conflicts in a congregational setting are not unusual. It’s actually part of being community and gathering a diverse group of people. But there are occasions when a challenging situation arises that requires more than a session or pastor can provide.
In recent days several churches experiencing circumstances that benefit from outside guidance and more objective analysis than the congregation’s leadership can provide have contacted our office.
It might be an allegation of inappropriate conduct or significant personnel issues. The important thing to remember is that we are a connectional system and our polity provides for a higher council (such as the presbytery) to work with a lower council (the church’s session) to resolve conflict.
The first step is contacting either one of your execs (Scott Lumsden or myself) or our stated clerk (Dean Strong). Besides providing another pair of eyes and ears to evaluate the situation, should matters need an investigative process or formal review, you will have already laid the groundwork to move forward.
“Looping in the presbytery” isn’t an escalation or making things bigger than they should be; it’s just another way to make sure we’re all on the same page in a situation or serious conflict and stand together as we discern the best way forward.
Our work together is both celebrating the wonderful things God is doing in our congregations and the Christian witness of our churches as well as being present and accountable when challenges arise. In this season of Advent when we anticipate the fullness of God’s incarnation among us, may we remember that we have one another to lean on and lean into.
In grace and hope,
Rev. Eliana Maxim
Associate Executive Presbyter
Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:26-30 MSG)
As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer. (Luke 5:16 MSG)
We’re delighted to host David Olsen from Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capitol Region to facilitate Boundary Training this Thursday and Friday at the presbytery office. This is the second year we’ve invited David to lead this professional development course and I just can’t say enough how insightful and helpful it was for me. I hope you can join us.
Which has got me thinking about self-care in general, but particularly as we enter into the Advent season. At a time when many in our congregations are decorating their homes, shopping for gifts, baking goodies, and enjoying Christmas-related activities, many of our pastors and church leaders are overwhelmed with worship planning, community needs, pastoral emergencies, and facility support. Layer on all this personal and family commitments, you can see how exhausting and overextended you can become.
This is probably the best time to consider how you are caring for yourself. Are you making time for your own quiet prayer or meditative practices? Are you sleeping enough? Eating balanced meals? Do you have time for activities – large and small – that are life giving? Are you having any fun?
When was the last time you went on a retreat? Or just carved out a few hours of “me” time?
We know that we can be more fully present to our congregations when we can be more fully ourselves, authentic, and healthy.
In this first Sunday of Advent, I invite you to give yourself a gift. The gift of caring for yourself. Not only will you feel better; it’s a worthy investment.
In grace and hope,
Rev. Eliana Maxim
Associate Executive Presbyter
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3-6)
Someone recently told me that the opposite of despair is thanksgiving. I could have sworn the right answer was faith, but my friend shook her head slowly and smiled. “Think about it.”
And I have.
In the midst of a cultural landscape littered with incessant gun violence, acts of racism, homeless encampments, devastating wildfires, and fear mongering from politicians of every stripe, we are weary.
In the midst of personal loss, health concerns, job insecurities, and relationship strains, we grieve.
Despair is not far away.
And this can be true as well for our places of worship and congregations. A furnace that is on its last legs, a church member who loves to antagonize, a balance sheet that never seems to see black ink, a pastor who has lost their energy, imagination, and perhaps even love.
We can grow weary in the very places where God has called us to be community.
But what if we were to give thanks? Thanksgiving for each one of us who make up Seattle Presbytery, for all those who touch the lives and ministry of our congregations, for all those strangers we have yet to meet? Thanksgiving for the opportunity do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God?
In this season of Thanksgiving, I invite us to give thanks. That, like the writer of Philippians, we pray for one another, confident that the good work begun among us is being brought to completion. And rather than despair, we roll up our sleeves to be the church.
In grace and hope,
Rev. Eliana Maxim
Associate Executive Presbyter
Webinar participants toss out ideas for aiding asylum seekers, deportees
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
Leslie Vogel, a Guatemala-based mission co-worker, was one of presenters during a Thursday webinar put on by the Presbyterian Mission Board’s Outreach to the World Committee.
LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians living hundreds of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border can help asylum seekers and those facing deportation from the United States in a number of ways, including advocacy, accompaniment and aide.
Experts had no shortage of helpful ideas Thursday during a 75-minute webinar organized by the Outreach to the World Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Board.
Thank you for hosting, Mercer Island PC!
To: Commissioners at the October 16, 2018 Seattle Presbytery Meeting
From: Executive Board, Seattle Presbytery
Re: Vacant Property Resolution
The Executive Board agrees that a vacant property policy that further guides the Presbytery in its use of property, establishment of new ministries, and the use of funds, would strengthen existing Presbytery guidelines regarding property and finance, which have already served us well.
The Executive Board will bring a vacant property policy for the Presbytery's approval at the January 2019 Presbytery meeting.
The Executive Board concurs with the FPCS AC/Session in opposing any conditions that would obstruct the AC/Session’s decision to sell the property and urges disapproval of the resolution.
Lina Thompson (TE, Lake Burien PC)
Lindsay Murphy (TE, Mercer Island PC)
Todd Petersen (RE, Woodland Park PC)
Dani Forbess (TE, Northminster PC)
Becki Barrett (TE, Overlake Park PC)
Loretta Pain (RE, University PC)
Jesse Mabanglo (TE, Lake City PC)
J. P. Kang (TE, Japanese PC)
Heidi Husted Armstrong (TE, Seattle First PC)
By Rev. Scott Lumsden, Executive Presbyter
As we settle into the fall, I have some exciting staff updates to share. Many in our presbytery already know Tali Hairston, but it may be news that Tali is now our Director of Community Engagement and Reconciliation. Tali is a nationally recognized leader in racial reconciliation work from his 17 years as Seattle Pacific University's former Director of the John M. Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development. In addition, Tali brings a deep commitment to the civic and faith communities in this city, region, and state. We are very excited to have Tali lend his leadership to our congregations as we all seek to engage the communities we serve in more just and faithful ways.
Helen Hall, who has been working on a contract basis for many months, is now employed full time as our Business and Finance Manager. Helen oversees the day to day management of all our presbytery properties and financial operations. Helen also gives support to finance, HR, and property related issues of our churches.
Both of these changes are very important as they are part of our goal of better supporting the mission and ministry of our churches.
These changes didn't just happen however, they were planned. Ten years worth of work to change the financial picture in Seattle Presbytery was not done just for the benefit of the balance sheet -- it was done to put us in a position to grow.
Many years of hard work to keep our staffing structure flexible, nimble, and efficient was not done just to keep costs low, but to build the core functions upon which we would expand our service to congregations.
Tali's position is partly funded out of Grant funds, and Helen's position is mostly funded out of a portion of the income from property management. Of course, neither of these additions will affect the level of Grant funding available to our churches. And as usual, none of the cost of these additional investments in our ministry will be borne by our congregations.
It feels very good be able to see these plans come to fruition.
To this end, I am also very excited that conversations have begun around the larger vision and mission of Seattle Presbytery. The listening sessions that grew out of the Seattle First decision in July have been helpful to the leadership of the presbytery. In particular, the Property & Finance committee has heard the concerns expressed about affordable housing, new ministry development, and property partnerships that better align with our collective mission, are already being explored relating to future use of property. The Vacant Property policy that is referenced in the motion to amend is thus not needed as this work is already underway, and the development of such a guiding policy will be brought by the Executive Board in January for the presbytery's approval.
Last, I want to remember Esther Laing, Eliana's sister, who passed away recently. Esther was a dear friend to the entire staff and was known to commissioners for her loving, friendly, and gracious support during our presbytery dinners -- something she did with her wonderful husband Bobby. We miss her terribly and ask that you continue to pray for the Laing/Maxim family.
Please review the reports as you prepare for the meeting on Tuesday. And have a blessed weekend.
Rev. Scott Lumsden
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has set up sites for volunteers to stay at Kinston, Fayetteville, and Wilmington. These volunteers help survivors in the early stages of a disaster response. At a later date, PDA will set up sites for longer term recovery assistance.
If you want more information about these sites, you can contact Eden Roberts, below.
Mission Specialist II for Hosting and Volunteer Management
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
National Call Center
A Theological Reflection on Property and Ministry
Rev. J. P. Kang
The claim has been made that “a clear theme of scripture is that God gives us land to steward for ministry.” However, this is not obvious and is in fact questionable. The Scriptures do not articulate a universal and consistent teaching about land (or ground or earth) and our relationship to it, and so interpretation and discernment are always required when thinking about and making decisions about land.
The two creation accounts found at the beginning of Genesis characterize the relationship between human beings and land in significantly different ways. In the first account, humanity is commanded “to fill the earth and subdue (lit. ‘dominate’) it” (1:28)—as masters and owners. In the second account, Adam is placed in Eden to cultivate (lit. “serve”) and care for (lit. “guard”) it (2:15)—as servant and tenant. Differing visions of humanity’s place in creation are juxtaposed in these opening chapters, and the tension remains evident throughout the Bible.
In Genesis 11, the primary problems with the tower-builders of Babel are that (1) they chose to settle down, in open disobedience to the thrice-repeated command (Genesis 1:28; 9:1, 7) to fill the earth, and (2) they had no interaction with the LORD in their planning and building—until it was too late. For their defiance and self-reliance they were evicted, becoming a cautionary tale for projects undertaken without consulting the divine building inspector. Note that the story is not criticizing the otherwise natural human desires for stability or ambition, but it is an early reminder that wisdom is vindicated by listening and obeying (Matthew 7:24–27). In these examples, land is literally and figuratively a stage on which human motivations are exposed.
It is true that land, along with lineage, are the LORD’s oft-repeated promises to Abram (chapters 12–50). Abram’s descendants, however, realize the “promised land” through genocidal conquest (Joshua), which complicates, if not compromises, the value of the gift. The subsequent history of the land (Judges through 2 Kings) that ended in the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles shows that, far from being cultivated for holy use, the land was defiled by the idolatry of the Israelites and Judeans. God purges polluted land by removing its inhabitants, one time by flood (Genesis 6–7) and later, by a figurative vomiting out in the exile (Leviticus 18:25–28). Bottom line: the exile teaches us that land is not an ultimate good, and that God’s purposes are not frustrated even when God’s people are landless.
Thus we see a variety of attitudes toward land in the Old Testament, and we need to be on guard against readings that conclude that the value of land justifies any means of attaining or retaining it. Such readings of the Old Testament, transposing “promised land” onto contemporary maps, have been used to legitimate the imperialism of ideologies such as Manifest Destiny and Zionism.
The New Testament likewise expresses a variety of views about land.
In the parable of the sower (Mark 4; Matthew 13; Luke 8), the responses to the word that is sown are represented by different types of terrain: smooth, rocky, thorny, and good soil. Perhaps the most disquieting thing about this parable is that God is free to sow wherever God chooses, and that the terrain has no power to “improve” itself. This story is paired in all three accounts with the confounding word of Isaiah 6:9 (“Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand”) that divinely ordains deafness and blindness even for those who hear the good news. Humility and reverent fear should attend our reflections on the terrain represented by our lives.
If we seek models for how land is to be used for ministry, we might first consider the negative example found in the parable of the man who planted a fig tree, which repeatedly failed to produce fruit: “So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’” (13:7; compare Isaiah 5:1–7’s song of the vineyard). What do these parables suggest about a possible faithful response to a non-productive ministry?
Then there is the example of Acts 4:32–37, where the early church’s communal ethos extended even to real property for the sake of eliminating poverty: “for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold” (v. 34). Even if we don’t believe we are supposed to imitate them in this particular way, we can certainly learn from the spirit of the way they disposed of their assets as we consider the question of the proper disposition of property.
Land thus has potential to be a tool for ministry, but like any tool, its positive or negative value results from the way in which it is wielded. And as with tools, using the right tool at the right time can make all the difference in finishing a job well; conversely, using the wrong tool or using a tool in the wrong way usually leads to wasted effort and even damage. Land can be, like a sacrament, an ordinary substance that becomes a vehicle for God’s grace, but in and of itself land has no special properties or powers. What it is or will be depends on God first, and secondarily, our response to God’s word to us, here, in this place.
Return to: FPCS AC/Session FAQs 10-8-18
By Rev. Scott Lumsden, Executive Presbyter
Over the past few months, there have been a number questions about how the presbytery manages its properties and finances. I want to give some background so that the presbytery better understands where we've been and where we're going.
I began in April of 2008, and among other challenges in the presbytery at the time, I was made aware that the presbytery owned about 3 properties that were not being actively managed by the presbytery: Buck Creek (Camp & Conference Center), Beacon Hill (containing presbytery offices, one church, and one fellowship), and Brighton (Vietnamese Good News Fellowship, and a few other churches not related to the presbytery). It was also reported that the pastor of Black Diamond PC left the area and abandoned the building.
In none of these 4 properties were there valid leases or agreements with any entity in any of these buildings (and keep in mind that fellowships have no official legal or ecclesiastic standing in relationship to the presbytery). In addition, the presbytery paid for most of the costs of these properties—had all the liability—and received almost no income from any of the tenants.
The presbytery incurred about $100,000 a year in operation/upkeep costs related to these properties from 1996-2008, a total loss of about $1.2M on property management.
Relating to day-to-day financial management, the situation was worse. On the day before I started, our bookkeeper resigned—the third bookkeeper to resign in the previous year. Her reason was something along the lines of "I cannot be responsible for what happened here." And the committee whose job it was to oversee our finances had resigned as a committee in 2007 after it was stated publicly (by then-moderator Madeleine Brenner) in a presbytery meeting that our finances were not reliable. Sadly, this was true, but now on top of not having a committee, we did not have a bookkeeper either.
Enter the guy (me) who previously had never balanced his checkbook and you have what could have been an unmitigated disaster.
What happened was exactly the opposite—we rallied as a presbytery, formed a Property and Finance committee, reviewed our books, got our financial house in order, and began the slow, difficult process of learning how to manage vacant church buildings.
Let me share just a little about the financial picture in 2008. In 2008, we had a $40 per capita, a $500,000 personnel budget (that supported a staff focused primarily on administrative work, not on field work with congregations), supposedly about $1M in the bank (which turned out only to be about $400,000), and two sources of income: per capita (operations) AND mission giving (additional freewill giving from our churches for mission causes).
Despite giving the impression that mission giving from our congregations went to presbytery mission efforts, all the income received from our churches was subsumed into Operations. I know that this is not how people wanted it, or thought we were doing it, but it's how things were. And since mission giving was beginning to dry up, the only way to resolve the operations shortfall was to increase per capita (and do less "mission"). In the meantime, the financial realities for our congregations was getting worse in the light of decades of decline and now a bona fide global recession.
To address the presbytery shortfall, there was a plan to raise per capita in 2009. However, with the backing of the newly formed Property and Finance committee, we continued to tighten our belts and steward our resources toward healthier practices—meaning we chose not to raise per capita in 2009 and have been able to keep it at $40 for the past 10 years.
This also meant that we had to deal with the "mission giving" problem. We did this by utilizing our properties as mission assets and using the additional revenue from property management for mission through what is now called the grant program. Thus not only have we kept costs contained for our per capita (operations) budget, we've also addressed the mission funding question by changing the way we managed our properties.
In short, our churches have been able to receive the same, if not better services from the presbytery (without any increase in per capita for 10 years) AND financial help for capital improvements, mission projects, or even operational expenses without having to raise this money from other churches.
This means that now when we talk about doing something new or different for our churches or as a presbytery, we don't have to raise the money from our churches (which is what we used to do, e.g. the capital campaign to "save" Buck Creek, or the old fundraising efforts for new church development). Now we allocate money from our grant program.
A New Approach
It's important to know that a critical reason we have gone from financial crisis to financial health is because we not only dealt head-on with our financial challenges, we also addressed the cause of much of our chronic financial distress: property.
Instead of seeing vacant church properties as just old church buildings that could only be used for congregational purposes, we began to look at them as buildings that could be employed for the ministry of the larger presbytery. In other words, since we had no congregations of our own in the buildings (except one at Beacon Hill, who then found another location at Wallingford), we were open to pursuing leases with other entities.
This change, however, took years to manage and many thousands of hours of working with the fellowships that were in our buildings—working with them to find other churches they could nest in or even other locations with money pledged to help the transition, including support with rent. We even offered one of our fellowships a share in the proceeds from a lease. (These offers were all flatly turned down).
In the meantime, a number of churches have closed: Duwamish, New Hope, First Renton, White River, and Bethel. Each new property had its own history and story, as well as its own challenges and opportunities.
It was during this period that the P&F committee was most busy. One by one, each property was appraised and evaluated in light of the larger mission of the presbytery: White River was sold to Pyung An (a predominantly Korean-speaking congregation nested at Steel Lake and who later was dismissed to ECO), Duwamish was sold to the congregation that shared space with the Presbyterian church when it was there; New Hope (in South Park) was sold to a Slavic speaking Russian Orthodox Congregation; First Renton was sold to the Children's Institute for Learning Differences; Bethel was leased and then sold to Seattle Area German Academy; Black Diamond is in a lease with an option to purchase to Grace Road Church; and Beacon Hill is being leased to the Torah Day School (which expires in 5 years).
And recently Kent and Capitol Hill have closed, and Seattle Presbytery is managing Seattle First on the AC's behalf. (More on these properties another time).
Why Are We Managing Property?
From time to time people ask, why is "the presbytery" or "Scott" managing property? Shouldn't we/he be doing something else? Great question. We are managing property because just as buildings and property are a part of the ministry of a local congregation, they become just as much a part of the ministry of the presbytery when a church closes.
And for the same reasons an active church doesn't hire out the management of its facilities to an outside entity, neither do we -- it's cost-prohibitive; the decisions about the use of the facilities should be made by the church/presbytery without having to go through an outside party; and in the end, property is for the mission of a church/presbytery and thus even if it is leased, the decisions about leases have to make sense for the church/presbytery and thus not be handed over to other entities to make for us.
There's more to this story, of course, and more decisions to be made ahead relating to Kent, and Capitol Hill, but I wanted to share some background information as you consider the presbytery’s stewardship of our collective resources for mission.
—Rev. Scott Lumsden, Executive Presbyter
Read also: FPCS AC/Session FAQs 10-8-18
By Eliana Maxim, on Ecclesio.com
Shortly after arriving in this country, someone – probably my parents – gave me my first doll. She was Chatty Cathy, a large size hard plastic doll with a pull string in the back of her neck, blond wavy hair, unreal blue eyes and a fixed smile.
My greatest joy was that Cathy spoke to me personally. In my language.
When I pulled her string, I became convinced that among her many utterances, she stated in a clear loud voice, “Que rico Colombia!” (loosely translated to “How wonderful is Colombia!) I look back now and realize the complete nonsense of my belief. There was no way Mattel was going to personalize Chatty Cathys for homesick immigrant girls.
I know I ran around pulling that string like crazy, demonstrating to anyone who would listen the brilliance of my doll; she was able to know where I came from and how wonderful it had been there.
My parents humored me and nodded with what I assumed was our shared melancholy for home but now that I think about it, it was probably sadness for a little girl who could not let go.
There were well meaning folks, our new American neighbors, whose greatest desire was to educate me and were quick to point out that Chatty Cathy was American and therefore only spoke English, that she could only repeat 11 English phrases, that I needed to listen carefully and this would help me learn English.
And so I did.