Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Learning from Losing

I am the chair of the Ethical Issues and Human Needs Committee of Holston Presbytery. I was asked by another minister in the presbytery if our committee would present to the presbytery a concurrence with an overture from Heartland Presbytery to the General Assembly.

This overture from Heartland would restore the office of environmental justice at the General Assembly level. Because the committee had just met, we discussed this via e-mail and the committee voted to do so. This is the text of one of the e-mails I sent to the committee:

Hi Ethics and Human Needs Committee,

I e-mailed a couple of days ago regarding the request by Earl Barron for the EIHN Committee to consider recommending the presbytery to concur with Heartland Presbytery's overture. I have attached it.

Here is the key recommendation to the General Assembly:

Direct the Director of the General Assembly Council to reinstate the Office of Environmental Justice in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a vital and integral part of the ministry and mission of the Church to help protect and save God’s creation.

Here is more information from the Presbyterians for Restoring Creation website. At the last GA, the office lost its funding due to budget issues. Rather than reduce its budget, it cut it out completely. It still has a webpage here. This overture would request the GA to restore this office.

The overture will go already to the GA whether or not we concur with it. Our presbytery's concurrence would show that there is another presbytery that would like to see this office restored, kind of a strength in numbers.

I called the number at the office and spoke to William Somplatsky-Jarman. He told me that there is interest in the congregations to have the programming this office had offered. But now, no funding to do so.

If the GA approved Heartland's Overture, or a version of it, it would go to a mission workplan taskforce to include environmental issues in its overall budget for 2009-2010.

Here is the 2008 General Assembly website with the overtures before the assembly.

At the meeting of the presbytery on Saturday, I presented the overture on behalf of the committee. It didn't pass. I didn't ask for a division of the house, but my guess it that it was about a 2/5 to 3/5 split. Why didn't it pass?

1) The argument against the overture regarded funding. The 2006 GA eliminated the office due to budgeting cuts. Are we requesting the GA to restore something it cannot afford?

2) Another argument against the overture was that one individual really didn't like some of the previous statements from the GA regarding environmental issues.

What did I learn?

1) Prepare, prepare, prepare. I didn't. I didn't request others before the meeting to speak in favor of the overture at the meeting. Even though I did speak to the funding question, it was just me speaking and I didn't offer figures. The office would cost only about $30,000. Plus, the work plan task force at the GA level will make the decisions on what it can and cannot afford. This overture simply would have put this office on the table. In other words, when you do your restructuring and mission planning, GA, make sure the environmental justice office gets some of the pie. The 2006 GA cut out the office completely, rather than just reduce its budget.

Nor did I argue why this office is so important for helping congregations engage in creation care ministry. Nor did I passionately argue for the environment.

2) Never assume. For some reason, I thought this issue was a no-brainer. Environmental concerns has to be in the top five in terms of issues facing our planet. I naively assumed that the presbytery would go with this, especially as the environment is a major issue in East Tennessee. Check out this article in today's Johnson City Press.

Has any good come from presenting this overture, even though it did not pass?

I think so. Many people didn't even know that we once had an environmental justice office and what it does/did. Now they know.

Also, there are people who do care about this and that is good to know. The overture was well-written, reasoned, passionate, and well-researched. Reading it over even if one disagrees shows the history of the PC(USA) and the environment. That's gotta be good.

Finally, this inspired me and some others I spoke with after the meeting to work on practical things congregations can do in Holston Presbytery regarding being green. Perhaps this is an area that the Ethical Issues and Human Needs Committee can focus on in the future.

I want to add that the debate over this issue was issue-focused not person-focused. That is always a good thing. I like this presbytery. We do a lot of good things together.

Actually, our committee was one for two. We increased our 3 cents a meal offering to 5 cents a meal. This is a mission focus to feed the hungry in our presbytery and internationally. That is something our whole presbytery gets behind.


  1. I am told (but can't find a link on the presbytery website) that on the February 23 meeting, Greater Atlanta Presbytery did pass the overture.

    Keep tryin, John, but know that you got the largest presbytery in the denomination behind you.

  2. All right! Then I have been blessed with three great things from Greater Atlanta this weekend:

    The presbytery's action on 2/23 and Michael Morgan of Central Pres doing a tremendous program here and you, of course!

  3. Aw shucks, Shuck, you gonna make me blush!

    BTW, I am one of the original members of our church's environment committee. We've done our CFL drives and nature hikes and recycling programs and are looking forward to expanding!

  4. John,

    You make great points. I'm going to post a link to this from the PRC website -- I'm sorry that it didn't pass, but you are right that we learn from all kinds of experience!