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PMA Board discusses, debates proposed 2023-24 Mission Work Plan

Board members will vote Friday on sending the plan on to the 225th General Assembly

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — After discussing the proposed 2023-2024 Mission Work Plan in both small groups and all together Thursday, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board will vote Friday on the plan that will guide much of the mission agency’s work as it seeks to take on additional areas of concentration while maintaining and expanding efforts regarding the three foci of the Matthew 25 invitation: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

The plan calls for two new initiatives that came from an 18-month strategic planning effort approved by the board last fall. Establishing the Center for the Repair of Historical Harms calls for initiating a denomination-wide effort to inspire repair both within and beyond the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “Already,” the plan states, “many churches, mid councils and agencies are discovering new ways to repair the damage done by structural racism and white supremacy in this nation and throughout the world.” The proposed center “will construct teams tasked with partnering with churches, mid councils or other entities who are doing the work or are interested in doing the work of repair.”

The Office of Innovation, Futuring and Discernment “will be responsible for learning about future trends and value shifts that will impact churches, mid councils and international partners with the hope of helping the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to prepare for such shifts, rather than simply react to them after the fact.” It’ll also be responsible “for discerning, searching out and being continuously aware of God’s activity in new and exciting ideas that originate from the Church at large and PMA employees. Discovering models of community engagement and structural transformation that can help prepare the Church to deal with shifting realities will also be part of the scope of work in this office.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett

In addition, the work plan identifies three “intersectional priorities” — climate change, militarism and gender discrimination/heteropatriarchy — that will “fully connect our current Matthew 25 priorities.”

“These are stated intersections that are a way to allow Matthew 25 to remain the focus,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Yet they’re also “broadened to allow people to get in where they fit in.”

“It really is exciting to see this Mission Work Plan … to be able to see the work of many, many [General] Assemblies over decades in the PC(USA),” said the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the board’s chair elect, adding she also sees in the plan “the individual people and congregations and presbyteries that brought things back and back to the assemblies until we got there … We can see in our mind’s eye the people who helped us get here. I see God’s hand in this and the movement of God’s people in our denomination, and I see a future in this.”

The Rev. Kevin Johnson is shown in this 2019 file photo. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Board member the Rev. Kevin Johnson said he wonders “about the possibility of doing this from the structures that are still embedded in the institution.” Johnson said he’s the most hopeful about the strategic plan’s call for locally-situated action teams (LSATs) in which PMA staff will live in communities and work when invited by a mid council or other group to carry out a specific mission.

“If this is going to have some viability,” Johnson said, “that’s an area I will keep my eye on. That seems to be closest to the streets.”

Board Chair the Rev. Warren Lesane Jr. said the work described in the plan “is gospel work. It’s hard work, sacrificial work, and it takes courage. It’ll mean some people put their jobs on the line … I don’t put a lot of value in the buildings themselves, but who’s in the building. With God as our leader and guide, I am prone to continue running this race. I think the work plan is a good way to get at it.”

“What’s going on in terms of mission work is healthy and provocative and faithful, but people’s ability to accept this is limited,” said the Rev. Ken Godshall, another board member. He described the work plan as “good trouble. It’s what we have to do … This is the kind of thing we need to do to faithfully disrupt. It’s faithful to all God’s people.”

The Rev. Dr. SanDawna Ashley

“It will take time,” said the Rev. Dr. SanDawna Ashley. “It’s not just window dressing. It’s hearts being changed, and that’s something God does. My hope is we pace ourselves with this work moving forward. As we show some models of how this has impacted communities and congregations, people will see how this can work and how it improves relationships. That will go a long way to bringing people on board.”

“Part of what’s going on is that people are feeling the pressure of being confronted by the demands of the gospel,” said the Rev. Gregory Bentley, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020). “Each of us has to judge whether or not this is of God … To try to wrangle people to convince them, I think that’s a waste of time. As we go forward, hopefully the momentum and the energy of this movement will begin to draw people into this movement. Nobody is trying to browbeat anybody. We are only saying, ‘This is the way God is trying to move the Church.’ Let’s do it.”

“This is deeply spiritual work,” Moffett told the board. The Church “must speak, both across the street and around the world. This is the gospel, and the good news is the feeling of wholeness that comes when you know you are truly seeking to follow where others may not go.”

Board realignment

Vance-Ocampo explained changes that have been proposed by the Board Realignment Task Force. Under the proposal, the chair and chair-elect would instead be co-chairs. Rather than serve as members of committees, the board’s 18 members would be on teams, with two permanent and two flexible.

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo

One permanent team would be administrative, addressing financial, stewardship, property and legal matters as they arise, among other duties.

The coordinating team would include the co-chairs, leaders of the other three teams, and the president/executive director as an ex-officio member. That team would coordinate the work of the board, plan meetings, ensure member engagement and oversee teams and their assignments. It would also perform board development duties as needed and evaluate the president/executive director.

One of the flexible teams, Vance-Ocampo said, could be tasked with continuing to guide the Matthew 25 ministry process.

The board will also consider reducing how many of its members are also serving on other boards, including the A Corp board, the Board of Pensions board, the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program board, Presbyterian Women’s board, the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment and the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee, which meets every four years.

The board will further discuss the proposed realignment during its April meeting.

The board is scheduled to complete its winter meeting Friday by considering committee reports, voting on approval of the Mission Work Plan, and hearing a report of the Special Offerings Task Force. Click here to watch the proceedings, which are scheduled to begin at noon Eastern Time with the planned adjournment by 3:30 p.m.

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