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For the first time in nearly three years, Presbyterian Mission Agency Board members are privileged to meet in person

Stony Point Center serves as a peaceful setting to help the board through its three-day agenda

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Meditation Space is one of the most recognized sights on the Stony Point Center property. (Photo by Rich Copley)

STONY POINT, New York — The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board spent the first day of its three-day meeting Wednesday on orientation, worship and a tour of the beautiful and peaceful grounds of Stony Point Center in the Hudson River Valley.

“Missionally, there’s a lot of great Matthew 25 alignment going on, both in the PMA and the groups coming here,” said Stony Point Director Brian Frick.

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, who co-chairs the board together with the Rev. Michelle Hwang, said the current meeting will be “setting the table” after board members got to know one another during a retreat last month at Silver Bay YMCA Conference and Family Retreat Center along Lake George in upstate New York.

“This board has not met in person since February 2020,” Vance-Ocampo noted. “We want to keep building relationships so we can do what we’re called to do in the life of the church.”

The question becomes “How do we help our people lean into the power of God available to all of us to share the good news?” Hwang said.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. (Photo by Rich Copley)

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director, called it “a blessing to be at Stony Point, a place with a rich history of gathering Presbyterians and international partners, a place rich with possibility for the future.”

The PMA’s theme for 2022 is “evolve.” Moffett said it’s her prayer that “we will all be patient with each other as we grow and try new things, to gently push ourselves so we may evolve into the agency God calls us to be.”

Moffett told the board that “Being Matthew 25” livestreams offered beginning in January have attracted 81,000 viewers and 8,000 engagements. Beginning in January 2023, each edition will be followed by a podcast. In addition, a new Matthew 25 app has been developed for the iPhone.

“I think Matthew 25 is on my forehead. I love to tell the story. It’s so translatable,” Moffett said. “You don’t have to exegete it to understand what God is calling us to do.”

Matthew 25 tables have been established within the PMA in part to centralize grant-making to “make sure resources are on point” and that PMA “is scratching where people are itching,” Moffett said.

Beginning next year, the PMA will partner with Public Television’s Viewpoint with Dennis Quaid to record a one-minute educational segment that will be shown on several commercial networks during primetime. Moffett called the agreement “a new and exciting way to inspire engagement and invite people to change the world for the better.”

Board member the Rev. Dr. SanDawna Ashley led worship, focusing on the Lectionary passage from Sept. 25, Jer. 32:1-3a and 6-15, where the prophet Jeremiah purchases a field at Anathoth despite Jerusalem being under siege by the Babylonians.

The Rev. Dr. SanDawna Ashley

“I can’t imagine what must have been going through Jeremiah’s mind. I can’t imagine what’s going through your mind as we plan for the possible,” said Ashely, the transitional leader at the Synod of the Northeast. “I wonder if you had an earthenware jar in front of you, what might you put in it?”

Ashley recalled that during a previous time at Stony Point, a potter fashioned a beautiful vase while reciting from Jer. 18. Suddenly she smashed it, and everyone gasped.

“Oh my gosh! It’s broken,” people said, according to Ashley. Lickety-split, “this artful potter just zipped it right back into a new form, more beautiful than before. We saw it created. Thanks be to God.”

The Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly, told the board what “a blessing it is to continue to do what God is calling us to do, to be free to be the church God is calling us to be.”

The Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis is Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly. (Contributed photo)

Starling-Louis asked the board to keep her and fellow Co-Moderator the Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace in their prayers as they seek to fill boards and commissions following this summer’s General Assembly. Learn more or apply here.

During an orientation session Wednesday, Moffett asked board members to remember in their prayers:

  • The Matthew 25 movement. “We want to go outside the church to make it a bigger piece,” Moffett said. “We want our footprint to matter.”
  • “Provision for the vision. Money is important, but what’s more important is God’s hand on the stuff we’re doing.”
  • Their fellow board members. “God is interested in how we treat each other,” Moffett said, adding PMA staff to the prayer request.
  • The transformation of culture within the PMA “so it’s Spirit-led” and is marked by values including love, justice, mutuality, humility and creativity. “We are a people in process,” Moffett said.
  • The PMA’s relationships with other agencies and entities. “People don’t care who’s offering the service. They just want the service,” Moffett said. “We have to begin to look at how we carry water for one another.”
  • “The health and witness of the PC(USA).”

The work of Matthew 25, including the more recent intersections dealing with heteropatriarchy, militarism and the climate crisis “is get in and be the church and do the gospel work,” Vance-Ocampo said. “We will have people upset with us.”

“What we are dealing with here [with the three added intersections] is evil, and we don’t talk enough about it,” said Vance-Ocampo, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Southern New England. “It is a force in the world and we must acknowledge it and deal with it.”

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo is general presbyter of the Presbytery of Southern New England and co-chair of the PMA Board. (Contributed photo)

“We don’t know everything God has in store for us,” Vance-Ocampo told her fellow board members, “but we know God has a purpose and that you bring something important to us.”

After dinner, Moffett and Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, the PMA’s deputy executive director for Vision, Innovation and Rebuilding, offered a briefing on the PMA’s 2023-24 Mission Work Plan and the work that was done last year as part of the PMA’s Vision Implementation Plan.

Part of the latter is the establishment of Locally Situated Action Teams, temporary configurations of people positioned on a team or related to a team for a specific purpose, such as training, offering guidance through a transition, or transferring knowledge or expertise, all at the request of local partners. Three LSATs are being developed, Schlosser-Hall said, in Taiwan, Southern California and Denver.

But it’s the Mission Work Plan that matters the most, Moffett said. The 2023-24 plan was “determined through prayer and discernment. It’s our strategy for going forward,” and it received overwhelming approval from both the PMA board and from General Assembly commissioners.

In other positive developments, more than 700 new worshiping communities have begun over the last 10 years, with more than 530 still active. More than 1 in 3 are communities of color.

By Advent of 2024, Moffett said she wants all 13 synods to have said yes to the Matthew 25 invitation along with at least 120 presbyteries (about 75%), and 4,000 congregations, which is about half.

“Matthew 25 is a bit audacious,” Moffett told the board, but as Paul once said, slightly paraphrased, “You’ve got to ask way beyond what you can imagine.”

“At the same time, [Matthew 25] is accessible,” Moffett said. “Any congregation or mid council can start wherever they are, and they’ll find themselves coming to the intersections.”

Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall

Schlosser-Hall said the finalists for the director of the Center for Repair of Historical Harms are “amazing.” He expects the director to be named in the next two weeks. Schlosser-Hall will himself lead, for a time, the other center that’s part of the VIP, the Office of Innovation. “I will hand it off at some time,” he said.

“We want to do a lot of self-examination and culture-building,” Moffett told the board. “We can do that with the grace of God and all of you working together with us. There is so much to be done. We know reunification [with the Office of the General Assembly] is coming, but we still have a mission to re-present Jesus to the world knowing we have the spirit of knowing we are loved by God.”

At the conclusion of their first evening together, board members met in executive (closed) session to discuss personnel and property issues. Upon emerging from the closed session, the board announced it will classify a Kentucky property donated under terms of a 1957 will as “property not needed for mission program use and subject to disposal.”

On Thursday, board members will spend much of their time together discussing Dr. William Yoo’s new book, “What Kind of Christianity: A History of Slavery and Anti-Black Racism in the Presbyterian Church,” published last month by Westminster John Knox Press. Yoo, an associate professor of American Religious and Cultural History and director of the MDiv program at Columbia Theological Seminary, is scheduled to join the board for the discussion.

Later Thursday afternoon, board members are scheduled to meet in their recently formed teams: Administrative, Matthew 25 and Vision Implementation.

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