By Leslie Belden, Stated Clerk
Without a doubt our March 5-6, 2021 meeting of the Presbytery of Arkansas will go down as one of the best meetings we’ve ever had. In spite of not being able to get together for meals and fellowship we were able to visit together, as well as hear about ways that we can serve our Lord Jesus Christ by working in this broken world to eradicate systemic poverty. Here are some of the highlights:
- Outgoing Moderator MWS Marion Humphrey’s sermon on Friday night, and the worship service highlighted by the Lord’s Supper, music by the youth of the Presbytery, and the installation of RE Julie Gillaspy as Moderator.
- The theological discussion on eradicating systemic poverty led by RE Peg Falls-Corbitt, MWS Bobby Williamson, and Jay Barth – getting down to the core meaning of eradicating systemic poverty, looking at the theological grounding behind our commitment to completely eliminate poverty and its root causes, and the statistical numbers of those in poverty in Arkansas.
- The Presbytery breaking into small groups for the first time in our COVID-19 era history!
- Chatting all the way through the meeting, expressing our appreciation for what we were hearing and asking questions at the same time.
- Approving the budget for 2021, knowing that we underspent last year and that churches lived into their pledge commitments – many thanks to our congregations!
- Pre-Presbytery workshops on in-C, the new database of the Presbytery, Mission Insite that will help congregations focus on their communities with renewed vision, and training for Clerks of Session.
- Trust that the Presbytery’s Coordinating Team is already working on a continuum to guide planning for Presbytery meetings in the future as we move out of the pandemic.
- Hearing from RE Lindsey Seme, Youth Co-Moderator of the A-Team, about how the youth have adapted and strengthened their ties to one another in spite of COVID-19.
- Being advised by the youth prior to every vote – and following their advice 100%.
- Honoring the life of MWS Walter Swetnam, HR, and approving the Honorable Retirement of MWS Steven Frazier.
- Re-committing ourselves to ministries aimed at eradicating systemic poverty as we heard about some of the ministries and programs of our congregations across the Presbytery.
- Learning how Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center has “remained open” through the pandemic – and ratifying their new Class of 2023 Board members.
- Grants from the committees on the Future of the Church and Mission of the Church for new ventures, as well as funding from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Subcommittee on Disaster Preparedness and Response for churches damaged by the cold weather.
- Getting excited about MWS Jason Tucker speaking at our June 5, 2021 meeting of the Presbytery as we look more in-depth at the Matthew 25 focus of “Building Congregational Vitality.”
- Finding out about the Lilley Foundation’s grant approaching $1,000,000 to the University of the Ozarks as they serve the Presbytery building up pastoral leadership.
- Missing being on campus of the University of the Ozarks, especially for the youth!
- Broken pipes in 19 of the churches of the Presbytery during the “deep freeze” of 2021.
- Congregations whose membership has decreased to the point that they have requested dissolution.First Presbyterian Church of Helena has been added to that list.
- Not being able to hug one another or sit around tables over meals.
- Not being able to see everyone on one screen and having to scroll through faces to see the many people from across the Presbytery that we miss.
- Knowing that COVID-19 will continue to keep us from gathering in-person for meetings of Presbytery at least until after the June 5, 2021 meeting.