Friday, August 1, 2014

Project Harmony: The Numbers Behind the PLR Discernment Process

IMPORTANT NOTE: I received feedback (thanks brother!) that the table wasn't rendering correctly in all browsers and so I took the opportunity to add a brief explanation about harmony from the Bible to expand this post along with a new image of "harmony" besides correcting the table. Anita, Aug. 24th, 2014, Feast Day of St. Bartholomew, Apostle of Jesus.] 

The word “harmony” occurs three times in the Bible, in Romans 12: 16 (live in harmony), Romans 15: 5 (blessing of harmony) & Colossians 3: 14: 
 Above all clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (NRSV). The NIV reads: And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity

A little while ago, I began to gather numbers about the churches that went through the PLR discernment process (June 2013 - July 2014). I was interested in finding answers to two questions: What is the impact of formal discernment? How many people changed their minds in the churches that have so far been dismissed? Well, the data collection took over a month since I could not just get it from the websites of the churches. But I finally got the data and voila, I have my preliminary answers now, thanks to mathematician Kurt Norlin who just happened to step back into my life a few days ago. God is amazing and has perfect timing.

The Table below shows the statistics for straw polls and congregation votes that I have been able to get for the churches in our presbytery that entered discernment or the dismissal process in June 2013. Straw poll numbers indicate the number of people in a church that want to enter into *formal discernment* with the Presbytery which culminates in Joint Solution; their Session and Congregation had already engaged in discernment (often without the Presbytery and often for a period of 3 to 4 months). Congregational vote means the number who voted to request dismissal that is accept the terms of Joint Solution after *formal discernment.* Begin Process means begin the formal discernment process with Presbytery. Leave means those who want to leave PC (USA). No need to begin process means what it says (no need to enter into formal discernment with Presbytery). Stay means they want to stay with PC (USA).

Type of Vote
Membership at time of Straw Poll or Congregational Vote
Number who voted
Begin Process – Leave
No need to begin process – Stay
Number that did not vote
June 2013
St. Andrews
Straw Poll

June 2014

Congregational Dismissal


April 2013
Straw Poll

June 2014

Congregational Dismissal

June 2013
Christ Pres.
1st Congregational Vote


March 2014

2nd Congregational Vote


June 2013
Christ Lakewood
Straw Poll


First Pres. Westminster
Straw Poll

Congregational Dismissal

Good Shepherd Los Alamitos
Straw Poll

June 2014

Congregational Dismissal


Journey Evangelical

St. Paul, Anaheim
Cong. Dismissal


Cornerstone Fellowship

June 2013
Wintersburg Santa Ana
Straw Poll


June 2014
Irvine Pres.
Straw Poll


I share Kurt's analysis first before I write about the things I learned in doing this.  Here's what Kurt wrote:
Do votes shift as a result of the "Discernment" process? One would want to ask the voters! But just looking at the before-and-after numbers available for three churches that have been through it, we can apply a simple test, called a chi-square test, by hypothesizing that there was no meaningful effect and then seeing how the results we would then expect line up with what actually happened.

The chi-square test confirms what a casual look at the numbers suggests, namely that the process made no net difference at Christ Presbyterian or at Trinity, but at St. Andrew's it moved a significant number of voters in the direction of "Yes, we should leave."

Why did the votes shift at one church but not the other two? Here we have to be careful. At churches where the votes didn’t move either way, it could mean that the process was a waste of time. Or it could mean that it really helped people think things through, but with some people moving one way and others moving in the opposite direction, the net effect was a wash. And where the numbers did shift, it could mean that the process was really helpful in helping people to discern what was best, or it could mean that one side was able to dominate the discussion. No mere look at the numbers can tell us what happened. 
Yes, it would be easy to conclude that the discernment process had no discernible effect. But I can't say that. We have to be very careful about jumping to conclusions based on numbers; numbers don't always tell the whole story (see for example my post on Owl Sight Smart Love and Witness Data.). Also, my data is incomplete. How did the churches who have not reported any statistics (e.g. St. Paul, Journey Evangelical) discern? Thus, the data shown here has to be substantiated by other research before we can make any conclusions. Unfortunately, what I am able to get right now is anecdotal (people left the churches, etc.). Not good for our purposes at all since I am interested in the truth. Plus, as I've written earlier my discernment efforts are my Project Harmony :).  Anyway, if you have ideas how I can do so (get better data), I'd be interested to hear them.

I learned, yet again, while gathering these numbers that there is confusion about "discernment" and the current PLR Property Policy and Procedures of June 15, 2013.

Pay careful attention to the Type of Vote column - this gives the name of what the churches are actually calling the vote/piece of process and you should be able to see what I mean.

I summarize below my understanding of discernment as per the policy by highlighting the steps by using direct quotes from the PLR Property Policy (June 2013) Part Two (page 3). Then, I provide the full-text from page 3 onwards of Property Policy - Part II - that outlines these steps. Again, you should write me how I may be misunderstanding what I've called steps 1 and 2, discernment vs. formal discernment. Caveat: There is another piece of information that I don't have for complete analysis. This is the letter that the churches send the Presbytery. These letters will shed light. I have to listen again to Keith Geckeler's video The Case for the Presbytery - When Your Church Leaves You  (part 1 and 2) - to understand first, and then, communicate this aspect clearly but I thought I'd share the reference in case you want to.

Step 1: Discernment which includes the following (this is Section A of Part II of Property Policy)
"Congregations examine their covenant relationship ... a period of three to nine months - Presbytery would welcome an invitation to partner --  at the end of this time of reflection, if session believes it is the desire of the congregation ... they will invite the Presbytery into more formal conversations." St. Andrews, for example, makes it clear that they did this for a period of 4 months, well within the period of three to nine recommended by Presbytery.

Step 2: Formal Discernment (although this is not the term used in the Property Policy, this is what I heard sometimes for the process after the straw poll which is dealt with on page 4 of the policy, not page 3)
There is a list of 10 to-dos including the development of the Joint Solution (deciding about the property) but the first step is to "Develop a clear statement of Reasons for making a dismissal request... " see Section B of Part II of Property Policy for the other to-dos. One of the problems is that none of the 10 to-dos address the needs of those who wish to #STAY PCUSA.

Step 3: Request for Dismissal
After engaging in the discernment process, and eliciting input from the congregation by straw poll or other appropriate means .. make the request for dismissal.

Extract below from the Presbytery of Los Ranchos Property Policy and Proecedures

Part II

(2008 AI, G-3.0301a)

I. Discernment
A. Congregations which, for whatever reason, wish to examine their covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)] are encouraged to engage in a three to nine month period of discernment of how, in light of their understanding of their mission, the congregation’s self-understanding is consistent or inconsistent with that of the Presbytery and denomination.
1. Presbytery would welcome an invitation to partner with the leaders and congregation in this process. When invited, Presbytery’s role would be one of participating with the congregation through the process and providing additional resources.
2. At the end of this time of reflection, if the session believes it is the desire of the congregation to continue this conversation, it will invite the Presbytery into more formal conversations.

B. The session and congregation will commit to partner with the Presbytery in discerning God’s leading for the future ministry of the congregation. This will include:
1. Develop a clear statement of the reasons (“Reasons”) for considering making a request for dismissal to another reformed denomination.
2. Consider the Presbytery’s response to #1 and determine the manner and extent to which the Reasons have been resolved, addressed, or clarified.
3. Determine the manner and extent to which the Reasons have impeded or will impede the ministry and mission of this congregation.
4. Articulate the manner and extent to which the ministry of the congregation will be enhanced by dismissal to another reformed denomination.
5. Articulate the manner and extent to which the ministry of the congregation will be negatively affected by dismissal. This will include outlining the “due diligence” (research) done with respect to potential benefits and problems with membership in another denomination.
6. Explore with Presbytery the extent to which the mission of the presbytery and other congregations within the Presbytery will be negatively impacted if the congregation is released to another reformed body;
7. Consider any covenantal ties of the congregation to the Presbytery, its congregations, the PC(USA), and the saints who have preceded and will follow the congregation. Tom v San Francisco, Rationale below Specification of Error #7. “The Trust Clause reflects our understanding of the church as a communion of saints across time, with responsibilities both to those who came before and those who will follow.”
8. Consider the information generated by the “Factors Determining Value” paper Appendix B)
9. Gauge the extent and manner in which the congregation would be impacted by the fulfillment of the congregation’s responsibilities if there is an agreement for dismissal consistent with Tom v Presbytery of San Francisco. (See Appendix A)
10. Such other factors as the session determine to be appropriate to discernment.

Request for Dismissal: After engaging in the discernment process, and eliciting input from the congregation by straw poll or other appropriate means, the session, in its discretion, may submit a written request for dismissal to the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery, identifying the reasons why the request should be granted (“Reasons”) along with any other information the session believes would be helpful to the Presbytery.


Tom v San Francisco, Rationale below Specification of Error #7 and Decision (See especially Specification of Error #4)

II. Dialogue toward a Joint Solution[1]

A. The presbytery shall elect, train, and commission at least ten individuals who are available to serve at least one year as presbytery representatives on teams of up to four members.
1. Members of the initial team shall be nominated by the Property Procedures Task Force (in consultation with moderator of COM) elected by the Presbytery, and trained by the Presbytery staff and/or others with specific expertise.
2. As needed, subsequent members will be elected by Presbytery upon nomination by the Nominating Committee.
3. This group shall function as a “Presbytery Representative Pool” elected by and accountable to the Presbytery.
4. The Presbytery representatives will be commissioned to bring a Joint Solution to the Presbytery as a whole for action.

B. The Moderator of Council, the Moderator of the Committee on Ministry, the Moderator of the Strategic Coordinating Team, the Moderator of the Trustees, and the Moderator of the Presbytery shall assign the Presbytery Representatives in each instance of a Request for Dismissal (beginning as early as Step I.A.1). The Presbytery must appoint the team of Presbytery Representatives in response to a written request from a congregation within four weeks of receipt of the formal request.

C. Presbytery Representatives shall:
1. Conduct the dialogue with the congregational representatives (below II.D).
2. Assess whether and the extent to which the ministry of the congregation has been or might be impaired by the Reasons.
3. Assess the manner and the extent to which the ministry of the Presbytery or its other congregations might be impaired by a dismissal.
4. Engage the Presbytery Council and the Presbytery in educational and discernment processes that will equip them for making wise decisions and recommendations.
This shall include engagement with G-4.0203 per Tom v San Francisco, Rationale below Specification of Errors #7 and #11, especially as they relate to Specification of Error #3,

D. Congregational Representatives
1. The session of the congregation should elect Congregational Representatives to join with the Presbytery Representatives to form a “Joint Discernment Team” to work with the congregation and Presbytery to generate a Joint Solution to the request for dismissal.
2. This prayerful dialogue will be directed to a good faith exchange of ideas and information, seeking a solution consistent with this procedure and the health and mission of the Presbytery and the congregation. The Joint Discernment Team shall have at least two meetings with the full session and at least one meeting with the congregation. (2010 PJC, G-3.0301a)

III. Joint Solution

A. G-3.0301 The Presbytery is responsible for the government of the church throughout its district and for assisting and supporting the witness of congregations to the sovereign activity of God in the world, so that all congregations become communities of faith, hope, love, and witness. As it leads and guides the witness of its congregations, the Presbytery shall keep before it the marks of the Church, the notes by which Presbyterian and Reformed communities have identified themselves through history (F-1.0303) and the six greats ends of the church.”
G-3.0303a “Develop strategy for the mission of the church in its district”
B. A Joint Solution will assess the manner and the extent to which the ministry of the Presbytery or its other congregations would be enhanced and/or diminished by the dismissal. Tom v San Francisco, Rationale below Specification of Error #7
C. A Joint Solution will assess the manner and extent to which the ministry of the congregation would be enhanced and/or diminished by dismissal.
D. The Joint Discernment Team will review any Joint Solution for consistency with the Factors Determining Value checklist (see Appendix B) pursuant to Tom v Presbytery of San Francisco, Rationale below Specification of Error #7, especially “Failure to consider the property value and the PC(USA)’s beneficial interest in the property was a fatal omission of the trustee’s duty to the PC(USA).”
E. Prior to bringing a recommendation to Presbytery, the Presbytery representatives shall ascertain whether there is a schism in the congregation to which the provisions of G-4.0207 should be applied. If so, it shall become part of the Joint Discernment
F. The Joint Discernment Team will engage the Presbytery leadership (Council, Strategic Coordinating Team, Trustees, and Committee on Ministry) in a process of discerning the relationship of the congregation and its property to the Presbytery’s understanding of its mission (G-3.0303a) in this time and place and the interests of the PC(USA) as a beneficiary of the property. Tom v San Francisco, Rationale below Specification of Error #7
G. The Joint Discernment Team shall prepare a recommended Joint Solution that specifies the provisions for granting the request for dismissal—if the recommendation is to grant dismissal (see Section IV. if a Joint Solution cannot be reached).
H. The Joint Discernment Team presents to the Presbytery for first reading a recommendation: either a Joint Solution for dismissal to another denomination, or such other recommendation as is required by this situation. No amendments will be permitted at the first reading, but suggestions for improvement will be welcome. The recommendation shall be fully debated.
I. Following a 30 day season of discernment, the Presbytery shall exercise its broad powers regarding congregations and shall:
1. Accept the recommendation (Joint Solution).
2. Reject the recommendation (Joint Solution), with rationale and wording changes needed to make it acceptable.
3. Reject the recommendation (Joint Solution) in its entirety.
J. The decision of the Presbytery shall be communicated forthwith to the session of the congregation. If the decision is to accept (1), the session and congregation have 90 days to take action on the proposal. If the decision is to reject with recommendation (2), the congregation shall have up to 90 days (or additional time if granted by Presbytery) to present changes that would favor an affirmative vote by the Presbytery. If the decision is to reject (3), and involves a Joint Solution, a new Joint Discernment Team will be appointed to attempt to resolve the impasse. If another recommendation, see Section IV.
K. If the recommendation involves implementation of G-4.0207, it shall include full details on how approval would be implemented.

IV. Unable to create a Joint Solution
A. If no Joint Solution can be reached: (including I.3 above)
1. The Presbytery Discernment Team will present its recommendation to the Presbytery, and the congregation may present its recommendations as a Minority Report (“Substitute Motion”). A full discussion will be held on the merits of the proposals
a. If a recommendation is approved, move to H. above.
b. If neither recommendation is approved, or one is approved with recommended changes, the provisions of I. and J. above prevail. The Joint Discernment Team, joined by mutually agreed to additional parties with specific skills/training, shall resume conversations to determine if an alternative solution can be found. If so, it will be brought to the Presbytery for action.
B. If a solution is approved by Presbytery, but the session and congregation do not accept that action, they shall be deemed to have rejected the offer to be dismissed and the Presbytery Representatives will enter into conversations with the session to help the congregation move forward in its ministry as a member of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. The expectation is that a congregation will normally not seek dismissal again for at least three years.

V. Conclusion
A. Upon acceptance of the Joint Solution for dismissal by the Presbytery and the congregation, the Presbytery, the session and the congregation will promptly begin performing all tasks and securing and executing all documents necessary to bring about a transfer of denomination.
B. Even after a congregation is dismissed, the Presbytery of Los Ranchos will graciously consider receiving the congregation back into the PC(USA) according to the constitutional provisions which are then in effect.8

[1] 1 It is acknowledged that the Presbytery’s Representatives, the congregation’s representatives, the session, and/or the congregation may not be able to reach a mutual agreement for a “Joint Solution”

Edited on Aug. 2nd to share Kurt's analysis first before my own :) (I'd said I was doing that but then somehow my para got placed first!)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to encourage me with your feedback. Blessings.