A proposal to merge two presbyteries will go before the Synod of Alaska-Northwest.
The plan calls for the Presbytery of Alaska and the Presbytery of North Puget Sound to be combined into one larger presbytery. It will be discussed during the Dec. 10 synod meeting.
According to the Book of Order, G-3.0403 (c.), synods have the function of “organizing new presbyteries, dividing, uniting, or otherwise combining presbyteries or portions of presbyteries previously existing,” among other duties to meet the mission needs of various congregations.
“There has been a lot of discussion about this proposal,” said Dr. David Dobler, pastor to the Presbytery of Alaska. “We’ve talked about this throughout the presbyteries; it’s been an interactive, deliberate process. It will be formally presented in December, and we hope, adopted.”
Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of North Puget Sound (NPS), welcomes the merging of the two presbyteries, indicating that it will be discussed more thoroughly at the Nov. 23 NPS presbytery meeting.
“I am quite excited about it,” Schlosser-Hall said. “There is a general spirit of looking forward to this new presbytery, what it can become and how it will seek to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve heard excitement from our presbyters, and we’re hoping it will be a good thing for everyone.”
The need for a merger
The need to merge the two presbyteries came about when the Presbytery of Alaska dipped below the minimum number of 10 congregations required for a presbytery as designated by the Book of Order. It happened in April when six churches – Chapel by the Lake in Juneau, Haines Presbyterian, First Presbyterian in Skagway, Frances Johnson Memorial in Angoon, Kake Memorial and Hoonah Presbyterian – were dismissed to join ECO-A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. That left just nine congregations in the presbytery.
The remaining congregations in the presbytery are Craig-Klawock, Hydaburg, Juneau, Ketchickan, Metlakatkla, Petersburg, Sitka, Wrangell and Yakutat. Presbytery of Alaska serves the southeast portion of the state bordering British Columbia and the Yukon Territory to the east and the Gulf of Alaska to the west of the Alexander Archipelago.
At that time, the Synod of Alaska-Northwest assumed jurisdiction and directed the presbytery to serve as an Administrative Commission, taking care of the day-to-day operations of the presbytery.
Dobler said that decision by the synod – comprised of seven presbyteries, approximately 260 churches and 58,000 members in Alaska, Washington and northern Idaho – was one that proved to be beneficial for the presbytery.
“They asserted authority and put us in charge,” he said. “Southeast Alaska folks have the best vantage point for the future of their congregations, so it was a helpful and encouraging way to work through this. Things went as well as could be expected for us in managing our own affairs.”
Developing a plan
Synod leaders also instructed the Presbytery of Alaska’s general council to work with the Presbytery of North Puget Sound to compose a plan by Oct. 31 for continuing the ministry.
That plan is to combine the nine congregations and 450 members of Alaska with the 35 congregations and 8,100 members of North Puget Sound to make one large presbytery.
“There has been a mission covenant for some time between Alaska and North Puget Sound,” Dobler said. “We know each other and have worked with each other for a while. This will bring together the ecclesiastical bodies of Alaska and North Puget Sound and legally merge the not-for-profit corporations of each presbytery.”
The goal is to make the merger proposal effective Jan. 1, 2014, recognizing that it will take some time to see if the plan to combine the presbyteries will work.
Two becoming one
Dobler thinks the plan will be successful, especially in terms of mission opportunities and preserving cultural and local traditions of two areas closely linked by native culture groups, and their emphasis on fishing, logging and tourism. He said the congregations still in Presbytery of Alaska have embraced the concept.
“We’re not hurting for mission opportunities here in the Pacific Northwest. There is great promise for both presbyteries to embrace new missional opportunities and support congregations,” he said. “There seems to be a spirit of love and looking to see what new things we can do together. There is an openness to what we can do as part of a new, larger presbytery. We’re really excited about it.”
Schlosser-Hall noted that many of the congregations in the new proposed presbytery may be small and rural, but they are vital to the health and well-being of the communities they serve. Helping them share the Gospel has to be a focus of the larger presbytery.
“We want to become effective in helping them thrive and flourish in those areas where they are essential to sharing the Word of Christ,” he said. “Our churches will need to partner with each other and develop deeper relationships.”
He added that the diversity of the people in Southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest provides great opportunities to understand how people live out the Gospel in their regions.
“It’s our hope that coming together will only strengthen those relationships,” Schlosser-Hall said.
Still a work in progress
The proposal’s presentation is less than five weeks away, but there still are some details that need to be worked out. Among them are meeting schedules/locations, staffing and a name for the presbytery.
Dobler said there was some discussion given to the idea of merging Presbytery of Alaska with the expansive Presbytery of Yukon, which has 23 congregations covering the remainder of the largest state in America.
“In our talks with the congregations there was an overwhelming sense that North Puget Sound should be the presbytery we work with, just because of the native culture groups and close covenantal ties we have there,” Dobler explained.
Even with the proposed merger, there will be a great distance between the churches on the Alaskan archipelago and those located in Northwest Washington.
“We will have a reasonably larger geographic area over which we have few congregations,” observed Schlosser-Hall, “but the people in Alaska are used to having those distances.”
Still, working out an acceptable schedule and sites for meetings is important.
Details on presbytery staffing still are to be determined and a name for the combined presbytery, if given approval to unite, has not been decided.
“We still have staffing details to work out,” Schlosser-Hall said. “We do anticipate a change of name, but we have not settled on one at this time.”