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Session Meeting Summary 4-27-22

So sorry this post was delayed. I had it written, but missed actually making it accessible - being in the hospital can certainly throw a wrench into the works! -- RB

Starting off by Looking Back

We were back to an all-zoom meeting this month and I came in a few minutes late. When I arrived, the group was wrapping up reflections about Holy Week and the worship services for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Later in the meeting the in-person attendance numbers were shared:

Holy Week Service:


Online Viewing

Palm Sunday



Maundy Thursday



Good Friday



Easter Sunday worship



Easter Brunch




We moved into the jam-packed agenda with alacrity, and noted that the membership stands unchanged at 252 right now. The Admin/Treasurer update had a lot of details but we sped through the highlights:

  • A check was sent to the presbytery for Per Capita (a bit late, but better than not at all).

  • The Somerville tenant moves in May 1, though they’ve already been paying rent while tech work / updates / and repairs are happening.

  • The heating issue in the sanctuary was fixed with the $4K investment into the new motor / installation. Further estimates are being sought for additional work.

  • Neal Wilkes and Larry Wood are planning to power wash the outside of the Somerville building.

  • Thanks go to Diane Bolen and Delores Pederson for painting the ladies’ room.


Larry Wood noted that the budgeting process is starting for the 22-23 fiscal year, and that the budget committee (Tim Nissen, Peter Gaskins, Larry Wood, and Brian Craker) which had done a lot of the preliminary work of getting the budget ready for Session approval for the past two years was willing to undertake the process again this year, if Session so desired. Pastor Brian Craker clarified that Session would need to release authority for the committee to start working, and there were some questions and discussion over what this work would entail. A general overview is that each ministry or committee would plan ahead for what funds they think they will need or want next year to accomplish the things they feel called to do - and dreaming big is fine! The budget committee will confer with each of these ministries and committees to be the clearinghouse for all these numbers, and to consider the ministries’ and committees’ monetary requests against the projected income for next year. (This is why pledging is so helpful: so the plans for next year are based on the best estimates!) Michael Talbert suggested that if people have thoughts on this topic, they should share them with the budget committee. TJ Putman noted that budgeting is not necessarily a scarcity strategy, but can open up new possibilities. What would a ministry do if they knew they had extra money beyond what they had planned? Are there other ideas that had previously been dismissed that would now be feasible? It is good for us as a church to have projects in the works that we are excited about! The consensus was that the session was thankful that the budget committee was willing to pick up this task again, and they had the green light to do the heavy-lifting for preparing the 22-23 budget.

Purchasing Policy

The purchasing policy that had been introduced at last month’s meeting and returned for revision was reviewed in its updated wording and discussed. Michael Talbert made sure that the language was appropriately definitive (saying something “must happen” rather than it “should happen”). Pam Morris asked about record-keeping for these expenditures, to which Larry Wood replied that all receipts would be kept the same way they already are: appropriately in the proper file within the church office filing system, by vendor if paid directly, or by ministry or purchaser if paid via credit card. TJ Putman noted that $2,000 might end up being a low threshold for expenditures to need review, and it was projected that we might end up needing to revisit that condition at the six-months budget review. The motion to accept the purchasing policy was approved unanimously.

By-Law Updates

A by-law change was proposed, to allow past-serving elders to continue in the position of treasurer for better continuity in case the person serving as treasurer rotated off session. This is acceptable as far as the Book of Order goes; no provision against this was found. However, there was some discussion about the wisdom of this relaxation of restrictions. TJ Putman pointed out that while our current treasurer is doing a great job, the time could come when we have a treasurer who is not as good, who could become entrenched in the position and possibly end up adversarial to the church’s mission. Rather than allowing for increased continuity, perhaps we should be focusing on improving our process of choosing people with the capacity to fill the position. Michael Talbert had had discussion with Peter Gaskins about this already, noting that the pool is small; the 12 people on session may not have within their group someone with the depth of ability to be an effective treasurer. While turnover minimizes the risk of impropriety, since the position of treasurer really demands the right person with the right gifts, allowing that person to come from outside the currently serving session is an idea with merit. Mary Johnson noted that this may be in conflict with other by-laws since the treasurer is the chair of the admin committee, and Diane Bolen clarified that the provision in question had been changed during Pastor Del Burnett’s time as pastor to require any committee to have a currently serving elder as its chairperson, but allowing any ministry to have any church member as its chairperson (which could, of course, be a currently serving elder if that is how it happens to work out). Pastor Brian suggested that the motion be withdrawn and sent back to admin for updated wording on all the church officer positions, and consideration of the concerns raised over allowing long-term officers. The congregation will be informed of any changes to the by-laws, if and when they occur.


TJ Putman and Debra McAninch brought several items from HR, including a Parental Leave policy that is very timely with the impending arrival of Guin Parker’s baby. After discussion of specifics and how the policy would impact church operations, the motion to accept the policy was passed. A second motion was proposed, of applying for a grant from the General Assembly specifically for the training of seminarians to become pastors. Money from such a grant would allow Thomas Walters to remain with us as a pastoral intern for a while longer. The motion to apply for the grant was passed (though it was also noted that any specific amount of grant money could not be predicted as it would depend on how many applicants there were).


Tim Nissen, Kyle Bonn, and TJ Putman brought an update from the PNC. They have been conducting detailed interviews with multiple candidates, and are pleased to find they have many qualified applicants with varied skills and talents. So far they have received information from a good number of applicants, all of whom applied personally rather than being filtered in through an automatic matching system (an indication of their interest in our church specifically). The hard work comes now in the form of finding the best fit.

TJ Putman shared that Sue Crothers likened the process to modern dating: the back and forth between interested parties, trying to find the right person for a long-term relationship, and knowing that saying yes to one person means saying no to all the others. It is really impossible to say with certainty how far along in the process they are, though, until it is final, when there is only one candidate to present to the congregation. That timing is completely in God’s hands, and we don’t need to fret about it. Michael Lamb offered prayers for the PNC and their work, and anyone and everyone else is encouraged to pray for them too!


Chuck Zemanek and Pam Morris gave an update from Stewardship, noting that stewardship season is from May 1 through May 22, and recapping the plans for each Sunday and communicating with the congregation throughout. There was discussion over whether people should be encouraged to wait until they have heard all the presentations, including Brian’s sermon, before praying about their pledge and deciding how much they feel called to commit. Speaking to the pledge form already being available online, Chuck stated that if people felt called to pledge $20K right away, that’s probably fine. There was additional conversation about looking to the leadership of the church to be among the first to pledge, to set an example for the rest of the congregation. Our pledges are one indication for whatever pastor is called next of our commitment to our church’s mission and future. Mary Johnson noted that May 15th, when Brian is scheduled to share his stewardship presentation, is also the birthday of Salem First Presbyterian Church, chartered in 1869.

Impact / Warming Center

Kyle Bonn reiterated most of what he shared at last month’s meeting reviewing the warming shelter and our partnership with Arches: while the intention was good, communication was difficult, particularly when their staff members were hit hard by covid and staffing changes eliminated a large portion of middle management. Additionally, Arches’ volunteer base shrank, putting more responsibility on their staff. Kyle emphasized that the solid crew of volunteers from Salem First Presbyterian Church helped to push through the difficulties and enable the good work that was done, in addition to easing the burden that he felt as a leader.

Looking forward, Kyle reminded session that he was hired to that position through March, so is no longer working on coordinating efforts, including planning for next winter, and future planning should be directed to the Impact Ministry.

TJ Putman shared a brief history of the warming shelter program from its beginning several years ago, when our community didn’t really have the capacity to meet the winter housing need, and money came from the state of Oregon to fund that effort. TJ had been on the team that scrambled to put something in place, and they started with finding which churches might be able to open their facilities to host people. First Congregational was called on for most of the first year, Salem First Presbyterian joined in the next year, and the need was being filled. Arches built their infrastructure and was able to get other facilities that could house families and build a grassroots volunteer base. Since Arches has been disorganized by the pandemic, this would be an ideal time for Impact to reassess our partnership with Arches, or maybe there are other organizations such as Church at the Park which would want to partner with us for a warming shelter. Maybe we want to focus on providing a safe shelter for families, which is a smaller but still important need. If we want to continue this ministry to homeless people, there are partners other than Arches.

Brian Craker reminded us that we have grant money from Presbytery and from one of our sister Presbyterian churches that has been used toward this mission, and some grant dollars still remain.

Michael Talbert affirmed that both he and his wife, Christine Talbert (chair of the Impact team,) have the view that the loss of staff member Rev. Rob Thrasher took us out of the loop on a lot of things dealing with the community, even beyond the warming shelter. Rob had been our main personal connection with community leadership and leadership of other churches. He had a sort of early radar for understanding what the problems are and what needs to be taken care of, where there were pockets of resources or potential opportunities, and how our church’s resources - human resources, cash, whatever - could be utilized. This is a role we will need to work out as soon as we have our new pastor. If we really want to be a missional church, we need to plan strategically and with forethought how we will wade in to help before urgency clouds our judgment or paralyzes us.

Michael Lamb suggested that perhaps our goal should be to put ourselves out of the warming shelter business and encourage others to develop the resources to handle the problem.

Ted Envela shared his view that our mission is still very needed in our state, and we should continue to pray that we are where God wants us. Presbytery hopes we will play a role in meeting needs, and session decides what that role will be. We live in a world full of crises, and though we can not solve all the problems we will be facing, one area to keep our eye on may be upcoming refugee issues: we know there are Ukrainians who will need a place to go. Before we jump into any mission, however, we need to have our house in order. We need to have a plan, not just one or two pet projects. We need to be able to answer questions such as “Are we ready to help? Can we deliver? What help can we provide, and when?” We need to tell presbytery how Salem First Presbyterian is ready to really be a major contributor to the presbytery and how it helps them, furthering Ted’s desire to make our church known throughout the presbytery.

Pastor Brian reminded us that in the 1970s, Cascades Presbytery was a major agent in helping bring in and find permanent housing for hundreds of refugees and refugee families from throughout Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. It was a collective effort in which over a hundred churches in our area each said yes to helping and brought in at least one family, with some churches taking more. These churches helped the families obtain permanent housing and jobs. Maybe this is the kind of thing we will end up doing for Ukraine. That will be something for Impact to take under advisement.


Brian noted that we needed to switch from looking outside of the church, because our mission is never to be withheld inside the walls, to looking inward, because we are charged with the sanctity of divine worship. One important question is “Now that the pandemic is ‘over,’ should we resume intinction as our form of communion?” Brian’s thought was probably yes, if only because it is more theologically appropriate than the little single-serve kits we used during the pandemic (very nice to have, but a form factor perhaps lacking in symbolism and meaning). TJ Putman noted that intinction can lead to a greater degree of sharing than people may yet be comfortable with, so it could be good to have the option of single-serve packets for those who prefer that method. Diane Bolen reported that even with intinction, there would be “rovers” available to present a plate and cup to the participant at their seat, and those portions would not have as many people touching them. Also, we do have about 20 of the single-serve kits left. There was additional discussion on the issue of intinction and offering choice to be sure not to bar anyone from the table over sanitation concerns. The consensus from session was to allow intinction with options, and the worship team can work out what those look like.

In a similar vein, we discussed removing restrictions on the passing of the peace during worship. Our church has always been very friendly and welcoming, but has limited themselves to waving during this era of social distancing. Now that we are out of pandemic and into endemic (the usual state of affairs for winter and the flu), can we resume a more traditional passing of the peace? Discussion centered on allowing people to engage with different levels of contact as they are comfortable. Brian shared that our church is very huggy, based on his first Sunday, and perhaps it should fall to the worship leader to remind people to be sensitive to the needs of others and not let our loving natures overrun people who want to keep their distance. Other churches have used hand signals to indicate what level of greeting people desire: those who did not want contact would raise their hand to wave, and those who did want contact could extend their hand for a handshake. (It was pointed out that many other hand gestures existed which could communicate a variety of meanings, but perhaps those are not encouraged.)

Upcoming Items / Adjournment

From here the meeting wound down: We talked briefly about summer plans with staff being unavailable because of vacation or parental leave: Guin Parker and Heather Walters are both due about the same time, so both Guin and Thomas would not be available for their usual roles. Sarah Page has offered to step in and assist as there is need. Session meeting dates were readjusted back to the normal fourth Tuesday at 6:30 pm for May and June. We shared some prayer concerns and closed with prayer, including prayers for the PNC, Stewardship, Impact Team work, and the congregation.

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