The move from the waters of placidness

I want to share a written version of my report to the Presbytery of Boise at its meeting today.  I find at certain times, the written word (at least mine) is far better than the attempt to speak the word (at least, mine).


I woke up this morning with a song playing in a seemingly never-ending loop in my head. I haven’t been able to get the tune or the words out of my head and there is one specific phrase in its refrain that keeps repeating itself in this loop.

The song is James K. Manley’s tune, Spirit, which I learned many years ago and is part of the old Presbyterian Hymnbook. (A new hymnal, Glory to God,  was published and made available last year.) The refrain of the hymn says,


Spirit, spirit of gentleness
Blow thru the wilderness, calling and free.
Spirit, spirit of restlessness,
Stir me from placidness.
Wind, wind on the sea.

Its the phrase, “stir me from placidness” that keeps loopingin my brain and heart as I reflect on the task of our presbytery in casting a vision for the future. What began as a conversation at our February presbytery meeting continued today as we broke into specific focus groups to discuss our ideas of building a presbytery. It is evidence of the Spirit stirring us from placidness in our presbytery and such stirrings can be exciting.

God’s people – found in the Church, denominations, councils and even in congregations – always face the temptation of becoming placid in our relationships with one another and with God. We become content with the status quo. We tell ourselves and others not to rock the boat. Our motto becomes “we always do it the same way.”

Having awakened with this song playing in my head and heart, I took a look at its words. My surprise (it may not be one to you) was that it is a prayer. It is a modern day psalm that recounts the mighty acts of God in the past but looks forward to what God is doing in our midst even today. The final verse moves from the past to the future with the affirmation, “With bold new decisions, your people arise.”

I recognize how clearly this song should be for our presbytery in this time of visioning. This year has become one in which the Spirit is stirring Boise Presbytery from its placidness and inviting…no, leading us to make some bold new decisions about our future. We had become a presbytery of have-to’s and governed by a spirit (little s) named Thou Shalt Not.  This Spirit is leading us to consider how we might become a presbytery of what-if’s and governed by a spirit of  Possibility

I am excited that we have begun seeing a new vision for our future and to witness how the Spirit (big S) has begun stirring us from placidness to a new time and way of being a part of the body of Christ. I am thankful for the members of our task force and for those who participate in our focus groups for lending your voices to this conversation.

I will confess that such an undertaking a move away from placidness is filled with contrasting feelings – anticipation and anxiety; hopefulness and sheer terror – at whatever direction the Spirit blows us toward. Yet, trusting the One who sends this wind or breath or Spirit, I am confident that we will be stronger and blessed by such a move from placidness.


2 thoughts on “The move from the waters of placidness

  1. Thank you for this reflection. I am sorry to have missed opportunities to feel the Spirit blow thru Presbytery the last two meetings. The Spirit is blowing through Bethany at the same time with the advent of a new PW group. Our times have simply run concurrent with Presbytery and I am feeling called to be there. Blessings on the visioning taking place where you are. Kathryn

  2. Good thoughts, Edward, and good pictures, too. Where are these?

    It is strange how change and creativity can so often be snapped back into same-old-ness, but I have come to believe that this is the ordinary course of affairs. Thus it is that only a few years after a virtual revolution (ecclesiastic style), the Presbytery of Boise finds itself mired in Have-tos and Thou-shalt-nots. We can bemoan this, and try to find a culprit, but I have become convinced that this should be no more surprising than the appearance of dandelions in the lawn each spring.

    The first time I observed this phenomenon was in the Presbytery of San Fernando (CA), where we organized a big change in 1986/7, along the theme that presbytery ought to feel like church (and, of course, church ought to feel good, or at least holy, and personal). We brought a bunch of changes, and presbytery stopped operating like a regulatory agency . . . for a while. Somehow the forces of order returned, and by the time I left (1990) the presbytery had returned to an agenda of committee reports, boredom, disconnection, and everybody who knew anybody talking in the hallways.

    So I have become convinced that one important part of change is to decide what must end, and then very carefully, deliberately to end those things. Stop them. bury them. be sure they don’t come back.

    Boise Presbytery has tried to simplify before. In 1994, revised in 1998 and 1999, the Presbytery chose to have only 3 committees: The Committee on Ministry, the Committee on Representation, and the Presbytery Life Committee. I advocated against the Committee on Representation, because it never actually does anything, but the powers of have-to and shall-not insisted upon it. Of course it want on to do nothing. The “creative” committee was to be the Presbytery Life Committee, but it spent the first years of its existence reviewing the work of all its predecessor committees, and the Presbytery Life Committee went on to do not-very-much. If only we had managed to erase the past, it might have looked forward rather than backward.

    Then, in response to the elimination of the SRMA and its process for planning mission budgets, we created the Mission Alliance Committee, with an assignment to mirror within the Presbytery the collaborative budget-building process of the old SRMA council. Once again the new committee got mired in the past, held essentially one meeting in 2005, and then fell back into the past.

    Good ideas will come forward, but we need to try to figure out how to implement them, and protect them from the re-assergence of the “how-we’ve-always-done-it” syndrome.

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