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Good, honest medicine

Presbyterian Mission Agency Board prepares for Thursday’s historic vote on recommendations that could reshape ministry for a generation

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board set the table Wednesday in order to decide Thursday whether to approve a consultant’s report that envisions new ways for the mission agency to do its ministry in the coming years.

The recommendations offered by CounterStories Consulting, LLC, available here, include proposed identity, vision and mission statements for the mission agency. The PMA Board is scheduled to vote on those statements during Thursday’s final session of its fall meeting. Then, during its February 2022 meetings, the board will determine how the recommendations will inform the agency’s Mission Work Plan, which is approved every two years by the General Assembly.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the PMA, said she believes the report is “Spirit-led and Spirit-infused.”

“We have to really rethink how we do this work,” she told the board. “I’m excited about it and I hope others will be too.”

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the board’s chair-elect, noted that the Co-Moderators of the 224th General Assembly (2020), the Rev. Gregory Bentley and Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart, have been offering a monthly podcast called “Good Medicine,” during which they share “what different types of decolonized good medicine can look like for the PC(USA),” Vance-Ocampo said. “The Vision Implementation Report, I believe, is good medicine. It is also honest medicine.”

Change “requires we name some of the things we no longer want to be,” Vance-Ocampo said, because white supremacist culture “underpins everything we do.”

“I don’t think we should be afraid,” she said. “We are Reformed and always reforming. It’s the heart of who we are as people of Jesus Christ.”

The report “calls us to pick up new tools and new ways of discipleship, to find partners in new ways and to embrace resurrection,” Vance-Ocampo said. She encouraged fellow board members to “be brave and see this as a process, not something that was one and done.”

“It was a brave and bold move on Diane’s part,” Vance-Ocampo said. “It will take time to build some new pathways. It will be a time of continued prayer and feedback.”

The Rev. Dr. David Hooker

The Rev. Dr. David Hooker, the principal at CounterStories Consulting, told the board that discussions with the Leadership Innovation Team helped the firm to form its recommendations. The team “leaned in and made the process delightful for me.”

“You will be present in ways that can have a ripple effect across the world,” Hooker told the board. “We will be cheering for you.”

Board members and others present for the online meeting asked a few questions Wednesday. The Rev. Kate Murphy, a board member, asked what the interaction between local churches and the PMA will look like. “How is the PMA equipping and inspiring so that local churches become 8,000 mission outposts?” Murphy asked.

“It will be very much relevant for local pastors,” Moffett said. One proposal has PMA staff who are invited come into a region to work with mid councils or groups of congregations to further one or more foci of the Mathew 25 vision as part of what’s being called locally situated action teams. “It’s a concierge way of doing mission,” Moffett said. One current example is Vital Congregations, which works with presbyteries and other groups of churches through processes designed to strengthen congregations. “Instead of a retreat,” Moffett said, “what would happen if the team was there to walk alongside churches for a period of time to accomplish a particular thing? We are trying to strengthen the work and witness of the church.”

“I love this bold vision of decentralization, of PMA moving closer to those who are hurting and where the church needs to be,” said the Rev. Frank Clark Spencer, President of the Board of Pensions. “I love the report. But as a PC(USA) member, how does that fit in our very hierarchical two-tiered mid council structure? Are there barriers there and do we need to talk about that as a community?”

By way of response, Hooker used a nautical metaphor of a kedge, a way to move a large sailboat along when there’s no breeze available. “We are imagining the PMA in this moment as being kedge-like for the larger church,” Hooker said.

How might a restructured PMA impact the PC(USA)’s other agencies, asked board member the Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett

Moffett said she’s been meeting with other agency heads monthly since the pandemic began 19 months ago. “It’ll be important to engage when we see things that need to be confirmed and clarified,” Moffett said. “I think we’ve laid the foundation. We have endeavored to be in relationship with one another … It makes it a lot easier when you have relationships with your colleagues. As we reform and change, we don’t do it in isolation … If we are faithful to the mandate we have to bear witness to Christ and strengthen that witness in acts of justice and kindness, we’ll get there.”

Systemic change is hard work, said the Rev. Warren Lesane, Jr., who chairs the PMA Board.

“We have built protections around everything we love,” Lesane said. “We won’t allow Jesus to change it or the Holy Spirit to move it, and we won’t allow God herself to come and break things up.”

Implicit and unconscious bias

Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee, an educator and diversity consultant with Seattle Girls’ School, spent almost two hours helping board members understand implicit and unconscious bias. Lee will have two more hours with the board on Thursday.

Rosetta Lee

Lee presented a list of 20 cognitive biases, a list that has a few well-known biases such as the bandwagon effect, confirmation bias, stereotyping, the ostrich effect and the placebo effect. The list also contains less well-known biases, including outcome bias, defined as judging a decision based on its outcome rather than how the decision was made. “Just because you won a lot in Las Vegas,” Lee said, “doesn’t mean gambling your money was a smart decision.”

Implicit bias shows up in many forms, she said, including:

  • Asians in leadership. In the tech industry, entry-level jobs are hyper represented by Asians, Lee said, but not so much in leadership. One stereotype sees Asians as rule-followers and not mavericks or risk-takers, which for many decision-makers are admirable leadership qualities.
  • Women in leadership. For male leaders, there’s often a correlation between likeability and effectiveness. With many women, as they’re rated highly effective, their likeability goes down. Men leaving the worksite for a few hours are presumed to be in a meeting; women who do the same thing might be thought to be picking up their children or meeting with their children’s teacher.
  • Weight and laziness. In one study, hiring managers were shown resumes and work evaluations and told the candidates were sitting right outside the room, visible through a large window. As they’re pointed out individually to the managers, the largest people are seen as less productive and lazier.

What can be done?

We can replace our stereotypes, Lee said. Taller men are perceived to have more leadership qualities, as are fit people and those with more hair on their head. “It makes no sense,” Lee said, “but it’s real.”

We can improve our decision making. One executive used to sketch out a map of employees around a table in order to take good notes on who was making what contributions to the discussion. Women working in the Obama White House used to amplify the contributions of women by repeating what they’d just said, then adding to it.

Warren Lesane

The Rev. Warren Lesane, Jr.

We can also count and systematize. Lee said she asks educator colleagues to notice who she calls on in class and who she corrects more harshly than others. “I’ve discovered embarrassing patterns, but I needed to know them,” Lee said. “I was having few interactions with what I call ‘vanilla kids,’ who are doing fine and turning in their homework. Those kids need to know I am in their corner too.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Lee told the board as she concluded, “so we can have some uncomfortable discussions.”

Lesane had this rejoinder: “This board,” he said, “is comfortable having uncomfortable discussions.”


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