May 31, 2013
The Rev. Ken Meeks
Northeast Georgia Presbytery
John Naglich and I would like to take this opportunity to file our final report on our CHAT activities at Central Presbyterian Church. As you know, we were first called to Central in August of 2011. We have spent the last 22 months working with the congregation and Session to address the conflict that arose there regarding primarily generational and theological issues.
The conflict centered on disagreements between the more liberal and older members of the congregation and the more conservative and younger members of the congregation. The flash point for the conflict was the adult Christian Education program and the latitude some teachers had taken with curricular and theological issues. We also identified issues with communications and Sessional committee structure. When we arrived, the conflict was easily at a level 4 among some members of the Session, some Sunday School teachers, and some congregation members.
Our recommendations for how to proceed focused on dismantling the Balkanized power bases that had been created within the adult Christian Education programs; helping the pastors, Session and congregation understand that freedom of conscience is a key element of Presbyterian theology and thus diversity of beliefs has to be honored within our congregations; opening up the power structure through better communications and a more inclusive committee structure and nominating process.
Central’s session and pastoral leadership has worked diligently to address these items. The adult Christian Education programs have been studied by a diverse committee, with input from the congregation, and reconfigured to meet the congregation’s needs. The Session has worked on a statement of belief that accepts the ideas of freedom of conscience and mutual forbearance, and elders are continuing to work on adopting new and more inclusive nominating and administrative procedures. Some Sessional committees remain reluctant to open up membership to congregation members as fully as we believe they should, but the clergy are continuing to encourage all committee chairs to work in this direction. We have recently met with Bob Bohler to consider ideas on how to expand committee membership and how to make committee work more effective. We have also talked about how to build a new set of personnel policies and evaluation procedures that will better address the needs of church staff members.
In all, we believe our work as conflict managers at Central is largely complete. We recommend at this time that our formal relationship with the church be concluded but that we or other members of the CHAT group remain available to the church for questions or education.
Debbie van Tuyll John Naglich