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Board approves plan for reimagining and rebuilding the Presbyterian Mission Agency

President/Executive Director and staff will flesh out recommended changes in time for the board’s February 2022 meeting

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service


LOUISVILLE — In its final action of 2021, the Presbyterian Mission Agency on Thursday passed what it called enabling motions that will result in some if not most of the ideas generated in a consultant’s report, “Reflecting, Reimagining and Making Space for Rebuilding,” being worked into the PMA’s Mission Work Plan that must be approved by the 225th General Assembly in 2022.

The recommendations by the consultant, CounterStories Consulting, LLC, can be read here.

The enabling motions passed by the board include:

  • Thanking CounterStories Consulting, LLC, and the Leadership Innovation Team for their contributions to the report.
  • Approving identity, vision and mission statements for the PMA as found in the report. The PMA is described as a “band of disciples” who are continuing a movement launched by Jesus Christ to welcome the realm of God on Earth. The PMA’s vision is to work toward a just, radically inclusive and relational world that’s free of violence and domination and where there are no more margins. Its mission to congregations, mid councils and other bodies is one of nurturing, inspiring, equipping and connecting “to do justice and to repair historic harms.” At the request of the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, the board added “sexism and heteropatriarchy” to a list of sins that the PMA will work to dismantle, in addition to systemic poverty and structural racism. The PMA mission also includes ending militarism and addressing the climate crisis.
  • Affirming 10 values identified in the report, a list that could well be whittled. Those values are authenticity, creativity and imagination, decoloniality/antiracism, diversity, humility, justice, love, mutuality, Spirit-alignment/being Spirit-led and Ubuntu, which includes having compassion and humanity.
  • Requesting that the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the PMA, lead the rebuilding phase of the Vision Implementation Process and bring recommendations to the board’s next meeting, in February 2022.

Warren Lesane

The Rev. Warren Lesane, Jr.

“I believe in my heart God assembled us at this time for a particular reason,” Board Chair the Rev. Warren Lesane, Jr. said after the vote. “I am grateful to be a child of God and grateful to be in a position to make a difference in this Church and in Christendom. I won’t forget you,” the outgoing chair said to his fellow board members. “The work is going to get harder as we move along. God bless you and keep you.”

“Change is really hard and transformation is even harder than that,” said the Rev. Dr. David Hooker, the principal at CounterStories Consulting, LLC. “It’s exciting to know there are people with the courage and the willingness to shake up the world … There is much more heavy lifting to do, but guided by the Holy Spirit and operating in community, it certainly can be done. Thank you for letting me be a part of it.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the board’s chair-elect, announced that following a closed-door meeting Wednesday, the board voted “unanimously and enthusiastically” to send Moffett’s name to the 225th General Assembly for re-election.

“We believe very strongly that Diane is the leader God intended us to have at this time,” Vance-Ocampo said. “We are forging a new path. That is what God wants God’s people to do, to continue to reform the church and bring the church forward.”

Stated Clerk’s report

“We are co-joined to help move this Church forward,” the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, told the board during his report. “Our office [the Office of the General Assembly] is committed to that as I’m sure you are.”

“There is no OGA or PMA,” he said. “We either sink together, live together or die trying.” Moffett is “leading us into a place where quite frankly we haven’t been before. It’s exciting for some, and for others it’s a place of uncertainty.”

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II

“Everyone in Christendom,” Nelson said, is “trying to figure out how to go forward in the 21st century.” How do we maintain our unity of spirit? “If we live together, we will profit together. If we don’t figure that out, we will die together or die alone,” he said. “Thank you for Matthew 25 and the work that’s emerging out of that. We are here to be partners in faith.”

Nelson briefly discussed a Bible study being developed for mid council leaders, many of whom have experienced “a lot of trauma” trying to hold things together for the past 19 months during the pandemic. “They’ve dealt with anger and frustration and with individuals who blame God and don’t have the courage to call it what it is and so they take it out on their executive presbyter and other leaders,” Nelson said. “Everybody expects you to be God in that moment.” The Bible study is an attempt to “get back to basics,” Nelson said, “getting back to our faith to lead us forward. It’s a way to go back to Jesus and spend a little time there.”

As for planning for the 225th General Assembly, “we have had to rethink ministry at this level” to devise “what it takes to pull off a General Assembly” with so many unknowns with the pandemic, even headed into next summer. Current plans are for committees to meet in person in Louisville with the plenary sessions that follow occurring online. The Presbyterian Center is undergoing a $2.4 million renovation in part to host the next Assembly and, potentially, subsequent gatherings.

The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly “has spent time and energy and effort to rethink and reinvent” what the next Assembly will be, he said. “Safety is the bottom line of where we are.”

As he has with other elected bodies in the PC(USA), Nelson discussed conversations he’s been having with Louisville leaders regarding the denomination’s role as a downtown anchor and as a present witness to gospel values including the worth and dignity of all people, especially following the racial reckoning that’s occurred in many communities, Louisville included. Those talks “have not been cantankerous. It’s been a real good conversation.” Nelson said further conversations could be “a powerful piece moving us forward.”

Nelson said it’s time to revisit some General Assembly-adopted mandates including Educate a Child, Transform the World, a response to the 221st General Assembly designed to “improve, equip and connect, and improve the quality of public education for one million children in the U.S. and globally.”

“Education has been a cornerstone of our denomination over the years,” Nelson said. “You can see in our pews it has been a value in our denomination. Educate a Child looks to return to that. … We are in a city where education is a difficult piece on many fronts, and it might be something to look at. It will help us become a better partner with the city.”

Nelson asked the board not to be afraid “of failing and getting back up and trying again. The naysayers will say a lot, but that’s how we walk forward by faith.”

Implicit and unconscious bias training: Day 2

Rosetta Lee

Completing the work she began Wednesday, Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee, an educator and diversity consultant with Seattle Girls’ School, led the board through two more hours of training on implicit and unconscious bias. Thursday’s training focused on microaggressions. Lee said holding people accountable for their microaggressions — indirect, subtle and often unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group — is “living up to your professed values.”

It’s as if board members and others tuned in to her online presentation are learning to ride a bike, Lee said. “If you want to be a good bike-rider, you are going to fall over several times,” Lee said. “The question is, are you going to get up and try again? On equity and inclusion, I hope you don’t give up on this bike ride.”

The Rev. Gregory Bentley is Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

At one point, the Rev. Gregory Bentley, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020), thanked Lee “for raising my consciousness. You are helping me be a better disciple.”

“I think we know,” Bentley said, “when someone is working at it and somebody is being malignant or malicious. ‘I didn’t mean it.’ ‘Oh yes you did!’ You know when somebody is fumbling. I think we need to trust ourselves and make space and grace for people to live into this new thing.”

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