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FAQs About Our New Mission Plan


Click here to read an introductory letter to the new mission plan from the Rev. Dr. Daniel B. Merry, Chair of Executive Committee, and the Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery.

Click here to view the dates, locations and times of the information sessions being led by the Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, a member of the Executive Committee and a member of the Mission Study Team.


: How does the new mission plan relate to our previous one?

Answer: The former mission plan focused on equipping congregations to be vital in the work of Christ’s mission. This focus on congregations represented a major shift from earlier mission patterns that focused on central operations as the core of our mission. Our new mission plan continues to emphasize that congregations – rather than judicatories – are the core mission agents of the church. But it adds a significant new core commitment, that congregations and pastors are called to work together in proclaiming the Gospel, rather than working independently. The new mission plan focuses on nurturing our capacity to provide resources of encouragement, admonition, and missional equipping to one another as congregations and ministers, in order that we can proclaim the Gospel more effectively.

Question: Who will compose the new ministry staff team of presbytery, and what will be their titles?

Answer: Presbytery pastoral staff will become a four-person ministry team. The primary responsibility of each will be the nurturing of congregational and ministerial relationships in their particular branches. Secondly, they will have special expertise that is available to the entire presbytery, as needed. Their titles reflect this special expertise, but their jobs are first of all shaped by the relational network mandate within their designated branches.

1. General Minister – special expertise in ecumenical, denominational, and community relations, and general mission coordination and development.

2. Minister for Common Life – special expertise in congregational health, ministerial relations, and ministerial development (COM and CPM)

3. Minister for Outreach – special expertise in evangelism, compassion, and justice ministries.

4. Minister for Discipleship – special expertise in church education, officer development, and spiritual formation.

The first two positions will be held respectively by Sheldon Sorge and Doug Portz. The other two positions will be filled through an open search process to begin this fall, with a target start date of January 1, 2013. The move from “Pastor” to “Minister” language is intended to emphasize staff’s role as servants of our shared mission, and to make it possible for Ruling Elders to be called to these positions. The Executive Director of Crestfield will continue to be part of the ministry staff team.

Question: Is this a permanent mission change, or only a temporary trial?

Answer: The mission of the presbytery is always subject to re-evaluation and adjustment. The new plan can and will be adjusted as adjustments are seen to be warranted, and will be thoroughly evaluated after two years. But it is not being presented as a temporary trial.

Question: What does the presbytery need to vote on for the new plan?

Answer: The Executive Committee is charged with developing and implementing presbytery’s mission strategy. The presbytery as a whole must vote on changes to the Presbytery Manual that may be involved, on the 2013 budget, and on the calls of presbytery ministers who have called and installed positions. Presbytery will have opportunity to vote confirmation of the plan as a whole at its April or June meeting, depending on readiness to vote.

Question: What is the status of our called ministers, and will the new positions involve a presbytery call?

Answer: Doug Portz and Sheldon Sorge will continue with their calls. The two new minister positions will initially be temporary two-year calls, which do not require presbytery votes, but require an open search process under the direction of the Personnel Committee. Their positions will be renewable and will be eligible for full call status. Jay Lewis has tendered his resignation in order to accept a position as interim pastor at a local congregation therefore, a new short-term stated clerk will be elected by the presbytery at its April 19 meeting. The person taking this interim position will be eligible for consideration for the permanent call.  

Question: Is Jay Lewis’s departure from the Stated Clerk position part of the new mission plan?

Answer: No. He has accepted a call to serve as temporary pastor of one of our congregations. Interviews for a temporary Stated Clerk are being conducted by the Executive Committee, with the hope to have a candidate to present to presbytery for election at its April 19 meeting.

Question: What is the budgetary impact of the new plan?

Answer: The new mission plan makes it possible to prepare a balanced budget without drawing down further the corpus of our reserves, and without major increase in per capita assessment. Presbytery will be presented such a budget for approval in the fall.

Question: Does the new plan mean congregations are free to stop giving to general presbytery mission expenses and shared giving?

Answer: No. The new plan assumes that giving to general mission expenses will continue at its current level. Per Capita giving provides for less than half the operations costs of presbytery offices.

Question: What changes in the Presbytery Manual need to be enacted for the new mission plan?

Answer: The schedule of presbytery meetings will need to be adjusted, to include a combination of full presbytery meetings and branch meetings. The make-up and responsibilities of the COM and CPM will also need some adjustments. Presbytery leadership staff positions will be re-defined as needed.

Question: What key program areas are being cut and what are being retained in the new plan?

Answer: Central funding of external mission agencies will be cut, and emphasis placed instead on mobilizing congregations in mission agency support. NCD and ACT programs will be maintained for developing new congregations and strengthening existing congregational ministry. Crestfield will continue to be supported, but with its budget separated from the presbytery budget – except that the Executive Director of Crestfield will continue to be paid by presbytery and will continue to function as part of the staff ministry team.

Question: Who was on the Mission Study Team?

Answer: Ruling elders Katrina Dunderdale, Jean Kennedy, and Drew Wilson, with Teaching elders Eugene Blackwell, Randy Bush, Dave Carver, Jim Gilchrist, and Catherine Purves. Sheldon Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery, served as convener.

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: How will the Branches of presbytery be constituted?

Answer: Branches will each consist of 35-39 congregations. These Branches were initially formed by our Amos 5:24 Team for mission purposes. There is roughly an equal distribution of churches in each branch in terms of budget, church size, and urban vs. county. Branch lines will follow roughly these lines:

North Branch will be bounded by the Allegheny River on the southeast, and by US-19 and I-179 on the west

West Branch will be bounded by US-19 and I-279 to the northeast, and US-19 to the southeast

South Branch will be bounded by US-19 to the west and the Monongahela River to the north (with that boundary continuing east at the point the Monongahela turns south at McKeesport)

East Branch will be bounded by the Allegheny River to the north and the Monongahela to the south (with that boundary continuing east at the point the Monongahela turns south at McKeesport)

Question: Will branch assignments be adjustable?

Answer: Any congregation that wishes to associate with a different branch from its current assignment may submit a request to the General Minister for reassignment.

Question: Will members of presbytery not currently in called positions (retired, specialized ministers, at-large ministers, etc.) be assigned to branches?

Answer: Yes. Those who live in the Pittsburgh area may choose their branch by the following criteria, in order of preference: 1. Where they work; 2. Where they worship; 3. Where they reside. They may participate in any branch meeting they wish, but need to be enrolled in one as a primary affiliation. If such members of presbytery wish to change their primary branch affiliation, they may request such reassignment from the General Minister. If membership in branches becomes too imbalanced, the General Minister may request some members of presbytery not in current calls to change affiliation.

Question: May ministers serving congregations affiliate with a branch different from that of their congregations?

Answer: No. Members of presbytery are free to attend meetings of all branches, and to engage in collegial and missional partnerships across branch lines, but their primary affiliation will be with the branch in which their congregation is situated.

Question: Will congregations and ministers be restricted to attend meetings and engage partnerships only within their branches?

Answer: No. Partnerships across branch lines are encouraged, and all meetings of all branches shall be open to all members of the presbytery and its congregations. Branches will be primary relationship centers, but not exclusive.

Question: How often will Branches gather, and who will “run” the meetings?

Answer: Branches will gather at least three times a year, and hopefully more often, at their pleasure. Meetings will be planned by a team that is coordinated by the Branch Minister.

Question: Where will Branches gather, and what will their meetings look like?

Answer: Branches will gather wherever they desire. Churches too small to host Presbytery will be able to host Branch meetings. Schedule, content, and frequency of meetings are flexible. Sharing meals and gathering at the Lord’s Table will be the norm. Fellowship, prayer, and learning will be the central features of the meetings. These will not be voting meetings, except there will be examinations of candidates, whose candidacy will advance only upon positive recommendation from their Branch. Candidates will still have to be approved by Presbytery.

Question: Will Branches have their own COM and CPM?

Answer: No. Each Branch will have an advisory team for COM and one for CPM, to conduct relational work with candidates and congregations in their bounds (initial interviews, candidate care, congregational visits, etc.). Current members of the presbytery’s central COM and CPM shall anchor these advisory teams, which will also include others from the Branches, especially those who have served previously on either COM or CPM.

Question: Will it be possible for a particular congregation or pastor to seek counsel from a COM advisory team from a Branch different from their own?

Answer: Yes. Such requests will be handled case by case by the Branch Minister and the General Ministers.

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: When will the reduction in force take place?

Answer: July 15, 2012.

Question: Why was it that only positions currently held by women were eliminated?

Answer: Pittsburgh Presbytery is deeply committed to principles of full representation. This reduction in force was strategic rather than personal. It just so happens that all our central program directors – the part of our staff that is being eliminated – along with their support staff are all women. We will absolutely assure that the new ministerial positions are filled in such a way that our staff composition is genuinely representative and equitable.

Question: Did the Mission Study Team determine whose jobs should be cut?

Answer: No. The Mission Study Team sought to answer the question: What is the mission to which God is calling us? They prepared a core staffing pattern that identifies positions that are mission-critical for this new mission plan. Cutting of other staff positions is made necessary only because of a lack of sufficient income from donors to support their work any longer.

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