Two presbyteries will become one following action taken by the Synod of Alaska-Northwest.
The synod gave approval for the Presbytery of Alaska and the Presbytery of North Puget Sound (NPS) to merge into one larger presbytery during its Dec. 10 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.
Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, executive presbyter for North Puget Sound, said the decision to allow the presbyteries to merge unanimously was approved and celebrated by the synod after representatives from Alaska and NPS were asked for and gave their thoughts on the process.
“I’m really looking forward to this,” Schlosser-Hall said of joining the two presbyteries. “We know there will be significant challenges like travel logistics, building congregational familiarity and trustworthiness, but it’s exciting to build this into what God wants it to be through any difficulties and frustrations. I’m very enthused about it for the anticipation and expectation of what lies ahead.”
Dr. David Dobler, pastor to the Presbytery of Alaska, said the synod’s approval of the merger is just the beginning of the transition to bring life to the new presbytery.
“Ten percent of the work is making the decision; the other 90 percent is carrying it out,” Dobler said. “I’m very relieved we have gotten this far. Now we need to be about doing the work of this new presbytery, but this is happy work to be doing.”
With approval from the synod, the ecclesiastical merger of the presbyteries will become effective Jan. 1, 2014, followed by a period of corporate transition through Dec. 31, 2014. It will be known as the Presbytery of North Puget Sound and governed by the laws of the State of Washington and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). A new name for the presbytery will be chosen sometime during the 12-month transition period that lies ahead.
The two presbyteries drafted a preamble to the merger agreement that emphasizes the mission moving forward. It reads: “That together we may better engage, equip and encourage people and congregations to make disciples for Jesus Christ, the Presbyteries of Alaska and North Puget Sound do now unite. The nurture of healthy congregations and new expressions of Christ’s church is our passion and purpose. In our several mission fields God has blessed us with people of different cultures and languages that together we may be ambassadors for Christ and show forth the Kingdom of God.”
How the plan evolved
The action of merging the presbyteries became necessary when six churches were dismissed from the Presbytery of Alaska in April, dropping its number of congregations below the required number of 10 required for a presbytery as designated by the Book of Order.
When that happened, 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. 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 was to combine the remaining nine congregations (Craig-Klawock, Hydaburg, Juneau, Ketchickan, Metlakatkla, Petersburg, Sitka, Wrangell and Yakutat) and 450 members of Alaska with the 35 congregations and 8,100 members of North Puget Sound to make one larger presbytery.
Agencies and councils of the two presbyteries already are being integrated for the merger, and a retreat will take place in early January to further incorporate entities from two into one.
Presbytery leadership will be shared jointly during the period of transition. Dobler and Schlosser-Hall will work in tandem and continue in their capacities. Dobler indicated he did not see himself as part of the new presbytery moving forward but will remain as part of the leadership team on a half-time basis, perhaps through Sept. 30, 2014. When Dobler gives up his half-time post, Schlosser-Hall will be the executive presbyter.
“Whatever it takes to make this new presbytery work is what I want to do,” Dobler said. “(Beyond September) Corey is the guy. I have the highest regard for him and the job he will do. As for me, I will be attentive to what the Lord wants me to do.”
George Pasley will continue to serve and function as stated clerk for the Alaska congregations during the transition period, and Dean Strong will serve in the same capacity for the congregations from North Puget Sound.
Implementing some changes
Teaching elders who are members of the Presbytery of Alaska as of Jan. 1, 2014, will become members of the merged presbytery without any additional examination. Any teaching and commissioned ruling elders called to a congregation of the former Alaska Presbytery, seeking membership in the merged presbytery after the effective date of the agreement will have to go through the examination process.
The merged presbytery will have a single Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) comprised of the members currently serving their respective commissions. Those members will serve out their elected terms, and the presbytery will conform to requirements of the Rules of Discipline regarding election, terms, classes, vacancies and eligibility.
At least one face-to-face meeting will take place in each state along with other meetings online or via conference call. The Washington meeting is scheduled for February, though the Alaska meeting has not been scheduled yet. That is a change from previous meeting schedules for the two presbyteries. North Puget Sound had four annual meetings, while Alaska had one face-to-face gathering with other meetings conducted via telephone.
Assets from Presbytery of Alaska will become part of the new presbytery, though contributions designated specifically for the mission and ministry of southeast Alaska will be used to meet those needs, overseen by a transition task force charged to be a steward of those funds.
A shared enthusiasm
Schlosser-Hall indicated that NPS presbyters were very enthusiastic about the merger when it was considered at a Nov. 23 meeting, and he pointed out that the agreement allows North Puget Sound to expand its native, village and regional ministries.
“There is a rich heritage with the native ministries that will allow us to shape our cultural and ethnic reach, and we can place a new emphasis on providing effective ministries and pastoral leadership in the life of small village churches (expanding from five in NPS to 10 with those in Alaska). We also can be more explicit, intentional and focused on enhancing congregations at a regional level,” he said. “There is a great deal of enthusiasm about this as step by step we become a new presbytery together.”
Strong, who also serves as stated clerk for the Synod of Alaska-Northwest, indicated there is excitement surrounding the merger of the two presbyteries.
“Right now both presbyteries are very excited and optimistic,” Strong said. “I am most familiar with North Puget Sound Presbytery, and it takes very seriously its mission to ‘engage, equip and encourage congregations,’ and works exclusively at this agenda, having abandoned what some perceived as a more regulatory agenda over a decade ago. In other words, NPS doesn’t push some other agenda, but spends its time, resources and staff helping churches accomplish their respective missions of reaching people for Jesus Christ. It is hoped that the resources of the larger presbytery can be used support the Alaska congregations in new ways and with new energy. For NPS churches, it means an exciting new field for partnering with Native American and village congregations.”
Dobler said the nine remaining congregations in southeast Alaska will reap benefits because they will develop relationships with other Presbyterian churches, albeit in an expanded geographical region. But such a move will provide more resources, skills, spiritual gifts and opportunities for mission and ministry.
“Rather than seeing this is as merely a solution to an unnecessary situation, this is quite an opportunity for churches from both presbyteries to find new ways to partner with each other as we discover what God is doing in North America now,” Dobler said. “North Puget Sound has been open and flexible in the way they have operated with us, and I think working together will be wonderful. We very much want this new presbytery to work and work well.”