Missional Structures – A Journey Into Our Future

By Harold Delhagen

One of the primary responsibilities of a Synod is to serve and care for its member presbyteries. In our New Way Forward, the manner in which this responsibility is carried out has changed significantly. Our values now call us to focus on serving rather than directing, listening rather than telling, and working from as close to our grassroots (congregations) as possible. This work is shaped by careful listening.

Over the more than five years since we have started on this New Way Forward it has become clear that most of our 22 presbyteries are struggling to find new ways to meet their own calling. Every presbytery has experienced shifts in demographics, changes or confusion in what is expected from leaders, as well as loss of membership and financial resources. Almost every presbytery has been engaged in creative experimentation in finding new ways to meet this sea change.

As our Synod Mission Team works among our presbyteries, it became clear that we are at a Kairos moment. We have the opportunity to create new structures to serve our congregations that focus upon becoming communities which shift more (almost all) of their energy toward visioning, supporting, and encouraging one another to find the places and ways in which each member more fully discovers and lives into their missional calling. “Missional Structures” is becoming the language we use to talk about this shift. The focus is to discover ways to build healthy community, encourage passionate mission, and to carry out mutual accountability (traditionally called governance). The process we are using includes the creation of working groups, appointed by presbytery moderators and comprised of members that best represent the diversity we are all seeking.

We have two Missional Structures Working Groups currently active:

One has been formed with the seven presbyteries in New Jersey (Elizabeth, Monmouth, New Brunswick, Newark, Newton, Palisades, and West Jersey). This group has been working for the better part of a year, and has recently been engaged in sharing an invitational document they’ve developed with their member presbyteries. You are encouraged to read this no matter where your presbytery membership is held. Through listening sessions hosted with each presbytery, the New Jersey Missional Structures Working Group is collecting feedback on the ideas and intentions they’ve identified for presbytery life in the state. In the new year ahead, the group will incorporate what they’ve heard into an updated and more detailed proposal, which will again be shared with each presbytery. If the way is clear, we will then move into a year of technical design and implementation.

In central New York, the presbyteries of Cayuga-Syracuse, Susquehanna, Northern New York, and Utica have been working collegially together for the past two years on areas on mutual need and interest. They are now each considering if they might also form a similar Missional Structures Working Group to explore more significant ways to serve together in their region.

Together, both these groups of presbyteries are forming a model of what collaborative, creative, and mission-focused presbytery life can be. It is an honor to support the work of these bold and faithful people!

The Rev. Harold Delhagen is the Synod Leader of the Synod of the Northeast.