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New Mexico’s presbyteries move to shared staff model

With national funds dwindling, Sierra Blanca and Santa Fe adapt

June 2, 2009

SANTA FE, NM

 In an effort to stay ahead of the curve — the curve being the elimination of Mission Partnership Funds (MPF) in 2013 — the Presbyteries of Santa Fe and Sierra Blanca in New Mexico are working diligently to reduce their budgets and at the same time maintain a viable and  meaningful presence in the state.

The two presbyteries have been heavily dependent upon the General Assembly Council’s (GAC) Mission Partnership Funds — a percentage of unrestricted money in the General Assembly mission budget —  since 1973 when responsibility for “National Mission” sites were turned over to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s presbyteries.

This year 57% of Sierra Blanca’s mission budget is coming from these funds and 27% for Santa Fe.

Before the year is out it is expected that the two presbyteries will have reduced their staff from five programmatic positions  plus two stated clerks to three persons — a Regional Presbyter/Stated Clerk and two support staff — to serve the two presbyteries.

The entire Synod of the Southwest — which also includes the presbyteries of de Cristo and Grand Canyon in Arizona — has experienced decreased MPF funding each year for nearly 10 years as unrestricted giving to the General Assembly has declined.

The GAC has determined it will cut off these funds entirely in 2013. Whether some other funding plan will be put in place to replace these funds appears unlikely ... at least to Sierra Blanca and Santa Fe.

A national search is under way for the new Regional Presbyter/Stated Clerk. The person will not be expected to staff all the committees of the two presbyteries, instead spending much time on the road visiting churches and pastors in the huge state. The person will have the freedom to choose within which presbytery’s bounds to live. At least one of the other new staff persons will live within the bounds of the other presbytery.

The planning process for the future of Presbyterianism in New Mexico began two years ago with the appointment of a joint task force to consider all possible organizational models for doing ministry. Combining the two presbyteries into one was rejected early on by the task force. Both presbyteries later approved a task force recommendation to share staff but remain separate.

Its overarching goal, the task force stated, was “to discover a way to maintain a healthy and missional Presbyterian presence in New Mexico well into the future.  It was clear in our conversations that Presbyterians in New Mexico stood a better chance of fulfilling that objective by working together rather than running the risk of failing separately.”

In a Covenant of Understanding that emerged and was approved by both presbyteries, the bodies voted “to share staffing in a regional presbyter/clerk position focused on care of pastors and congregations, and to share an associate clerk/administrator and in all things to seek good stewardship, greater efficiency, and non-duplication of effort in all other paid staff positions.”

It is anticipated that the shared staff model will save almost $120,000.

Final steps were taken toward putting the plan into place at a joint meeting of the two Presbytery Councils in April. Santa Fe Presbytery is the larger of the two with just under 7,000 members and Sierra Blanca has about 3,000 members.

Working together in the state is not totally new. In the 60s and early 70s all programming was done at the Synod of New Mexico level. All staff persons were synod staff serving the entire state. Presbyteries maintained their ecclesiastical committees.

Northern New Mexico was a particular national mission focus of the denomination as early as 1867.  At one time, the Presbyterian Church deployed more than 100 national mission workers working with the historic Hispanic people of the state. They served some 40 day schools and nearly that many churches throughout the mountains, as well as Embudo Hospital and its several local clinics.

With the coming of public education, all the schools but one were gradually closed, the last being John Hyson School in Chimayo in 2003.

The only remaining school is Menaul School in Albuquerque. Formerly a boarding school for students from Northern New Mexico, it is now self-governed and serves racial/ethnic students primarily in the Albuquerque area. It shares in receipts of the Christmas Joy Offering as one of the denomination’s racial/ethnic schools.

With better health care in the region, Embudo was closed in the 1970s.

The Synod of the Southwest is one of seven synods — out of 16 total — that has  received Mission Partnership Funds in recent years. In 2009, the synod received $659,000 or 23 percent of the MPF total. All of the funds are distributed to the four presbyteries within the Synod through an elaborate formula.

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