Tuesday, September 18, 2007

So Long, Clif—Part 5.

Dahlia of the day: Richard Rogers.

Clifton Kirkpatrick, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will not be seeking another term as Stated Clerk. Today is the fifth and final day of critiquing Kirkpatrick’s self assessment of his time as Stated Clerk.

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.”

I wanted to compare Kirkpatrick’s self assessment to the job description of the Stated Clerk. I requested a copy of that job description from the Stated Clerk and still have not received it.

It is very difficult to critique the service of Clifton Kirkpatrick. He has an impossible job! I truly mean that. I wouldn’t wish the job of Stated Clerk of the PCUSA on my worst enemy (after all, Jesus calls us to love our enemies). The job is impossible because our Constitution does not give the Stated Clerk the authority and power to fulfill his/her duties. The Stated Clerk is to defend the constitution but has absolutely no power to carry out that task. A Presbytery can openly defy the Constitution and the only thing that the Stated Clerk can do is threaten, and possibly bring charges through the church courts. It would have been refreshing to see the Stated Clerk actually file charges against Presbyteries that flaunt our ordination standards.

I believe that Kirkpatrick has done as good of a job as any person could have done. Still, it is time for a change. But will the PCUSA take this opportunity to move into a better future? I doubt it!

Here are some of my thoughts and fears concerning the next Stated Clerk of the PCUSA. The thoughts listed are intertwined and really cannot be separated. So here goes:

· The next Stated Clerk will be a person who is intensely vested in the current system. The nominating committee will be looking at “known” folks. They will look at persons who have been active at the Presbytery, Synod and GA levels. They will look for someone that is known to the GA staff. They will look for someone that will keep the status quo. The committee will not be looking for someone who will rock the boat.

· The next Stated Clerk will have gray hair, no hair or die his/her hair. Please don’t get angry with me! This is just a flippant way of saying that our next Stated Clerk will be at least 50 years old. Just so that you don’t think that I am “down” on people 50 and older be aware that I am 50!!

· The next Stated Clerk will not be a pastor from a church that has experienced an annual worship attendance growth of 5% a year. Why would a pastor of a growing church seek to be the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA? They would either have to be insane or they must be hearing the call of God!

· The next Stated Clerk will not be a successful business CEO who has led the turn around of a major corporation. This type of person would be too threatening—he/she might actually insist that changes be made in how we go about being the church. The current head of World Vision is just such a person. He took a HUGE pay cut to come to World Vision. He brought vision, excitement and skill. Could the PCUSA survive such a person?

· The next Stated Clerk will not be an innovator. He/she will be an “inside the box” type of thinker. “Outside the box” thinkers make us uncomfortable. We sure wouldn’t want to be made uncomfortable.

In many ways the PCUSA is like an alcoholic. An alcoholic will only seek change when he/she has hit rock bottom. The alcoholic may “want” to change but will keep hanging out with friends that drink, keep going to parties where there is alcohol and keep fooling themselves in thinking that there is nothing wrong and they can quit at any time.

Has the PCUSA hit rock bottom? Are we to the point where the Presbyterians in the pews will stand up and demand that changes be made to the PCUSA? The answer to both of those questions is “no.” People may dislike (or even hate) the fighting that has gone on in the denomination for 30+ years… People may dislike the catastrophic membership loses of the past 30+ years… People may say that they want younger people involved beyond the local church… but, nothing will change. Those who are vested in our current system will not allow radical changes to be made. They will fight to keep things the same. The PCUSA is like a familiar old shirt—it is comfortable and filled with memories.


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