World Mission process strives to create ‘equal partnership in God’s mission’
by Jerry Van Marter | Special to Presbyterian News Service
ZEPHYR POINT, Nevada — Nearly 40 Presbyterians are gathered here May 10-12 to provide input into Presbyterian World Mission’s strategic planning process. “Together we want to take a new look at the future, what it is and what we need to do in this new world,” said World Mission Director Jose Luis Casal. “The biblical word that there ‘is a new heaven and a new Earth’ is always God’s work.”
This the third national consultation World Mission has conducted in recent months. Four international consultations were held earlier. Along with staff gatherings and other conversations, Casal said more than 600 Presbyterians and ecumenical partners will have provided input into the process, generating more than 200 pages of comments, ideas and suggestions. That material will eventually be compiled into a comprehensive updated strategy for World Mission’s work going forward. “Help us to hear the voice of God speaking to this time and place,” Casal implored.
World Mission Associate Director Philip Woods explained that the process began with internal “key learning and visioning.” From there the international consultations engaged global partners. World Mission is now engaging domestic partners, including synod and presbytery leaders, mission network representatives and church members and other stakeholders from around the country. A final consultation will be held in June in Louisville among representatives of the six agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
All the consultations have followed the same format, addressing five questions which filled just about all participants’ time:
- How effective have we been as partners sharing together in God’s mission?
- Where is God calling us to put our energy today?
- What does it mean to be partners in God’s mission today?
- What might this look like in practice?
- What resources are needed and what can we contribute?
Woods said that several overlapping issues have emerged in the previous consultations: income inequality, the impact of globalization, poverty, global warming and climate change and “isms” (structural racism and white supremacy movements, sexism, ageism, for example, and growing secularism and sectarianism). And, of course, Woods added, “everyone needs money!”
The key theme of all the consultations, Woods said, is mutuality — how the PC(USA) can be equal partners in God’s mission in the world.
Early in the consultation guest speaker Jerry Van Marter, former director of the Presbyterian News Service (PNS) and currently stated clerk of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, shared some of his insights into world mission gleaned from his 26 years with PNS. He described the “Cuban GPS,” by which remote churches on the island can be found only by asking a succession of strangers along the road for the best directions they can offer until the destination is found. The lesson to be learned, Van Marter said, “is that we need to admit sometimes that we just don’t know where we’re going until we get there. Strategic planning is necessary, but it won’t always take us where we need to go.”
Noting that more than two-thirds of Presbyterian churches have fewer than 100 members, Van Marter said that the PC(USA)’s whole concept of world mission — congregations sending large groups on mission trips, large congregations with “mission pastors,” and resources geared to medium- and large-sized churches — “is not reality-based. How do we adapt our organization and resource-development for World Mission so it enables churches of 10, 20, 30 members to be able to participate?”
Van Marter also talked about a puppet ministry at Haines Presbyterian Church in Alaska that had lain dormant for many years until a Young Adult Volunteer with experience in puppet ministry was assigned to the congregation. For that YAV year, the puppet ministry at Haines sprang back to life, only to go dormant again shortly after the YAV returned to “the lower 48.” Van Marter said the story illustrates “that churches need to take new things on and let old things go as circumstances and human resources dictate.”
Valdir França, coordinator for World Mission’s Latin America and Caribbean Office, led Bible study based on Matthew 25:31-46 — the passage on which the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s new Matthew 25 invitation is based. The initiative seeks to engage PC(USA) congregations, presbyteries and synods in concrete ministry in their own particular situations.
França pointed out that the context for the writing of Matthew 25 closely parallels the church’s context today: cultural and religious identity in the face of a rapidly changing world. “Who are we? and What should we be doing? were a dilemma for the early embattled Christian community just as it is for us today,” he said. Matthew, França said, “was trying to help the early Christian community identify itself as a missionary movement, to develop a missionary ethos as its identity.”
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