Greetings from the Moderator DECEMBER 2023
This will be my final newsletter column as the presbytery’s moderator. It has been a privilege to serve as moderator in this transition year and I am grateful for your election. In the year we have said goodbye to retiring presbytery Exec and Stated Clerk, Dan Williams, elected Christina Greenawalt to serve as Stated Clerk and welcomed Hoover and Olivia Haney to be our interim co-Execs. On the advice of the presbytery’s Council, you wisely decided that we needed to take time to do some strategic planning and make budget adjustments prior to calling new presbytery leaders.
As I look back across the years that I have been in this presbytery, I realize that our presbytery has changed a great deal. When I was called to be Exec in 2003, we were a presbytery of 78 congregations with 32,000 members. By, 2021 the last year for which statistics are available in the PCUSA website, we were a presbytery of 13,705 members in 63 congregations.
At the same time there have been large demographic shifts in Central Florida as well as the country as a whole. An article published by Pew Research in July 2023 notes that since 1990, Americans who identify as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’ has risen from 8% to 29%. Those changes suggest that we do well to look at the questions who are we, who is our neighbor and what is God’s call to us now, all critical questions for strategic planning. The Strategic Planning Team Council appointed last summer to work with the Haneys will be seeking input from you and making recommendations to you about strategic use of presbytery income from congregations and from our funds designated for specific purposes as we prepare the 2025 budget.
The committees that support you in leadership development and congregational development are eager to work with you on effective witness to people in today’s culture. The newly created Generosity Committee will interpret to you exactly what your per capita and mission support dollars go to fund and what the presbytery’s endowment supports; and its members will be glad to help with your congregation’s stewardship campaigns.
In my work in six presbyteries through the years has shown me that we are much stronger and more effective witnesses together than any of us is alone. You may not be aware of all the resources your presbytery provides:
(1) for mission partnerships that help us know people who share our calling to be Christ’s witnesses especially to those whom our Lord called the poor whom we serve together through PATH in many places,
(2) to assist congregations in finding ministers and equipping elders and deacons for their service,
(3) for shared experiences for young people at camps and conferences in congregations beyond their own. For young people in smaller congregations these experiences are their "youth group," and
(4) for opportunities for us all to serve together with and learn from people whose ethnic backgrounds and life experiences are different from our own.
All these resources help us expand our understanding of God’s world and our places in it as Christ’s servant people. Your presbytery budgets to provide boundary training for ministers, candidates, and educators so they can know how to deal with difficult situations and protect vulnerable members and children. It also budgets to provide information on the demographics of your congregation's "neighborhood" to help you plan for effective outreach and service. One of the real joys of my ministry has been utilizing these demographic tools to assist congregational leaders in seeing more clearly the ages and needs of the people in their community and to watch as the ideas begin to bubble up about how to connect with and serve the folks beyond the congregation’s doors.
On December 5, I will pass the moderator’s cross to John Rogers, a ruling elder at Park Lake, a life-long Presbyterian who brings experience of life in at least two presbyteries besides this one and professional experience in organizational management to his service to you. I am grateful for John’s willingness to accept the call as I am grateful to all of you who serve in leadership in our presbytery. I am especially grateful to Ralphetta Aker, ruling elder at Washington Shores Church and former moderator who has served as Council Chair this year and serves as chair of our presbytery’s Strategic Planning Team. When I pass the moderator’s cross to John, I will step into the role of Council Chair and continue to watch and learn as you shape a presbytery serving God into the future in this place and time.