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Aligning the Presbyterian Mission Agency to carry out the work of Matthew 25

PMA Board is taking a long look at the agency’s vision process

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board spent most its six-hour meeting Friday discussing how the Matthew 25 vision will inform the work of the Mission Agency in the coming years. The PMA has begun a Vision Implementation Process to align its work with the three foci of the Matthew 25 invitation: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

The Rev. Dr. Allen Hilton, one of the consultants hired to help the agency develop its vision plan and the founder of House United: Coming Together for the Common Good, was present with the board Friday.

The Rev. Ken Godshall

Board Member the Rev. Ken Godshall identified some issues he’s been hearing: If Matthew 25 is so important, how will it show up in church life? How will it be helpful to churches and mid councils? Will PMA programs be abandoned?

“It is not a ministry or budget item. It is what the Presbyterian Church will be remembered for,” Godshall said. “Matthew 25 is the opportunity for our church to do something significant … The hard work of Matthew 25, the controversial parts of Matthew 25 — if we do them well, we can make a difference.”

“To me,” Godshall said, “the highlight of the implementation process so far is it gives us a way to energize the church and participate more faithfully in the life of the nation.”

“If we weren’t paying attention before, we are now,” said the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the board’s chair-elect. “If we don’t seize on this moment, we will probably be the group that presides over the death of the church.”

“Turning around and realigning will mean saying goodbye to some things, to some folks we have journeyed with,” she added. “Some folks will say goodbye to us.”

“We want to unapologetically be who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director. But “the church cannot solve these problems just by ourselves.” The visioning process “will take us to spaces with people who aren’t exactly like we are, but we need to keep our eyes on the prize and keep moving on.”

As the Baltimore faith community set to work during the protests following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, “we had to go seek people out,” said James Parks, a board member and ruling elder. “They did not come looking for us … Community organizing happens because we go after people who have those same values and work with them to actually do something.”

Presbyterians “are good at reflecting and doing due diligence,” Parks said. But “these other organizations are already in the trenches. We need to actively seek out their help and not wait for them to come to us.”

The Rev. Gregory Bentley is co-moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020).  (Photo by Randy Hobson)

“If we are going to be in solidarity with Jesus of Nazareth,” said the Rev. Gregory Bentley, co-moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020), “we have to be in solidarity with the people he is in solidarity with. I think that has to be the major focus of moving forward — coming alongside people who are already doing the work.”

The challenge, said the Rev. Beverly Brewster, a PMA board member, is “how do we move the message and ministry to the membership of the church across the country … You can’t lead people where they don’t want to go.”

“How this goes from board and staff to the people in the pews is a ballgame issue,” Hilton replied.

As depicted in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, “the seeds will scatter on different ground, but we are already seeing there is receptivity,” Moffett said. As a Black woman serving as a pastor in local parishes for 33 years before being elected to her current position in 2018, “my congregations expected me to speak to the issues of the day. We did not skirt around that — we went right into the teeth of it. We have to constantly say we are lifting up [the Matthew 25 invitation] because it’s relevant and it’s the Word of God. You don’t need a degree to say you are supposed to welcome the stranger.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

“It’s plain and simple, and now we are living into it,” Moffett said. “People say it’s political, but it’s gospel. How are we going to transform the world without getting involved in the Capitol chambers and saying this is the work God is calling us to do? … We love our prophets dead. This is the gospel word — it’s not something that Diane or the PMA made up. Either we deal with that or we don’t.”

“Our relations are key,” she added. “This is about our relationship with God and with one another.”

The board spent the second half of Friday’s meeting answering these questions:

  • What does being a Matthew 25 church look like? How is this being reflected at the local level?
  • What must the Mission Agency do to live into the Matthew 25 vision?
  • When the Mission Agency is operating in that way, what excites you about working with the Mission Agency?

 

the Rev. Kevin Johnson

“The ‘least’ have to belong to the leadership council,” said the Rev. Kevin Johnson, a board member. “They can’t simply be served by the church. They have to have a presence at the table of decision-making.”

“If we label people, we have almost decided in our minds that we know better than you do,” said Kathy Maurer, a board member. “What if we sought to build community so that we can learn from people instead of being the rescuer?”

“I think a Matthew 25 church looks a lot more equitable than churches do now,” said Dr. Patsy Smith, a board member. “We have discussed it. We need to practice equity across the denomination, the wealthiest sharing with the poorest — not like they’re a project, but everyone has something to give.”

During the closing devotion, Board Member Bong Bringas said, “Like the Ninevite, I repent and I will trust in God. Not in the economies of rulers, but to turn our attention to the kingdom of God, which is near at hand.”

“Christ’s invitation is for us — all of us,” Bringas said. “What we do here today and after this matters. May grace and peace be with us all as we jump in gratefully and joyfully to do this kingdom work.”


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