‘This is a time for experimentation in Christian ministry, not desperation’
by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — After more than 14 years as coordinator of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Dr. Christian Iosso this week announced his decision to serve the Church in a new capacity.
In a letter (see below) to friends and colleagues in the Church, he noted the impact of the COVID-19 virus on his sense of being called to a new phase in his ministry of almost 39 years.
“There is certainly a leap of faith aspect to my decision,” said Iosso. “I see before me possibilities of helping grow new forms of community and connectionalism.”
Because the ACSWP has two more years to work on several projects prior to the 2022 General Assembly and has a strong set of continuing and new members nominated to serve, Iosso sees it as a logical transition time for the committee.
“Chris has had great influence on the Church’s thinking, both in the way he has guided the committee and as a dedicated and energetic colleague,” said Sara Lisherness, director of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministry, where the ACSWP is located. “He has recruited expert and experienced Presbyterians to share their knowledge of particular justice matters, and his own hand is visible in the compelling moral and theological language that the Assembly has consistently affirmed to guide our public witness.”
Lisherness pointed to Iosso’s work on the ecumenical Social Creed for the 21st Century, which included co-editing a book of prayers for a “new social awakening,” and his 2017 book “Five Risks Presbyterians Must Take for Peace.” She also noted the joint work he had initiated with World Mission, under the heading “Reimagining the World House,” and work he had done with pastors on “Epistles from Baltimore” to help commissioners appreciate ministry in that city.
The Rev. William Somplatsky-Jarman, Iosso’s successor as primary staff to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee in the 1980s and a longtime colleague, noted Iosso’s commitment to labor and human rights going back to his role as a seminary advisory delegate to the General Assembly.
“When Chris left the NYC staff to get his PhD — and be house husband when his children were young — he left an impressive record of shareholder proposals and had co-authored solid policies on military and South Africa-related investment and divestment, on the Church and transnational corporations, and on justice and the economy,” said Somplatsky-Jarman. “His work still helps guide our faith-based investing.”
The Rev. Patrick Heery, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Auburn, New York, served as the first editor of “Unbound,” the online journal of Christian social justice, and then went on to edit “Presbyterians Today” for several years. “Chris had a vision of a new kind of vehicle for the Church’s social witness that would reach younger generations,” said Heery. “He gave me a lot of freedom and encouragement and a clear sense that serving the Church was the same mission, whether in the parish that he had loved, or the national staff.”
In his letter, Iosso noted that he had sought to be faithful to the Reformed tradition of social teaching. One part of this was assembling a database of more than 350 policy statements and resolutions on the major areas of Christian ethical reflection to guide the Church in the future. He also compared his service to running half-marathons in Louisville, where the last 3 miles is the same stretch of downtown streets. Now, he suggests, it is time for new terrain.
June 1, 2020
Dear Friends, Colleagues, and other “Pilgrims on this earth,”
I have served the Presbyterian Church as a pastor, project director, General Assembly agency staff member, and ethicist for almost 39 years. If I am going to serve the church of Jesus Christ in another formal capacity, now is the time. I especially want to take the “big picture” I have gained of the church and of social change to another part of the church’s life, whether to a mid-council or back to the parish. Even though much of the coronavirus’ impact is tragic, this is a time for experimentation in Christian ministry, not desperation. This is a time for major social reconstruction and for the church to grow new forms of community and connectionalism. I would like to be part of the work of the Spirit in a new place and am already responding to certain possibilities.
For more than 14 years I have served as Coordinator of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy — ACSWP — very rewarding work, dedicated and wonderful committee members, fine colleagues, serious and stimulating matters to address. The work has been constant and creative, even when federal deliberation about policy has been damaged by polarization and the flood of money in politics, often swamping the voices of the churches and other non-profits. There is also a Reformed Christian tradition of social teaching that I have tried to serve faithfully. One part of this can be seen in the database of more than 350 digitalized policy statements and resolutions that I have assembled. This resource shows how the church has thought about its prophetic responsibility over time, recognizing that all of us have a prophetic dimension to our faith.
The referral of most of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s work to the 2022 General Assembly due to the virus has added to my thinking about change. While I am glad that work on projects can and will continue, that shift in witness pattern also makes this a logical transition time for the Committee. In addition to strong continuing members, we have an excellent slate of nominees from the General Assembly Nominating Committee. We have wise support in Sara Lisherness, Director of Compassion, Peace, and Justice Ministries, where ACSWP has been located since 2010. We have a very able staff in Lacey Gilliam, Gina Espiritusanto, and Lee Catoe. Lee is the managing editor of the online journal, Unbound, www.justiceUnbound.org, and Associate for Young Adult Social Witness.
I will miss regular contact with great colleagues and friends. It has been a great gift to work alongside staff in the Presbyterian Center, across the church, and within the ecumenical community. ACSWP has also benefited greatly from the Social Ethics Network of theological educators committed to Presbyterian social witness, and I have gained much from those thoughtful college, university, and seminary professors. I am grateful to be able to fill out my term as co-chair of the National Council of Churches’ Justice and Peace table (through mid-2021), and am willing to assist, as appropriate, the transition of the committee to new leadership.
In the half-marathons that I have run in Louisville, the last 3 miles are usually the same fairly flat stretch of downtown. This letter is another way of saying, I want to run a few more, but on a different track.
Christian T. Iosso
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Categories: Advocacy & Social Justice, Peace & Justice
Tags: advisory committee on social witness policy, compassion peace & justice, lee catoe, rev. bill somplatsky-jarman, rev. dr. chris iosso, rev. patrick heery, sara lisherness
Ministries: Compassion, Peace and Justice, Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP)