2020 Vision Team: In search of a vision for the PC(USA)

Presbyterians at Big Tent share thoughts during listening sessions

by Eva Stimson | Presbyterian News Service

Big Tent 2017 participants discuss their vision for the future of the PC(USA) during a 2020 Vision Team listening session. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

ST. LOUIS – A church-sponsored coffee shop where the baristas are trained in pastoral care. A new congregation worshiping in a shopping mall. Churches using their resources creatively — transforming unused buildings into affordable housing or incubators for faith development and spiritual practices.

These were among a potpourri of images that emerged as people with ideas to share about the future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took advantage of lunchtime conversations and listening sessions hosted by the 2020 Vision Team at Big Tent 2017 in St. Louis.

The 15-member 2020 Vision Team was mandated by the 222nd General Assembly and charged with developing a guiding statement for the denomination as it moves into the future. Committee members are gathering information through digital surveys and regional listening sessions across the country. They are seeking input from congregations, presbyteries, synods and various PC(USA)-related organizations. They have also developed survey questions aimed at people with little or no church connections.

In one of the Big Tent listening sessions, participants sat around tables with team members for conversation about such questions as: What breaks God’s heart in your local community? What might God be calling us as Christians to do about this? How is the PC(USA) engaging you, and also not engaging you? How could our denomination do things more effectively?

Participants shared inspiring stories about mission, dreams about new ministries, and their assessment of strengths and weaknesses of the denomination. They cited a number of challenges facing the PC(USA): an increasingly inward focus on survival in congregations and presbyteries with declining membership; emphasis on mission at the expense of evangelism; environmental threats calling us to view all of the church’s work in the context of God’s creation; the need for better ways of measuring effectiveness and for more collaboration/less duplication of work done by other groups.

At a meeting just before Big Tent, Lisa Juica Perkins, co-moderator of the team, said the team hopes to wrap up the listening sessions by the end of October. She said the committee will release a “midterm report” on its work later this summer and draft an initial vision statement to present to the 223rd General Assembly in June 2018. A final report, with a plan for implementing the new vision, is expected at the 224th Assembly in 2020.

Several committee members commented that there is still confusion among people in the PC(USA) about how the 2020 Vision Team differs from two other bodies engaged in overlapping work along a similar timeline:

  • The Way Forward Commission was created by the 222nd General Assembly “to study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly agencies of the PC(USA).”
  • The Six Agency Review Committee is part of an ongoing review process aimed at ensuring that mission directives coming out of General Assemblies are implemented in the work of PC(USA) agencies.

Contrasting the task of 2020 Vision with the Way Forward, Perkins explained, “We’re dealing with the future. They’re dealing with the present.”

The Way Forward is looking at church structure and “dealing with the immediate pressure points so that the vision can emerge,” said 2020 Vision Team member Deborah Foster, a teaching elder from the Presbytery of Foothills. “They’re doing the maintenance work, laying the pipes, putting in the HVAC system. We’re setting the vision.”

The 2020 Vision Team and the Way Forward Commission are sharing findings with each other, but some Presbyterians are impatient with the information-gathering process, said 2020 Vision co-moderator Bernadette Coffee. “People are tired of taking surveys. They want to get on with the work of the church.”

“What if God’s vision for the PC(USA) is that it no longer exist?” asked committee member Chris McCain, a ruling elder from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. “Are we willing to ask that question?”

“We have to,” several other committee members responded.

“Our vision should not be to preserve the denomination,” said Joshua Andrzejewski, a teaching elder from the Presbytery of the James. “Our vision should be to follow Christ. We must be willing to face the possibility of death with the assurance of resurrection.”

Others commented that there are many areas of growth and vitality in the PC(USA). Anxiety about change does not necessarily mean the PC(USA) is dying.

Karen Sapio, a teaching elder from the Presbytery of San Gabriel, commented that hymns such as “God of Grace and God of Glory,” are vision statements. “Whatever we write, there ought to be a song,” she said. “If it can’t be distilled into a song, we’re not there yet.”

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To fill out a Vision 2020 survey online, go to https://goo.gl/forms/YEKecs5yGvbBSsny2


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