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When congregations vote to close or depart

 

In south Texas, proceeds from departing congregations open doors to shared ministries

By Sallie Watson | Mission Crossroads Magazine

Children joyfully show off their fingernails, painted by Mission Presbytery volunteers. Laura Neely

SAN ANTONIO – Mission Presbytery — 134 congregations in the southern fifth of Texas — has a lot in common with your presbytery. We’ve had some congregations merge as a way to seek survival, and others close if no other options seemed available. Also like you, we’ve lost some congregations to other denominations. We’re convinced, however, that God’s presence among us is not lessened. We believe that God still has plenty to do among the saints in South Texas. So we as a presbytery are choosing instead to “make lemonade out of our lemons” — or in more theological terms, to practice resurrection.

When congregations vote either to close or to depart, we seek to reinvest the remaining assets as wisely as we can in order to further existing ministries or to give birth to new ones. With one settlement, we decided on a three-pronged approach to using the gift. Initially, some grants were made to our existing committees and commissions, to be used to further their ministries in the ways they saw fit. Provisions were also made to support the presbytery in future times of need. Then we set aside the balance of the settlement in what we call the Better Together Fund.

We found that by taking a small draw each year from the Fund, we’ll have about $24,000 to award annually. The catch? The money will be awarded to two or more member congregations in the presbytery to support new, shared ministry initiatives. We do this not because churches have left, but because we are better together.

Children, youth and adults from Covenant Presbyterian Church in San Antonio join in a regional Joshua Build. Courtesy of Covenant Presbyterian Church, San Antonio

We are also looking forward to our presbytery meeting Oct. 26–27: “Mission in Mission in Mission! (M3).” Mission Presbytery will be meeting in Mission, Texas — at the southern tip of the state — to do mission together.

Everyone is invited — commissioners, guests, mission committees, seminarians, you name it. We plan to arrive earlier than usual. Then on Friday, Oct. 26, we will drop the gavel to open the meeting at 9 a.m., only to disperse immediately to one of 15–20 predetermined sites. People can choose between working in food pantries, sorting coats at a coat closet, touring immigrant support facilities, serving lunch to clients of an outreach ministry, and more. Plus, there will be activities for those with limited mobility at First Presbyterian Church in Mission, Texas, including a visit with two of our missionaries. And there will be T-shirts for all as we “invade” the Rio Grande Valley!

These are examples of what can happen with limited dollars and unlimited creativity to connect a presbytery and its congregations in doing God’s mission together. With God’s blessing, the example of Jesus and the nudging of the Holy Spirit, there’s always enough lemonade to go around.

The Rev. Sallie Watson is general presbyter of Mission Presbytery in San Antonio, Texas, one of 11 presbyteries in the Synod of the Sun.

This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission.

 


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