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‘Hard work and dedication’ needed to ‘overcome the evils of racism’

Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, staff to hear from a consultant on implicit biases and microaggressions

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Michelle Hwang is convener of the Power & Privilege Task Force. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Looking ahead to the April 22-23 meeting of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, the board’s Coordinating Committee on Friday also looked back to last month’s deadly violence against members of the Asian American Pacific Islander community in and around Atlanta.

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the board’s chair-elect, read aloud a statement by four former moderators and vice moderators of the General Assembly, found here. Vance-Ocampo said she and the board’s chair, the Rev. Warren Lesane, Jr., “felt it was important to speak today about attacks on AAPI communities.”

During a 90-minute online meeting, the committee set the agenda for the upcoming board meeting and took other actions as well.

Power & Privilege Task Force

Power & Privilege Task Force Convener the Rev. Michelle Hwang asked the committee to approve hiring a consultant, Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee of the Seattle Girls’ School, to use part of the Oct. 6-8 board meeting for training to help board members and staff address implicit biases and microaggressions.

This training, which the committee approved, will come following last fall’s report by Marian R. Vasser, executive director for Diversity and Equity at the University of Louisville. Vassar reported to the board last fall after observing board meetings for a year.

“Ms. Vasser’s year-long observations of the board brought to the surface behaviors and biases among both board members and staff during our board meetings,” the Power & Privilege Task Force wrote to the Coordinating Committee, identifying some of what Vasser observed: “While folx of Asian descent are clearly not monolithic, perpetuating narratives of Asians being ‘model minorities’ is concerning. Within this community, it would be advantageous to explore how explicit or implicit efforts to present as anything other than a racialized community serves to reinforce white supremacy.”

“How do we uplift and foster a true appreciation and acknowledgement of the Asian community in these spaces?” Vasser asked, offering this suggestion: “Invite presenters who are experts in Asian studies with the goal of increasing awareness and cultural sensitivity around this community. PMAB should begin with those within this particular agency.”

The Power & Privilege Task Force made this recommendation: “If we, the PC(USA), are going to live into our Matthew 25 mission, the work has to begin in all spheres of our denomination. The board has the opportunity to provide testimony to the broader church about the hard work and dedication needed to overcome the evils of racism.”

“We cannot take lightly these observations and assume we will behave better,” the task force said. “We must provide a pathway toward self-awareness and the implications of these harmful behaviors.”

In addition to travel expenses, Lee charges $2,500 minimum for a full day and $1,300 for additional half-day increments. The board plans to hear from Lee twice for two hours each during its October meeting.

The Rev. Ken Godshall

“That’s an enormous amount of time,” said the Rev. Ken Godshall, a Coordinating Committee member, “but the issues we are dealing with are getting worse, not better.”

Hwang said she first encountered Lee at the White Privilege Conference. Hwang called Lee a knowledgeable speaker who brings humor and “insightful understanding” to the work. “She is a busy woman,” Hwang said, but has some time available during the board’s fall meeting.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the PMA, thanked Hwang and the task force for their work. “We’ve got to understand how sick racism is,” Moffett said. “This is a very important part of Matthew 25.”

PMA Board budget process

Just before the 224th General Assembly met online in June 2020, the former Moving Forward Implementation Commission (now a special committee) suspended Appendix A of the Organization for Mission, which means the 2023-24 budget will be constructed differently and in a unified fashion along with the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly; the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation Board; and the Coordinating Table, according to Barry Creech, director of Policy, Administration and Board Support.

“The process we are used to is not the process we will use this year,” Creech said. The PMAB will receive an update on how the new process is proceeding this fall, Creech said.

Vision Implementation Process

With help from consultants the Rev. Dr. David Hooker and the Rev. Dr. Allen R. Hilton, the mission agency is working on a three-part process — Reflecting, Re-Envisioning and Rebuilding — to help it live more faithfully into the Matthew 25 vision via the Vision Implementation Process.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

The process, motivated by the financial impact of the pandemic, is the PMA recognizing “the importance of adjusting its structure to live into the 21st century and be a Matthew 25 church,” Moffett told the committee.

The Re-Envisioning stage starts soon and will be led by a 35-member Leadership Innovation Team, which is being formed, Moffett said. That team is scheduled to meet for the first time May 6, the first of what Moffett called “an intensive 10-week process.” The LIT document will be presented to the PMA Board in the fall, Moffett said.

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