The board dismisses following questions of ‘Who is missing?’ and ‘Who is not being seen?’
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Jeromey Howard, who serves First Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, New York, started the third and final day of Presbyterian Mission Agency Board meetings Friday with a brief devotion taken from Micah 6:8.
“As we take on the work of the PMA and are part of God’s work in the world and what we might look like in the future, I hope we are asking this question: What does God require of us?” Howard told colleagues on the board and PMA staff gathered at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. While “good Christians” may conclude they don’t want the church to get too involved in debates including reducing gun violence through legislation, “what does it mean to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God?” Howard asked.
“I have to do something beyond my words. I have to do justice to make sure God’s love is heard and felt by those who need to hear it the most,” Howard said. “I am afraid to lose this Matthew 25 focus,” Howard said. “I don’t care what we look like coming out of this [unification process] as long as we’re doing the right thing … If we don’t do some of the policy we write, it’s worthless.”
Howard closed the board’s opening devotion with a viewing of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s recording of “Ella’s Song,” which relies on the words of the civil rights activist Ella Baker.
Board members voted unanimously to approve the reports of its four teams — Administrative, Matthew 25, Vision Implementation, and Coordinating. Those reports can be found here. Click on “Meeting Papers,” “2023,” and “April.”
The Administrative Team’s proposed action was to approve revised General Assembly mission budgets of about $73.9 million for 2023 and about $73.1 million for 2024.
Matthew 25 Team recommendations were to approve Mission Responsibility Through Investment 2022 Shareholder Resolutions Directory with Proxy Voting and to approve Section 3 of the MRTI Committee’s Procedures manual.
The Vision Implementation Team had no recommended actions for the board. The team met with Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, the PMA’s Deputy Executive Director for Vision, Innovation and Rebuilding, about the planned July 1 launch of the Center for Innovation, which team leader the Rev. Diane Curtis called “a key part” of the PMA’s 2023-24 Mission Work Plan. The team gave Schlosser-Hall input on how the Center’s work can be communicated to mid councils and congregations.
“Being ambassadors of Matthew 25, we have to be intentional about how we make connections at the local level, the boots on the ground,” Curtis said. “As a team, we look forward to watching the Center for Innovation bloom in the coming months.”
The Rev. Michelle Hwang, the board’s co-chair, presented two items from the Coordinating Team for board consideration. One, which would have moved the dates for the February 2024 board meeting, was withdrawn when board members discovered that would involve meeting in person on Ash Wednesday. Board members approved the second proposal, the election of the Rev. John M. Nelsen to the Presbyterian Foundation Board of Trustees.
Militarism, climate change discussion continues
On Thursday, board members had educational opportunities on militarism and climate change. Together with staff members on Friday, the board held conversations on first militarism and then climate change, both of which are intersectional priorities in the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation.
“I so want this information to be shared,” said the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly (2022). “I’m grateful we are [having this discussion] so we can better advocate, but I’m thinking, so now what? We need to get it in people’s hands” for use as sermon illustrations and in adult education classes.
“It’s important not only to theorize about militarism, but to share stories about it,” said the Rev. Jermaine Ross-Allam, director of the Center for the Repair of Historic Harms. “It’s easy to forget we have to compose a picture that people can see and say, ‘I really want to move in that direction.’”
“If we talk about systems, the stories will be told,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director. “We have to describe it in a way that demonstrates how this is damaging people. We have to talk about systems. We swim in them, and we can’t help but be impacted by them.” BIPOC people are among the most damaged by the systems we swim in, she said.
Turning to the climate crisis, the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the board’s co-chair, said an important conversation is “fitting solutions into our capitalistic system. We need to think about de-growth and de-capitalization. That,” she predicted, “will put nearly every Presbyterian over the edge.”
‘We can do all the land acknowledgements we want. The real work is to acknowledge the people on the land.’ — Madison McKinney
“What I’m very aware of is the pulpit-to-pew gap,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Meador. “The national denomination-to-pew gap is a chasm I’m not sure I can cross myself. My folks were taught by Presbyterian pastors that capitalism and military service were the Christian way to live. If our goal is to be educating congregations, we have to be educating and equipping pastors. Some of us aren’t in safe spaces to talk about this, or to talk about systems.”
“How do we ask people to undo what Presbyterian clergy have said comes from God?” said Ross-Allam, a social ethicist. “If we’re going to dismantle capitalism, we have to reimagine another system … Our social justice rhetoric has to be not offensive so people will come to the table and do the work.” At any rate, it would take at least a century to dismantle capitalism, Ross-Allam predicted.
“To be honest,” said board member Madison McKinney, “I’m disappointed the board has not identified Indigenous people and the wisdom they carry … When we talk about climate change, we can’t fix the problems, but we need to be part of the conversation … We can do all the land acknowledgements we want. The real work is to acknowledge the people on the land.”
It’s a wrap
David Dobson, president and publisher of Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, delivered greetings on behalf of about 30 PPC employees. PPC has at least four audiences, he told the board: an academic audience, a professional audience, general readers and congregations.
Despite putting in 39 years as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, Rosario still thinks “about people who look and talk like me, and I ask, ‘When did you see me?’ I don’t want to get emotional,” she said, then shared her story of applying for a pastoral position after having done two years of field work nearby. “You are the best candidate,” the chair of the pastor nominating committee told her, “but we can’t offer it to you because you have an accent.”
“When did you see me?” she asked. “That PNC didn’t see me.”
On Thursday while watching a six-minute denominational promotional film clip that will be used as part of the television program “Viewpoint” with the actor Dennis Quaid, Rosario said she had this thought: “A Hispanic person watching that video — and it’s a good video — wouldn’t see a sign of Hispanic people.”
“If we want to be a new thing, we need to see people where they are,” Rosario said. “What would be the answer to the Lord’s question? Whatever you did not do, or will it be whatever you did for my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”
Rosario led the board in a rousing version of “Somos el cuerpo de Cristo,” or “We are the Body of Christ.”
“Thank you,” she said, “for hearing the message of my heart this morning.”
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