One of the questions I’ve heard from many considering whether to serve on the Leadership Council (LC) of the Progressive Christian Alliance is, “What do you do?” I believe that each LC has its own “flavor” and so the duties of the Co-Chair look different depending on the goals that have been set by our members and the gifts we each bring to the table. Here is a quick look at what these (almost) three years have held for me.
It might be prudent to mention how I got on the LC in the first place. At the last election, when we were asking folks to nominate someone for Chair, I sat quietly and reflected. Lawton Higgs, Sr kept coming to mind. Lawton demonstrates a deep passion for justice and also has wonderful organizational skills. I contacted him, asking if he would be willing for me to submit his name. Somehow in the conversation I got nominated as his Co-Chair. And what a gift it has been to have him (and now Gina) as our Chair!
The goals we set for our LC’s time of service were: to create a structure so that future LC’s and members would have clear documents to support PCA as it continues to evolve with Spirit; to increase ways for folks with our vision to connect with us; to obtain 501c3 status so that we are recognized as a legitimate religious organization and to seek accreditation from BCCi (Board of Chaplaincy, Inc.) so that our chaplains could be certified as PCA clergy. We’ve accomplished all this and more!
The first year, Lawton attended the Wild Goose Festival outside of Asheville, NC. This is a wonderful opportunity for PCA to be more visible and to reach other progressive Christians. As his health became less certain, it was my joy to attend in 2017 and I will return in 2018. We have several persons affiliated with PCA who are offering workshops and I hope that if you attend you’ll look for this sign by my little RV and say “HI!” Perhaps we could share a meal together.
During that first year, Fred-Allen Self (secretary) and I worked diligently to update the Constitution and Cannons of PCA, making the wording clearer to understand. That document was brought to our members for a vote and it passed. Simultaneously, JT Ramelis (treasurer) was getting us incorporated and filling out endless documentation needed for the 501c3 application. Through his efforts we now are officially a not for profit entity.
We brought Lyle Devine and Marie Ba’tel on as Co-Chairs of our Ordination Committee and worked together to get a system in place for those seeking to become PCA clergy. We now have a quarterly discernment of those who submit applications. Some are ordained. Some are connected to mentors when they are not quite ready. Additionally, Marie is the first responder for folks who want more information about PCA and our ordination process while Lyle makes sure that those in process meet our standards. This has freed up our LC to focus on other duties.
In 2017 I submitted the paperwork necessary for PCA to be recognized as a Faith Community by BCCi, the major professional organization for chaplaincy certification. We’d been told this was a lengthy process and could take over a year. One day, I got an email from the reviewers asking why we had submitted the application since we didn’t have a PCA clergy person seeking certification at that time. My response was that many of our clergy have been members of mainline denominations but were not offered ordination because they were from the LGBTQi community or their theology was too broad. Chaplaincy has been a way for them to fulfill their calls and they do this well. These people, I told them, had suffered enough. It was our goal to make sure that those qualified to seek certification have a clear path. I worried how that might be received by the Board. Much to my delight, they not only affirmed us but applauded our foresight in applying ahead of the need. Today, our first PCA clergy person is seeking endorsement. I am so proud!
Our vision of that “mustard seed of grace” growing has been overwhelming during our tenure. Our founders surely were Spirit led when they birthed The Progressive Christian Alliance. It is now necessary for us to set up a tracking system to improve our connection with one another, and we need better ways of creating community. With that in mind, we are implementing Wild Apricot (hopefully in July) which will enable us to keep records of our members, affiliate congregations, and clergy. Too often, people approach us seeking a community where they can feel welcome but we don’t have a current list of members or congregations to offer them. And we want to be sure that our clergy are up to date on security checks and upholding our clergy promise. We hope to have PCA clergy write more blogs for the website, sharing how their ministries are impacting a world that needs our words of a loving Godde. We also hope to find a way to hold a convocation once we know where our members reside. The first one may have to be an online event, but it is still one of our priorities.
It amazes me, looking at this blog, that we’ve come so far in so short a time. Lawton, JT and Fred-Allen had to resign so we now have a system where elections are at intervals so that all of the LC doesn’t change over at the same time. This should smooth transitions in the future. What a joy it has been to serve the PCA family. We have our squabbles as all families do, but when I get to welcome a new person to our community it is truly a moment of Godde’s grace for me. Our Constitution & Cannons mandate that a term in any position on the LC is 3 years. (One can serve in another position for an additional 3 years.) Recently, I was with one of the founders and he said, “Every 7 years leaders should step back. That enables new ideas to rise up. For the organization to flourish it must be constantly asking, ‘Who are we? Why do we exist? What needs are we not meeting yet?’” Wisdom. Would I do it again? Absolutely. I have grown in my skills and in my ministry as a result of serving on the Leadership Council of the Progressive Christian Alliance. I am also humbled by this opportunity you’ve entrusted to our care.
Rev. Beth Abbott
Co-chair, Leadership Council