Wednesday, September 12, 2007

So Long, Clif—Part 1.

Dahlia of the day: Fern Ridge Magi.

Clifton Kirkpatrick, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will not be seeking another term as Stated Clerk. The Presbyterian Outlook quoted Kirkpatrick as saying, “At the same time, I am also eager to have more quality time with my family, to be able to devote myself more fully to the responsibility I have undertaken since 2004 to serve as president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and to share in the life of the church, both locally and globally, in new and creative ways.” I want to wish Clif well in his future endeavors.

I think it is important to look back at his tenure to see what his legacy will be. Was he a good leader? Was he a great leader? Was he a poor leader? Was he a horrible leader? What can the next Stated Clerk expect when she/he steps into office?

Let me begin by stating that the job of Stated Clerk in the PCUSA is a thankless job that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I am reminded of a Super Bowl commercial about herding cats. I imagine that leading the PCUSA is a lot like herding cats! There is no “unity” in our denomination. There is no common “purpose” in our denomination. Passionate people and congregations try to exert their will on the PCUSA and some are even willing to defy denominational requirements and standards. Come to think of it, it may be easier to herd cats than it is to lead the PCUSA.

In looking back at his service as Stated Clerk, Kirkpatrick said:

“Serving as Stated Clerk has offered me a platform I would never have dreamed possible—to serve the church I love and to give expression to my passions, my sense of call, and my gifts for the things that really matter. It has been a tremendous privilege to give voice to the witness of our church to the gospel and to justice and peace in the world, to be a leader in the ecumenical movement, to guide the church (even in our contentions) toward unity in diversity, to uphold our Constitution, and to pioneer in new ways to express old truth as we seek to discern the mind of Christ and develop a polity and a church for the 21st century.”

Over the next several days I am going to evaluate Kirkpatrick’s self evaluation of his time in office.

“…expression to my passions…”

Kirkpatrick is passionate about the PCUSA and various aspects of the church’s life and witness. The Stated Clerk has to be cautious about being “outwardly” passionate about the issues that divide our denomination; after all, his service is to the entire denomination. I must confess that I have never met the man. (he may be glad about that) Those I know who have met him have talked about his sincerity, commitment and dedication to the church. They say that he is a good man—a man of strong faith. We should never doubt his passion for the church.

Our next Stated Clerk MUST be passionate about the church.

“…my sense of call…”

Kirkpatrick has a sense of his call to ministry. His sense of call must be strong! Our denomination has gone through some very stormy waters during Kirkpatrick’s time of service. A person without a strong sense of call would have left office a long time ago. There are multiple aspects to a person’s calling: to ministry, to service, to the local church, to the denomination and to the greater church. The only portion of Kirkpatrick’s sense of call that is appropriate for me to comment on is his call as Stated Clerk of the PCUSA. Believe it or not, I do believe that Kirkpatrick was called by God to be the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA. Having said that, like many pastors, I believe that he stayed in the position beyond his time of calling. It is hard for me to fault him for this. I continually ask the Lord if I have been at Evergreen too long. I think that every pastor, presbytery leader and denominational leader should be asking the same question. It is hard to leave a position that we love. It is hard to leave a position that we care passionately about. It is hard to leave the people that we care for and lead. It is hard to leave community connections. It is hard to leave when our family is rooted in a community. I am glad that Kirkpatrick has felt a sense of release from the calling to be the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA. It is much better for him to “go out” in this manner, rather than to be voted out at a General Assembly meeting.

I hope that our next Stated Clerk has a strong sense of call to be the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA. I also hope that the next Stated Clerk continually asks God when it is time to leave the position of Stated Clerk.


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