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PMAB Executive Committee begins three-day retreat in St. Paul

Updates from Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review top the agenda

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

ST. PAUL – The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board Executive Committee began its three-day retreat in worship today in the historic Central Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. Afterward, the group quickly got down to business with reports from both the Way Forward Commission and the All Agency Review Committee.

In its presentation to the PMAB Executive Committee, Mark Hostetter, moderator of the Way Forward Commission, said that with all of the work the denomination is doing, the church cannot lose site of its primary mission.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board opens its three-day retreat at the Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, MN. Photo by Rick Jones.

“Our work is not about tinkering with existing structures, but to think about how we can most effectively act as a church in service to Jesus Christ,” he said. “We’ve started with a blank slate and our discussions have been designed to look at what we do and why we do it and make it a part of how we move forward.”

The Way Forward Commission is charged with identifying a vision for agency structure and functionality. It has held two face-to-face meetings since its formation as well as numerous conference calls and is scheduled to meet again at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, Sept. 17–19.

Last month, the commission released its mid-term report saying it is taking a “bolder course” in an effort to sustain the organization. The report outlined seven areas of change including:

  • Congregational Focus
  • Mission Priority
  • Diversity and Leadership
  • Mid Council Relationships
  • Functioning as “Church”
  • Re-conceptualized Administrative Support
  • Effective Communication

In addressing Mission/Priority, Hostetter said the commission believes the mission of the national church is critical and a mission-focused group is essential.

“Much of staff time is spent on budgets, policy, procedures, IT and legal,” Hostetter said. “These are critical components, but there is a sense that it gets in the way of innovative thinking and the encouragement of mission. There may be better ways we can ensure mission flies and soars that make our church more relevant and appealing.”

PMAB Executive Committee member Molly Baskin cautioned the commission not to dismiss the importance of the administrative tasks.

“In the dreaming we do as a church, there must be practicality, because donors expect us to treat money as we would treat our own,” she said. “We must spend it appropriately as we look for the desired/actual outcomes.”

Hostetter says the commission does not dismiss the importance of good administration and accountability, but is concerned about it “hampering creative missional thinking.”

Hostetter also stressed the importance of mid council relationships in the future of the church.

“We are in increasingly troubled waters because of declining membership and revenues and many presbyteries don’t have full time paid leadership,” he said. “There are changes in the wind on how mid councils and presbyteries can support local congregations and the national church. Its an area that has been identified as critical and we need to address and think about it in terms of relationship and partnerships.”

Hostetter says the commission work is a communal process and wants everyone to think of themselves as one body of Christ and not six agencies. He adds the commission has encouraged conversation with those who have concerns, suggestions and criticisms to show engagement.

Mark Hostetter (left) moderator for the Way Forward Commission, and Deborah Block, moderator for the All Agency Review Committee provided updates to the PMAB Executive Committee meeting. Photo by Rick Jones.

“The most helpful way to think about this is not to look at it as criticism but whether it can lead to a more effective way of leading church,” he said. “It’s not an indictment, but shows areas of concern that we can work together and move in a constructive way.”

The commission report was followed by the All Agency Review Committee. Deborah Block, teaching elder from Milwaukee, is moderator of the 14-member committee.

“A focus in our work is what we called the Presbyterian Ethos, being more comprehensive,” she said. “It is an articulation of identity, foundational beliefs that defines and guides how we live together.” 

Block said the committee is trying to keep faith with what General Assembly has asked them to do for the denomination’s future. 

She also said the committee wants to lift up the “unsung strengths” in the denomination, the work of the PC(USA) agencies. “One of our challenges is how to sing that song with more gusto and how the work of our agencies might support, resource, partner with the work of congregations. There are great things happening,” she said. 

The All Agency Review Committee holds its next meeting Aug. 21–22 in Louisville. Its final report to the Office of the General Assembly is due Feb. 16 — 120 days prior to the start of the 223rd General Assembly of the PC(USA).

Way Forward, All Agency Review and the 2020 Vision Committee were established by the 222nd General Assembly (2016) in Portland, Oregon.

The PMAB Executive Committee will meet through midday Wednesday.

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