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Synod Leader Report, post Sabbatical

Watch a video edition of this report at: https://youtu.be/YFqjCmXAUzE


2020 has been quite a year, for everyone in about all aspects of life!


It is so important that we take a moment to acknowledge the hundreds and thousands of lives that have been lost. . . even more people who have been effected by loss – be it lives of loved ones, jobs, security, and for some, their faith. For many, this feels like a time of “holding on”, “getting through”, and for our siblings of color, what must feel like “holding your breath”. There will come a time of collective mourning and the Church needs to be there for those people and for our communities.


Since March, I have seen pastors and congregations step up and out of their sanctuaries. Learning to lead worship online and continuing to improve the ways they reach people through technology. Seminaries don’t have classes in ministry via Facebook Live, YouTube or Zoom – yet. And while some of this technology is seemingly “simple”, this has been an especially difficult 8 months for our pastors.

There has also been opportunity in these times. Because of technology, people are connecting with Presbyterian churches in worship outside of their immediate neighborhoods, sometimes from across the country – the gospel is being shared in new ways. I have watched as leaders in our 11 presbyteries have brought pastors and congregational leaders together in weekly or monthly zoom calls. I’ve have heard many pastors say that they feel more connected to others in their presbytery than ever before!

Presbytery Executives are gathering once a week as supportive colleagues in these strange and challenging times. . . . in some ways, social distancing has brought us together and made programmatic and educational training opportunities more available than ever.


It’s not JUST the pandemic that has made things so difficult this year. Our siblings in Louisiana have endured THREE hurricanes that have affected the lives of so many and made life unbelievably, that much harder. There are still people without power and churches that remain boarded up until repairs can begin. I have been in contact with Presbytery of South Louisiana and we are considering ways that the synod can be most helpful in the recovery efforts.


Whether we like it or not, individually, and collectively, our resilience is being tested – AND at the same time, our capacity is being built. “Normal” is gone and will not be returning, at least, any time soon. But the Good News never changes, and we are called to preach it. And preach it, we will.

Even before the pandemic it was the intention for the synod’s usual programmatic work to lie fallow. . . a year for a deep evaluation of the synod’s impact. Because 2020 is, well 2020, work hasn’t ceased, it’s just looked different. In 2018 the synod began leading the way with communications and social media ministry for the clients of the Communications Services Program - but this year our efforts have expanded webinars on Authentic Online Worship, Building Resilience, and relief offerings through the Board of Pensions – all still available on our growing YouTube channel. Expect more growth of this Equipping ministry very soon.


The synod’s assessment process isn’t over either. . . it is ongoing. The hope is that we will continue to learn and grow from intentionally asking questions:

· Are we living out our mission statement to “Connect, Equip, and Empower for Christ’s mission” in ways that are equitable, just, and supportive? 

· Who and what kind of programs, networks, and institutions does the synod support financially or otherwise? 

· Who and what kind of programs, networks, and institutions does the synod NOT support financially or otherwise? 

· Where have we (the synod) been complicit in perpetuating systemic racism and failed our siblings in Christ?

It can be difficult to ask and answer these questions when we are deep inside of the work ourselves. I pray that we will all be open hearted and willing to listen with an ear toward justice and push one another to that end.


Amidst all this, it might not seem like the best time for a sabbatical. Everyone, including my husband, can breathe a collective sigh of relief. It is over. . .. and yet, I cannot thank you all enough for the time and space for a refreshing journey. It was good, incredibly good in fact.

We took some time to do a couple of extended camping trips, I took several online courses some for fun and others for continuing education. I spent time in what I am now calling my art studio, painting, and pushing my creative boundaries.


I spent time in my gardens – vegetable and butterfly. . . and some time with family. Because of the pandemic, there are plenty of things I had hoped to do but couldn’t. That’s okay. I did allow the days of the calendar to pass with little regard – for me, during a normal year, that would be huge. In a pandemic, not as much so. But all of that means that I have had plenty of time to reflect.


In every mid-council of the Church - - there is a certain amount of co-dependency. That is especially true for synods. Pastors are members of a presbytery – accountable to the presbytery. Even when elected as a Commissioner, you are, pastors and ruling elders, all still volunteers. That is exactly why it is so easy for someone in my role to slip into a place that is more than facilitating. It is a very delicate and sometimes lonely dance.


I recall when the Coordinating Team asked me to step into the role of “Acting Synod Leader” – and, even before that, when I was asked about my vision for the synod. My response has always been that the role should be more of a facilitator – in fact, that’s what I wanted the job title to be. My job description even says that I am to facilitate and interpret the mission and ministry of the synod.

Over the years, I’ve watched some mid-council leaders over function, including myself at times. . . often because our colleagues in ministry – teaching and ruling elders - are not fulfilling their roles. Thus, depending upon the mid-council leader to rescue the presbytery or synod.


I’ll let you talk among yourselves about how well I have carried out the interpretation piece, but I can tell you that there have been place where I’ve overstepped in the facilitation department – and skipped straight to driving the bus! BUT the reality is that this is a shared ministry. This is not MY synod, this is OUR synod.


What we learned from the impact assessment earlier in the year is that we need to do a better job of training synod commissioners. I have been told by several past and current commissioners that they didn’t understand what the synod does until they were YEARS into their term. No wonder that the co-dependance exists. I have always felt that part of my job was to help YOU own YOUR role. I recognize now that I need to concentrate more specifically on developing the leaders within the synod. I will be seeking more ways to empower commissioners to utilize their intelligence, energy, imagination and love to fulfill their calling to service.


In my sabbatical reflections, what has arisen for me is this: I am to love Christ and the people of the institution more than the institution itself. The synod is better served by leaders who are loved forward.


So - - - I am committed to loving you forward, as leaders of the synod by:

· Accompanying each Commissioner in their synod journey

· Being attentive to the committees and their needs for resources and training

· Being an authentic leader and providing space for authentic and accountable relationships

· Being an advocate for you and the work of your committees

· And doing all things from a perspective of abundance, because the gifts of God and God’s mercy are never ceasing


I am not as committed to “Moving the Synod Forward” as I am to “Loving you forward as we live out our call together”.

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VALERIE.YOUNG@SYNODSUN.ORG - SYNOD LEADER AND STATED CLERK

ERNEST HIGGINBOTHAM - ASSISTANT STATED CLERK

THOMAS.RIGGS@SYNODSUN.ORG - COMMUNICATION AND ADMINISTRATION COORDINATOR