We need more Presbyterian footprints and fewer monuments

The Holy Spirit has this way of…well…surprising me.  Last Sunday Andrew referenced a favorite quote from William Faulkner about the difference between a footprint and a monument. As a paraphrase of Andrew and William, the monument acknowledges a place or a time or moment, or an individual.  A footprint, however, is a recognizable spot during a journey.  It was a great moment on Sunday to consider the imagery, but darn it…I didn’t expect the Holy Spirit to reinforce the very notion later this week.

Last evening our presbytery met to elect an Administrative Commission that will partner with a struggling congregation. The question  was raised, “Does the presbytery want to maintain a Presbyterian footprint in this part of town?” At the time (and even now) it was and is an emotionally charged question. Last night was not particularly  the best time to ask it while we wrestle with the future of an historic congregation that is spiritually rich but financially insolvent. Yet the question was asked.

Do we want a Presbyterian footprint in this part of town? The answer is yes.  The answer is we have a footprint in this part of town. In fact, there are many families and members of the Presbyterian Church and by my count five Presbyterian clergypersons who live in this part of town. The answer is “YES” and that we seek to find creative, energetic and out-of-the-box ways to continue to have and foster a footprint in every part of every town and my hope is that this Administrative Commission will allow us to continue extending our footprint.

I’m afraid that the question confused footprint with monument. As presented at last night’s meeting, the question was about a monument – a brick and mortar buildings and furnishings, mortgage and utilities, and places to fight over carpet and wall color. If this is what we understand this question to mean, then my answer is a definite “NO!” We do not need to consider such a footprint with the name Presbyterian attached to it. What we need to consider is a footprint that is demonstrated by the faithful lives of people who are living embodiments of the commission of Jesus Christ, not buildings.

It may be that when the work of this Administrative Commission is finished we will find ourselves in a true season of death and resurrection and each of our congregations will truly be “communit(ies) of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.”  What a footprint that will leave behind!

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4 thoughts on “We need more Presbyterian footprints and fewer monuments

    • Please direct that question to John Ortberg at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California for his input as to the real estate holdings of the Church of the Pioneers Foundation for one, a foundation formed to keep the significant real estate holdings of MP Presbyterian Church outside of the ownership claim of the same by the SF Presbytery. MP Pres is indeed involved with good faith works in the community, but why the focus of equal priority on the property holdings of the church? Pastors live in church owned homes that many of the congregation members can never afford for themselves. What does that look like to a renting churchgoer who cannot afford a house to buy in the church community when your pastor is living for free in a home of $2 to $3 million in value?! Yikes! Forget the “church building” here as to a discerning factor! When you have ministers living in such high value homes, and driving high end cars that fit right into the culture and values of the area, who cares about the “church building”?!!

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