September 24, 2023
In 2022, the members of the Cabinet began to lead the Presbytery in its first comprehensive Strategic Plan in over a decade. Not wanting this to be a mere exercise, we insisted on a searching and thorough process designed to address hard questions, discern the future mission and ministry of the Presbytery of Baltimore, and align our collective life in the Body of Christ more clearly with our values:
- Promoting Justice,
- Practicing Inclusivity,
- Prioritizing Churches and Leaders to Thrive.
Equally important, we wanted to embrace intentionally the new thing that God is doing in our midst. All of us know that there are times when we need to change our ways of being to meet the moment. That moment is now here.
As we proceed with this presbytery-wide discernment, some of you have asked specifically about The Center.
For many years, The Center offered congregations the opportunity to host youth groups – primarily from outside this presbytery – to engage in local mission experiences. We appreciate The Center’s pioneering work as a part of Baltimore Presbytery’s long history of witness. However, the presbytery began to understand that to continue the Center’s mission model would require a major investment of financial resources – resources needed throughout the presbytery’s broad scope of mission. With the departure of Center staff and the end of the First and Franklin lease in 2022, we find ourselves at a Kairos moment concerning The Center.
During the initial stages of the Strategic Planning process, the Cabinet heard how many congregations struggle to connect with church youth and young adults. Engaging that segment of our church family is a priority. It is also clear that congregations across the presbytery are united in a desire to reach into their surrounding neighbors of all generations, build stronger relationships, actively come alongside their neighbors, and be a significant force for good in addressing the various issues in each cultural context.
These desires are no surprise. The Center of Baltimore, with a mission to “inspire and equip” churches to engage with and in their neighborhoods, assisted several churches to meet these challenges.
Yet as we conducted surveys, listening sessions, and one-to-one conversations it has become apparent that efforts to resource (1) youth involvement, and (2) community engagement, are still not as widely successful as we had hoped. We see that these two issues, although sometimes intersectional, are in fact distinct. We have come to believe that separate, re-imagined, and expanded programs addressing youth and community engagement will provide better support to congregations throughout the presbytery.
Cabinet believes it will be more effective, therefore, to launch two separate initiatives: one to assist churches undertake contextual community engagement; and one to engage our presbytery’s youth and young adults in the life, ministry, and mission of the church. We will evaluate each initiative after four years, assessing the value and impact of these initiatives on our Presbytery-wide mission.
The Cabinet commends the creativity and impact of The Center’s program, especially its unique “consciousness-raising” educational component. Its work is something to value, celebrate, and incorporate into future work. We are certain that what we have learned from our partnership with The Center will continue to inform our presbytery’s life and ministry.
Guided by the Strategic Plan, the Cabinet introduces two new initiatives – Youth and Adults, and Community Engagement – to replace The Center as program initiatives directly supported by the Presbytery. At the forthcoming meeting of the Presbytery, the Cabinet will bring a motion to end the formal partnership between Baltimore Presbytery and The Center, and remove and amend the Presbytery Manual to reflect this change.
We know that this is the first of many sometimes difficult, sometimes creative decisions we will make, as together we re-form our ways of being to meet the future. In fact, all Presbytery commissions and committees are evaluating their work and dreaming together about how best to answer God’s call and will bring recommendations for their current and future projects they envision to the Cabinet. We encourage all entities of the presbytery to follow their lead.
Cabinet undertakes this effort as a logical expression of our mutual ordination vows: to be good stewards of our resources, and to be faithful presbyters—by ensuring that our presbytery’s values of “Promoting Justice, Practicing Inclusivity, and Prioritizing Churches and Leaders to Thrive” are as fully embodied and en-Spirited as our human work and prayers can make them.
Again, we give thanks to God for the work of The Center, celebrate the vision and leadership of all who have been a part of its life and labor, and look forward to expanding and strengthening our commitment to Youth and Young Adults, and Community Engagement all across the Presbytery of Baltimore. Thanks be to God!
Yours In Christ,
The Members of the Cabinet of The Presbytery of Baltimore
Sue Lowcock Harris