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Grace Presbytery » Report to Grace Presbytery • Matthew 11:2-5

Report to Grace Presbytery • Matthew 11:2-5

Note: The Rev. Janet M. DeVries delivered the following report on February 28, 2014, at the stated meeting of Grace Presbytery.
Janet DeVries

The Rev. Dr. Janet M. DeVries
General Presbyter

There are people across the presbytery who periodically ask me if I wish I could be bishop for a day, and then we laugh at the impossibility of such an event.  But if I had one wish this year for Grace Presbytery, it would be that we all discover the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is alive and well across our many communities, and also the challenges we face in common.  So today, I want to share with you some of the realities of Grace Presbytery, beginning with its mission stories.  If your story isn’t here, stop me and tell me about it so I know!

What I hope you will do with these stories is to tell them to the next person who asks you, “What does the presbytery DO, anyway?”   Tell the stories of ministry to one another.  And today in our breakout groups you have the opportunity to hear from members of Grace Presbytery about their involvements in mission on behalf of Jesus Christ.

In 2013, Jim Hawthorne, then pastor at First Denison, decided to retire.  He and Lander Bethel, pastor at Grand Avenue Sherman, began to talk to themselves, and then their two sessions, about the possibility of the two churches sharing a single pastor – Lander.  This wasn’t a merger, but a sharing of pastoral leadership in order to do a new form of ministry.  With many hours and prayers on the part of the congregations’ leaders and Committee on Ministry liaison, Sara Jo Mueller, the new plan for ministry slowly unfolded, and by the time Jim retired, Lander was called to serve both congregations.

In 2009, Grace Presbytery called Ruling Elder Gary Holloman to the position of part-time youth ministry director.  That position has since been increased to full-time largely through the generosity of one of our churches, and to the work has been added young adult ministry.  For about 40 years Grace Presbytery has held an event in mid-winter called SHYC – Senior High Youth Connection.  Just a month ago, 450 senior high youth met at Austin College to learn, worship, hear Rev. Clay Brantley (from Whitesboro) be their keynote speaker.  Several years ago, SHYC added a mission project.  This year it was making packages for PDA – Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.  How many?  More meal kits and PDA buckets that have ever been contributed to PDA at a single time.  Where is PDA?  It was present in West after the explosion, in Lancaster and Forney after the tornados, in the Philippines after the typhoon.  We typically contribute to it through One Great Hour of Sharing – so can you imagine how these 450 senior highs will feel during Lent as their churches receive the One Great Hour offerings?

What else is happening in youth ministry?  This spring, we have added a third Kid-Quake for children 4-5-6th grades.  And we continue with two annual Youth Quakes for grades 7-8-9.  Many thanks to the remarkable leadership which makes this possible – because they come from across the presbytery.

Since January, your presbytery council has voted to engage a number of churches in the presbytery in a program through General Assembly called “New Beginnings.”  A way for presbyteries or individual congregations to envision a new future for their churches.  It’s both an assessment and a process.  As an assessment, it provides congregations with information about their church and community, including a building inspection, a financial review, detailed demographic information and much more.  As a process, it helps churches use that information to discern a new future story for the congregation.  While the program is primarily geared to churches in significant decline, it is also helpful for churches who simply feel ‘stuck’ in their present situation.  Normally this process costs $2800 per congregation for the multiple meetings and conversations in the assessment and process.  By action of your presbytery council, the cost for churches which participate will be $500, with the presbytery absorbing $2300 per congregation.  How many will participate?  We don’t know, but there will be an open meeting to “come and see” with others what will be involved before you make a commitment.  Mark the date of Saturday, April 26 at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church from 10-1:30.  Lunch will be provided.   Watch for more information in Grace eNews, including a news article about how New Beginnings opened doors at the Ruston, Louisiana Presbyterian Church.

In the almost four years I have been here, Grace staff and COM have been working with Trinity, The Colony.  A spiritually vital congregation, the departure of a former pastor left the church in an extremely difficult financial situation with a large loan through Presbyterian Investment and Loan Service.  Through the work of a council-appointed ministry team – all elected persons in our presbytery – we have walked with this congregation through periods of great discouragement and frustration to the beginning of new leadership and vision.  In January, Rev. Chuck Schneider began ministry with Trinity – made possible through a two-year grant from Grace Presbytery to provide full-time pastoral leadership.  While the congregation was faithful in their loan payments, they could not afford the full-time leadership which would enable the church to grow, stabilize and move into future leadership in The Colony.  Chuck, recently ordained, was a candidate from Grace Presbytery from the Grapevine Church.  He had taken early retirement from Verizon, and felt called to serve God in a new way.  He’d been serving part-time at THR Harris Hospital in Ft. Worth when COM asked him to consider regular preaching at The Colony, and God has continued to open doors ever since.

El Divino Salvador is one of several Hispanic ministries in Grace Presbytery, a congregation chartered about 75 years ago with faithful Presbyterian members and ministers.  When Rev. Frank Diaz decided to retire again at the age of 80, he contacted Grace Presbytery to see what might be possible for future pastoral leadership.  Joyce Williams, from COM, and I met with the session and discovered that they had a mission plan in place with goals and objectives, plans for what they wanted to do, and boundless energy.  What they lacked was money for full-time pastoral leadership to reach into the community.   In a remarkable partnership with First Presbyterian Church Dallas, Binnerri Presbyterian Church (where we are today), and Grace Presbytery, each partner and the church are providing $20,000 a year for 3 years to support Rev. Steve Jeavons as the full-time pastor.  Steve comes to Grace having served the last 9 years in ministry in Costa Rica and he and his family are fluent in Spanish as well as English as they minister with this bi-lingual congregation.

For five years, a new church development has been building at Legacy in Frisco with the Rev. Glen Hunihan.  Recently, the steering committee of the congregation has asked Grace Presbytery to charter their congregation with roughly 130 members.  Joining them in shared temporary space has been Holy Seed Korean New Church Development.   It’s been quite a while since Grace Presbytery chartered a new church development.   The presbytery bought the property for a future church which we anticipated in NW Frisco and we’ve waited for these five years as the congregation has built.   What we need is the money to partner with this congregation in building the first unit, which would presumably house both Holy Seed and Legacy congregations.  How can that happen?  The presbytery council voted in January to sell land in north Ft. Worth on which we do not anticipate building a church and hope that the approximately $1 million will be dedicated to first unit construction in Frisco.  The land in Ft. Worth was made possible by a generous gift some years ago by First Ft. Worth and we are in conversation with their session to bring Legacy leadership and that session together as we move forward.

Two congregations began sharing space at FPC Lewisville last year.  Keunammu Korean new church development had outgrown its space and needed room for families and children.  First Lewisville needed the voices of children and the energy of a growing congregation.  Their joining in ministry has meant a remarkable music program for the two churches, especially as they worship together monthly.  They are also reaching out to the local Hispanic community – helped by Keaunnamu having won the regional church soccer championship last year.  We give thanks to the pastors and elders who guide that shared ministry.

Educators in Grace Presbytery, of which there are many, meet quarterly and our Resource Center Director, Leah Wyckoff meets with them.  Also quarterly, the Committee on Ministry hosts “Gathering at the Well” which is an opportunity for new members of the presbytery to gather, meet one another, engage one another in ministry issues, and share a meal and brief worship.  Last year, Rev. Peter Steinke, a Texan known for his work in the health of church family systems, led two workshops in the presbytery for approximately 60 people.   Last month, approximately 180 persons participated in a joint event with Princeton Seminary, Grace Presbytery and Preston Hollow Church on changes in congregational life led by Seminary President Craig Barnes, and pastoral care professor Bob Dykstra, and our own presbytery member, Nancy Duff, who spoke about Dietrich Bonhoeffer from her long years of study as a systematic theologian.  We hope to begin a series of 4-6 events a year of similar style to bring Presbyterians together in similar venues.

In 2012, General Assembly began a program to encourage the larger church to consider “new worshipping communities” which are neither new church developments, nor existing on their own.  Several congregations in Grace have begun ministries which represent this effort:  The Micah 6:8 project with Emmanuel Bedford, led by Rev. Dana Jones; the community college ministry led by Rev. Shane Webb and the session at First Presbyterian Church Mt. Pleasant; the house-church conversations led by Rev. Andy Wong at Gethsemane Presbyterian Church in Ft. Worth.

We are so grateful to have Joanna Kim on our staff.  A slip of a woman who moved from Korea to Argentina when she was 8 years old, and thus speaks both Korean and Spanish fluently, and has picked up 5 years of French, a Christian Education degree from Princeton Seminary, and is now completing work on her M. Div. degree.  As she lives into the new responsibilities and job title, we hope to add mission trip opportunities sponsored by Grace Presbytery in which groups of roughly 15-20 will travel internationally to study and learn together and engage our mission partners around the world.  Stay tuned.

It would be disingenuous of me not to address some of the serious challenges we face together in Grace Presbytery.  Let me begin by addressing congregations which have elected to close this year and the work of administrative commissions to faithfully help them do so.  We pray for the saints of Wortham, Church of the Redeemer in Texarkana, Marlin, Oakhurst, Watauga, Robinson Youngblood, and Marshall.  While we hope that the New Beginnings program will address some of the possibilities with congregations which feel themselves in a critical position in ministry, we also rejoice for the years of ministry represented by these congregations and the faithful way many of their members have moved to other PCUSA congregations.

As churches close and resources once available both locally and regionally diminish, Grace Presbytery faces challenges and choices about how to undergird ministry both financially and through personal involvement, being mindful of planning for years ahead of us, and grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For example, we have 44 inquirers and candidates under care of Grace Presbytery in preparation for ministry.  What opportunities for church service will be available to them and how will they hear God’s call?

We have hundreds of youth and young adults who seek to learn and to serve Jesus Christ.  How can we support efforts which build faith and friendship and teach the priorities of the Great Ends of the Church?

Where do you fit in Grace Presbytery?  We hope you are beginning to see that we are a family of faith, the body of Christ in this place, called to engage with the world and with each other, to struggle with the issues and demands of our faith both individually and corporately, to pray for and encourage one another, to live out the Gospel in the midst of changing times and expectations, gathered together in periodic presbytery meetings, but always sent out to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ – the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear and God is made real in the life of the world in which we live.  Thanks be to God for the gift given to us.  May we be faithful stewards challenged to move beyond what has always been to gifts of service and mission God lays before us.