In historic meeting, three Kentucky presbyteries explore collaboration, leadership


200 commissioners seek ways to work together

By Eva Stimson | Presbyterian News Service

Members of the three presbyteries lay hands on the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett as they pray for her new ministry as president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Lois Quilligan

LOUISVILLE — Gathering November 2-3 for the first time since before Presbyterian reunion in 1983, some 200 commissioners from the three presbyteries in Kentucky learned that they can be stronger together.

The landmark tri-presbytery meeting took place in the sanctuary of historic Danville (Ky.) Presbyterian Church, founded in 1784. Today the church building sits on Main Street, flanked by the campus of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related Centre College.

Philip Lotspeich, general presbyter of Transylvania Presbytery in eastern Kentucky, welcomed those attending from his presbytery and from the Presbyteries of Mid-Kentucky and Western Kentucky. He said planners envisioned the gathering as a way of “building relationships, with the thought that some cooperative ventures will come out of that.”

For example, a Kentucky-wide youth gathering is already being planned, Lotspeich said.

“We want to be an example to churches of how to collaborate,” he added. “There are very different cultures in our presbyteries, and I think that kind of diversity is beautiful.”

“I do believe that we are stronger together,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, who preached in a worship service at the Danville gathering.

In her sermon, titled “The Power of Partnerships,” Moffett said, “Living is not a solo sport. Even Jesus did not go it alone — he called 12 disciples to assist him.”

Moffett, a Presbyterian pastor and community leader for more than three decades, acknowledged the “horrific” events of the previous week, including shootings at a Kroger supermarket in Louisville and in a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

But she assured listeners that “the kingdom of God is about new possibilities. Our service together has far more impact than if we do it alone. That’s why our founders created a connectional church,” she declared.

“Together, more hurts can be healed.”

In a conversation with commissioners following worship, Moffett told them that the Presbyterian Mission Agency will be focusing on three priorities in 2019–2020:  systemic poverty, systemic racism and vital congregations. She said she hopes to visit all the synods and presbyteries to share that vision.

“We are a denomination of small churches, but small can be mighty and beautiful,” she said. “If we are meeting the needs of people, they will come.”

At the end of the conversation, commissioners from the three presbyteries gathered around Moffett to lay hands on her and pray for her ministry.

Another featured speaker at the tri-presbytery meeting was Tod Bolsinger, a Presbyterian minister and the vice president for vocation and formation at Fuller Theological Seminary. Bolsinger shared insights on effective leadership from his recent book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.

Bolsinger said the question he hears most from church leaders is, “What can we do to keep our churches from dying?”

The challenge for leaders, he said, is “how to make the church relevant in a post-Christian mission field”— in a world, for example, where people don’t even need a pastor to do a wedding. “This is not what pastors were trained for.”

Bolsinger’s book uses the story of Lewis and Clark as an example for church leaders today. On their expedition west, the explorers were looking for a water route, but were stymied when they reached the Rocky Mountains.

They realized that to continue they would need to adapt. They would need climbing gear instead of canoes.

When confronted by challenges in the church, “We can’t just keep trying harder,” Bolsinger said. Leaders must be open to transformation.

“The fundamental task of leadership is to distinguish between what needs to be preserved and what needs to change,” he said. “And once you have determined what will never change, you must then be prepared to change everything else.”

Bolsinger encouraged church leaders venturing into uncharted territory to remember this: “God is in front of us. We’re not just doing this on our own.”

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