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Making the PC(USA)’s national mission relevant to people in the pews

Thought-provoking questions help Coordinating Table toward its goal of creating a unified budget

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Coordinating Table, which has been meeting monthly with the goal of creating a unified budget for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, Office of the General Assembly and Administrative Services Group, took a question-and-answer approach help it reach the goal in time for next year’s General Assembly.

Toward the conclusion of Thursday’s two-hour meeting, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), clarified the Coordinating Table’s work and challenges by recalling what he heard from Presbyterians pre-pandemic, when he was traveling extensively.

“There were people in the pews who had no significant understanding of what the hierarchy of the church looked like, and in many instances didn’t care,” Nelson said. “They were either glad to see you come or glad to see you go.”

For that matter, many of the church’s publications are going largely unread — or at best just scanned, Nelson said.

“It’s not to say people aren’t committed to the gospel. They are,” Nelson said. “But their commitment is more local than national.”

the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II is Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“We have been trying to save our own entities and solve the problems going on in our own shops,” he said of some of those in the national office in Louisville, Kentucky. “We’ve been in this place for a long time, where it’s every man or woman for ourselves. I’m not sure that’s changed a whole lot, and because of that, I have probably been complicit too.”

“Our ongoing work will require us finding a way to share resources” rather than “holding on and hording what we have … There is a scarcity fear around is there enough for me, for us?”

“My thinking has not changed,” Nelson said. “If we don’t do it together, it’s not going to get done.”

There are many biblical accounts “that remind us of that call and what it should look like,” Nelson said, stories that include the biblical imperative for sharing one another’s burdens.

“I am convinced the Lord is waiting for us to take that first step,” Nelson said. “This is a spiritual problem as much as it is a problem of money … We are in a more vulnerable place than we have been in previous years. We need to find reasons to sit at this [Coordinating] Table, and they need to be forward-looking, not looking back.”

The Coordinating Table, which was convened last year by the then Moving Forward Implementation Commission, which is now a special committee, was also asked on Thursday to define mission, determine whether the OGA does mission and decide if a new definition of mission might make more funding available to the OGA.

Ministry, said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, is “the service I do. Mission is service to a goal or a purpose. They go together like beans and rice, but I think there’s a distinction.”

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

“The purpose is to be sent out into the world to bring the kin-dom to the surface and make it a reality,” Moffett said. The work is far from easy: “We are going to take a whupping because Jesus took a whupping, and we are not greater than he.”

“Mission for me is the mission of God,” said the Rev. Stephanie Anthony, moderator of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. “It’s where God is active building God’s kin-dom in the world, work we are joining and being a part of.”

It also involves “some equipping of the saints” and “building up the disciples to do the work of ministry,” Anthony said.

The first question with which the Coordinating Table grappled was equally meaty: Are there traditional or customary ways of doing things that keep us from seeing possibilities? Have we built cultures of behaviors that no longer serve us well and are there things that are in our power to change but we have been unwilling or unable to do so?

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo is vice chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

There’s a culture shift in progress on the PMA Board, according to its vice moderator, the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo. “We are trying to do special work with committee chairs to live into their roles in a new way,” she said. “Not everything that was needs to be in the future.”

The Rev. Bill Teng, co-chair of the A Corp Board, said that while the corporation is more than two centuries old, “this new incarnation is 2½ years old. We’re still exploring, still finding ways to support the mission of the church. We are in a good place in that we are asking a lot of questions about how we came to be where we are now.”

“There is an underlying fear that change equals loss, or the diminishment of power and voice,” said the Rev. Eliana Maxim, a member of COGA. “In some ways there’s a culture of scarcity. For such an affluent denomination, it is a strange cloak to adopt.”

Moffett said the PMA is seeking a transition in its culture. “We are working at being more collaborative,” working at tables with people who are also impacted by whatever project or challenge is at hand. “There is accountability,” she said. “People who have insight can have input into processes. It’s not a top-down, hierarchical piece we are moving into. I wouldn’t say we’ve gotten there, but that’s what we’re working on.”

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