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PC(USA) Moderator takes ‘Call to the Church’ on the road

Rada to hold conversations at five locations around the country

Heath Rada, Moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is extending his “Call to the Church” to locations around the country.

Rada hopes to continue dialog fostered by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) survey prepared following his October 2015 appeal to the PC(USA) to consider the shape and form of its future ministry. The COGA survey generated the largest response of any similar survey issued by a mainline denomination. The original target for responses was 1,800 to 1,900 completed surveys; 3,101 responses were received.

Date, location and contact information for Rada’s five stops are:

MARCH 4 – Location: Johnson C. Smith Seminary, Atlanta, Georgia
Time:  7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Contact:  Carlton Johnson, Administrator, jcts@smithseminary.org, 404-998-8373 (office), 770-367-6098 (mobile)
MARCH 7 – Location: Auburn Seminary, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 1800, New York, NY
Time:      10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Register: Courtney Weber – 212-870-3187
MARCH 10 – Location: First Presbyterian Church,320 Date St., Downtown, San Diego, California
Time:        10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Contact:   Jerry Andrews, head of staff, 630-329-1998 (cell), jerry.andrews@fpcsd.org
Register:   619-232-7513  (church)
MARCH 12 – Location: Collegiate Presbyterian Church, Ames, Iowa
Time:        10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Contact:   David Feltman, pastor to North Central IOWA Presbytery, dfeltman@presbyterynciowa.org, 319-231-3570
Register:  thehill@prospectpresby.org, 712-732-2097
MARCH 19 – Location: Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey
Time:       10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Contact:   Vice-moderator Larissa Kwong Abazia, Director of Church Relations, Larissa.kwongabazia@pts.edu, 609-497-7785 (office), 773-633-5152 (cell)

In addition to the five in-person visits, Rada is preparing a video message to accompany a guided dialog in locations he is unable to visit personally. Details for facilitators and attendees of these “virtual meetings” is expected soon and people wishing to host one of these virtual conversations can contact the Moderator directly at Heath.Rada@pcusa.org.

Rada’s letter is printed below in its entirety:

—–

Dear members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),

As moderator of our denomination’s 221st General Assembly (2014), it has been my pleasure to issue a “Call to the Church,” inviting us to look with new eyes and vision toward the future.

For a number of years now we in the church have experienced an unusually high level of frustration, anger, confrontation, misinformation, and transition. It’s easy, of course, in such times of uncertainty to forget that conflict and change are nothing new to us as followers of Christ. From the early church of Acts to the Reformation to 19th-century schisms, the people of God have always debated, weighing the power of cultural shifts to liberate or to corrupt Christ’s church. And yet, it is hard to deny that we face now remarkable challenges and opportunities.

We have watched as our systems have failed to keep up with the changes—often asking the impossible of paid staff in mid-council and national offices. We have watched too many of our ministers be consumed with frustration and even depression as they have fought to preserve and transform our threatened congregations.

I believe that these struggles stem in part from our efforts to be all things to all people. For too long we have tried to be the church we once were (the one that formed me) rather than the church we are today. Giving up the past to be the church of TODAY is what we are called to do. That isn’t easy.

As moderator, I do not have the authority to create sweeping changes. That is the province of our General Assemblies, mid councils, and this wondrously diverse body of Presbyterians that spans a nation, even a globe. But I have been given a platform, which provides me with an opportunity to open doors and, with much hope, to offer our denomination a chance to speak.

Between mid-February and late March there will be a series of Conversations with the Church across the US. Currently conversations are scheduled in New York City, Atlanta, Princeton (New Jersey), Ames (Iowa), and San Diego. Others are also being proposed. The hope is that we might tap into the thoughts and priorities of a representative sample of the PC(USA) by focusing on specific audiences.

It is important to note all Presbyterians are welcome in these conversations, but due to limitations of time, five locations have been selected. In New York, we will hear from diverse congregations that are experimenting with alternative forms of ministry. In Atlanta, we will hear from some of our racial ethnic members. In Princeton, there will be a mix of people involved in theological education and local ministry. In Ames, we hope to have a large turnout from our smaller and rural churches. And in San Diego, we hope to get a better feeling for the West Coast vision of the church, with a particular eye toward the evangelicals among us. None of these gatherings is designed to exclude anyone from participating—in fact, I believe the more who participate the more we’ll understand.

Already I have heard from other constituent groups who are hoping to form a gathering and hold a conversation: the Fellowship Network, camp and conference center directors, the presidents of other seminaries, Native American Presbyterians—to name a few. By letting me know of their interest and intent, I can provide both a template to be used in facilitating the event and the protocol to follow so that information can be included in a final report. I will take the various summary statements that emerge from each group and, with some trusted aides, will try to incorporate the findings into a report from the moderator, which I will provide to the commissioners of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) in June. This report will accompany other data and documents that reveal the state of the denomination: overtures, such as Foothills Presbytery’s, proposing we reexamine how we go about “being the church;” the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly’s survey; the NEXT study; as well as others. By then we will have the results of the COGA study, which according to COGA member Eileen Lindner had the largest response of any similar survey issued by a mainline denomination.

These conversations are not designed to be gripe sessions. Almost everyone I’ve talked with says that they are tired of the disagreements and ensuing divisions. The purpose is to look at how we can be united as a body of Christ, loving one another as a family even when we have differences.

The goal is not to change specific positions of past General Assemblies, but instead to ask, in light of the current positions of the PC(USA), “How do we enable each of us to feel that we have a home in this faith community?”

How do we make sure that all of Christ’s desires for the church are met and that our voices are heard? How do we plan to be a smaller church with fewer resources? How will we choose which ministries God wants us to focus on? Can we find creative strategies to do ministry in less expensive ways? How do we organize so that we can regain trust? Can we conduct “business” as Presbyterians in ways that unite us rather than divide us?

Those are just some of the questions we’ll be asking. And YOU are an important part of this process. Each individual—young and old, lifelong Presbyterians and new ones, people who are pleased with our past and those who grieve it—is critical.

Of course, we cannot and will not complete this transition in the next few weeks or even by the time of the 222nd General Assembly (2016). Difficult decisions await us. There must be new systems and programs put into place. Practices and structures that we hold dear will need to evolve. We will need to be considerate and fair as we deal with staff members (of our national agencies and mid councils) whose jobs may change dramatically or whose positions may have to be eliminated. We will all have to give up some things we value and love.

To think that all of us will be thrilled with the outcomes of these efforts is foolish. To think that ANY of us will be thrilled with ALL of the outcomes is equally foolish. So let’s look beyond our own desires. There will be time, just as Ezra describes after the rebuilding of the temple, to grieve and to rejoice—and to allow the two to commingle. But now is the time for the whole body to stand together. Let’s adopt that familiar expression, asking, “What would Jesus do?” Not “What do I want done?”

May God hold us close as we travel this journey. May our decisions be pleasing and compatible with God’s plan for our lives and for our denomination. We are privileged to be part of a denomination that allows each member to have input into the direction of the church, as we collectively discern God’s will for us through Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. With responsibility we must move forward.

Please know that I offer love and gratitude for each of you, and with a spirit of hopefulness, I remain

Your brother in Christ,

Heath K. Rada, Moderator
221st General Assembly, PC(USA)


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