The State of the Presbytery: Spring 2024 Edition

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Brian Wallace
Associate Minister for Emerging Ministries &
Acting Head of Staff
Thursday, April 25, 2024

Dear Friends-

There is a lot going on in the life of Pittsburgh Presbytery, and we’re about a month away from the Presbytery meeting.  So rather than wait for my report at the May Presbytery meeting, I wanted to take some time to update you on some of what has been happening in the life of our Presbytery.

Leadership Transition Process – As you might recall, four areas emerged from the Landscape study as drivers of satisfaction within our Presbytery (A driver is defined as something that is important, and a given priority’s inclusion on the list does not indicate the extent to which respondents felt the statements were true – only that they considered them important).  They were:

  1. Shared Vision: “Our Presbytery leadership has done a good job of developing a shared vision that unites us.”
  2. Involvement: “Members have discovered that involvement in the work of our Presbytery can be a source of energy and spiritual renewal.”
  3. Effective Communication: “As a Presbytery, we do a good job communicating with one another in a way that keeps us aware and engaged.”
  4. Vital Congregations: “Our Presbytery has been successful in helping congregations like mine become more vital and effective.”

During 2023, the focus of the Executive Committee was on priority #1, which resulted in the adoption of the new purpose and strategy statements that were adopted by the Executive Committee during the summer of 2023, which you can find in their full detail here.  The Executive Committee also voted to refer item #4 to our Commission on Ministry.  Working with COM and other ministry teams, we’ve made this a renewed area of focus, demonstrated by the various training events within the last year (and more to come)

This year, the Executive Committee will direct its efforts toward priorities 2 and 3. This work began at the EC’s annual retreat in March and will remain a key focus in the coming months.  We have begun, in small ways, to make small adjustments to our communications strategy and carefully examine how we structure our Presbytery gatherings as a reflection of these two priorities for 2024.

General Minister Special Nominating Committee – Our General Minister Special Nominating Committee continues to work toward identifying an individual to present to the Presbytery for election to serve as our General Minister. Please continue to pray for those individuals on the committee and those being considered as they continue this critical work of discernment.  You can find the committee’s latest updates here.

Board of Pensions Medical Plan – There has been much discussion regarding upcoming changes in the Board of Pensions’ medical plan, and I’ve commented on this change several times (here and here). Our Commission on Ministry, specifically the Pastoral Vitality subcommittee of COM, has been hard at work updating our terms of call policy to reflect these changes. We understand this is a major change from how the system has worked in the past and will require some adjustment. However, we want to reassure you that we (COM leadership, Presbytery staff, and our Board of Pensions representatives) are here to support you through this transition. As we’ve shared previously, we are hosting an event sponsored by the Board of Pensions on June 5th, where you’ll have a chance to learn more about these changes in the plans and their impact on our pastors and congregations.  (You can register for that event here)  Our COM will adopt our 2025 Minimum terms of call and Benefits policy at our June meeting and communicate them through multiple channels after their official adoption.

Covenant Benefits Plan for Many Church Employees – While the changes in the medical plan have gotten the most attention, the Board of Pensions has also changed the plan formerly known as Minister’s Choice. Now known as the Covenant Package, this benefits plan includes what is known as the income security programs of the Board of Pension (Pension, Temporary Disability, Death and Disability, Emergency Assistance Program, and Educational Programs).  Any church employee (or employee in an affiliated organization) who works more than 20 hrs/week is eligible to enroll in the Covenant Package at a rate of 10% of effective salary.  This will include many church staff members and afford them an unprecedented opportunity previously only available to our ministers.  I strongly encourage our Personnel committees and Sessions to consider making participation in the Covenant Package of the Board of Pensions an option for all eligible employees.  You can learn more about the covenant pack on the Board of Pensions’ website.

Church Leadership Connection – We are approaching a year since the new Church Leadership Connection system was introduced. Like any rollout of a new system, there were some bumps in the road and a learning curve for everyone involved.  That being said, this far into the process, we are beginning to see some of the real and tangible benefits that this new system will provide candidates, pastors, and other church employees as well as congregations and agencies.

Hebron Presbyterian Church (Penn Hills) – At the end of February, Hebron Presbyterian Church (Penn Hills) informed the Executive Committee that they wished to enter the discernment process with the Presbytery, which could result in the dismissal of the congregation from the PC(USA) to another reformed body. The Executive Committee, through the co-chairs, has appointed three individuals (Rev. BJ Woodworth, Rev. Ben Schneider, and Elder Sally Huber-Lewis (Oakmont)) to serve as the discernment team for Hebron, and I will serve as the staff liaison with the team.  That work has begun; I would ask you to hold our team, as well as Rev. Henry Knapp and the Session of Hebron Presbyterian Church, in prayer as we engage in this process.

2024 General Assembly – The 2024 General Assembly of the PC(USA) is coming up this summer. Our Stated Clerk, Carla Campbell, serves as Moderator of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution for the General Assembly this year, and she will provide a preview of some of the most significant items coming to the General Assembly this summer at our upcoming Presbytery meeting. One item coming to the General Assembly that has generated some level of discussion already is what is known as Overture 1 (or Polity 01), officially entitled On Amending the Book of Order to Include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Among the Categories Against Which This Church Does Not Discriminate.  While much has been said about this overture, there is a great deal we do not yet know about this proposed overture and it’s potential impact.  Also, please remember that because this overture proposes amendments to the Book of Order, if the General Assembly approves the overture, the changes would be subject to ratification by the Presbyteries.  You can find the overture on  PC-Biz.

May 2024 Presbytery Meeting – Finally, you’ll want to be sure to attend our May 23rd Presbytery Meeting on the campus of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. We’re a few weeks away from registration, but there will be a lot happening at this meeting, and you won’t want to miss it.

In Christ,

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