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A vision for repairing and rebuilding

Ten days on the job, Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall shares his vision with the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall

LOUISVILLE — Dr. Corey Schlossser-Hall has been on the job for 10 days as the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Director of Rebuilding and Vision Implementation. As he proved to the PMA Board Wednesday, he already has a clear vision of what he hopes to accomplish — together with the help of lots of new colleagues and plenty of former colleagues in mid councils and congregations across the country — over the next nine months or so.

Schlosser-Hall, the former executive presbyter for the Presbytery of the Northwest Coast, spoke during the opening day of the board’s three-day winter meeting, held online. Schlosser-Hall is serving the mission agency as deployed staff in Bothell, Washington.

He told board members he and his wife, Adrienne, enjoy traveling to the place where they met as undergraduate students, the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene. Among their favorite sites has been famed Hayward Stadium, which gave Eugene the moniker “Track Town,” and the Koinonia Center, in which UKirk ministry was done in an old Victorian home.

Now both have been leveled in order to, according to Schlosser-Hall’s thinking, “develop something for the greater and common good.” The old Victorian now houses 140 students who live in modern apartments. The new Hayward Field has been hailed as “a theater for track and field.”

Schlosser-Hall wonders what happened in each respective board room as the renovations of both cherished facilities were being discussed. Some no doubt said, “We have always loved it so much,” while others countered with, “We have to level it yesterday.” Still others took the middle ground.

“All this happens,” he said, “when you are reimagining.”

“We are in the phase of rebuilding” the PMA, Schlosser-Hall said. “You have called me to work with you and I am jazzed about doing this.”

Here’s Schlosser-Hall’s timeline for the coming months.

  • During February and March, rebuilding will launch. He’ll be listening and learning in part to identify the rebuilding work that’s already underway.
  • In April the focus will be on the 2023-24 budget process to ensure it aligns with the PMA’s Mission Work Plan, which the board is scheduled to take up Thursday.
  • From March through June, the focus will be on what is core and essential, and what to stop, start and enhance, he said. “We can’t be everything to everybody, but we can do what God calls us to do with great excellence,” Schlosser-Hall said.
  • During June and July, the focus will be on the 225th General Assembly. That’ll be the time, he said, to engage key stakeholders.
  • Rebuilding implementation will begin in July and continue into the fall. Schlosser-Hall plans to share outcomes with board members during their Aug. 17-19 meeting.

During every phase “we will engage with sister agencies. We will deepen our collaboration,” he told the board. “In every phase we want to engage key stakeholders.”

Some changes are baked into the plan: establishing both a Center for the Repair of Historical Harms and an Office for Innovation, Futuring and Discernment. Distributing PMA staff into locally situated action teams (LSATs) as envisioned by the Vision Implementation Plan the board approved last fall is also key, he said.

As for the Center for Repair, which looks back, and Office for Innovation, which is oriented to the future, “the full sketch is not yet in place, and we need to do that,” he said. He compared the two functions to “the left and right ventricles of the heart trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The message for the Center for Repair is “when we screw up, we can be forgiven, and we can apologize, repair, and make what has happened better in God’s timing and in God’s way. We have to center that work,” Schlosser-Hall said.

“At the same time, we have to innovate the future into God’s future,” he said. “COVID has thrust us into forced innovation,” and changes that were once on the back burner have been moved to the front burner. “I see these functions infusing and forming and fueling the core components of Matthew 25. I think of them as core competencies for engaging this work.”

Communicating how that work is progressing will involve less messaging and more “giving people a taste of engaging the mission agency,” he said. Less “here’s a news story and more digital presence that … can allow people to taste the experience that God is good, taste innovating the future and repairing the past.”

“My eyes may be a little bigger than our capacity to digest it,” he said. “But when you encounter it, you know what it’s like.”

He quoted from the Book of Order: “All polity rests in the trust and love of the fellowship.”

“If we can embody that,” he said, “I think we can take steps to continue to reinvent who we are becoming and how we are following Jesus.”

“Friends,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director, “we are being Spirit-led.”

Mission Engagement and Support

The Rev. Rosemary C. Mitchell, senior director of Mission Engagement and Support, segued her talk with a hat-tip toward her new colleague.

“Corey is the perfect example of passing the offering plate,” she said. “Money follows mission.”

The Rev. Rosemary C. Mitchell

Mitchell gave an update on both MES and Special Offerings. “Stewardship is not a competitive sport,” Mitchell said. “It is a component of prayerful, thoughtful discipleship.”

Presbyterians “are generous when we provide them a reason to be generous,” Mitchell said.

Despite the number of PC(USA) churches falling by about 5.6% over the past five years and a membership count that’s down about 16% over the same period, Mitchell shared some hopeful figures.

In 2021, giving to Special Offerings surpassed $13 million for the first time in a decade. She called Special Offerings “a great way for new and young members to participate in the national church.”

Donations made through the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, which is distributed in three languages, have “increased dramatically” over the past eight years. “That’s the way we get brand new donors,” Mitchell said.

Of the more than 9,500 PC(USA) congregations, about 8,400 contribute to at least one Special Offering. More than 400 are “Four for Four” congregations who participate in all four Special Offerings. Online mission giving now is up to 18% of total giving.

Mitchell heaped praise on #Giving Tuesday and Lauren Rogers, project manager for digital fundraising for Special Offerings and the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, who spearheaded the online event Nov. 30 that included stops in four cities and featured a multi-agency and cross-denominational team. #GivingTuesday netted nearly $140,000, which “sets a high bar for future giving,” Mitchell said.

The incoming chair-elect

The board unanimously approved the Rev. Michelle Hwang to be the board’s chair-elect beginning with the adjournment of this summer’s General Assembly. Hwang will serve a two-year term while the current chair-elect, the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, serves as board chair. At the conclusion of the 226th General Assembly in 2024, Hwang will become the board chair.

The Rev. Michelle Hwang (Contributed photo)

“The challenge for all leaders in moving a large body toward change is to both disrupt the system while paradoxically calming anxiety and reminding us of the exciting possibilities of the future and pointing toward the current manifestation of God’s world,” Hwang wrote in response to questions posed by the board’s Personnel and Nominating Committee. “This will be more and more difficult the further we move into the change process and anxious voices rise to the forefront. I will seek to encourage us not to get discouraged with the obstacles but to see possibility and opportunity. I will take the long view with an eye toward the call given to us to bring about justice.”

Report of the president/executive director

Moffett updated the board on progress with the Matthew 25 invitation, launched in April 2019. To date, 942 congregations, 10 synods, 74 presbyteries and 51 other groups — including a seminary and Presbyterian Women — have said yes to the invitation.

“We’re still working to embed this vision throughout the denomination,” Moffett said. “It’s a common lens to talk about ministry.”

Nearly 1,000 people signed up for four online Matthew 25 events during 2021. In 2022, the focus is on Being Matthew 25, a livestream that will next occur at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Feb. 17 and will look at Matthew 25 through a mid-council lens. The guests of the Rev. Dee Decker, the show’s host and the social media strategist for the PMA, will be Vance-Ocampo, general presbyter of the Presbytery of Southern New England, and the Rev. Dr. Flo Barbee-Watkins, the transitional general presbyter for the Presbytery of Detroit.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett

“It’s part of our stronger focus on digital communications,” Moffett said.

Moffett offered statistical updates on New Worshiping Communities, the 8 Habits of Evangelism, grant awards, and the relaunch of the denomination’s website, pcusa.org.

She also touched briefly on plans for 2022. “We’re stepping up and stepping out to the call to change the world,” Moffett said.

The board reconvenes at noon Eastern Time Thursday and again at noon Eastern Time on Friday. Watch either meeting here.

 


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