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Presbyterian Mission Agency Board learns more about Matthew 25 plans and the fighting in Gaza

 

Mission co-worker, former General Assembly Moderator brief the board

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Mary Lloyd of Highland Park, Michigan, participated in the first day of workshops at the Matthew 25 Summit, which opened Jan. 16 at New Life Presbyterian Church in South Fulton, Georgia. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — Evaluations, next steps and planned regional gatherings following last month’s first-ever Matthew 25 Summit were among the topics for members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board during the second and final day of their two-day online gathering Wednesday.

The Rev. Jermaine Ross-Allam, director of the Center for the Repair of Historic Harms, and the Rev. DeEtte Decker, the PMA’s Vision Integration & Constituent Services Manager, briefed board members meeting online.

Surveys completed by 109 of the 349 people registered for the summit indicated 96% were very satisfied with the three plenary talks, while 91% were very satisfied with worship services. For workshops, 62% were very satisfied and 29% were satisfied.

More than half said they didn’t attend the Fireside Chats. Thirty-six percent of respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the conversations.

Respondents said a Summit app or text message system would have been helpful. Several suggested that regional Matthew 25 gatherings should be offered.

Decker said the PMA is partnering with Grace Presbytery for a mini-summit in the fall. The mission agency is also in conversation with the Presbytery of Baltimore for another regional gathering later in the fall.

Among the priorities for the coming months are resources and support, which Decker described as critical; leadership development and training, major priorities; communication and collaboration, medium priorities; and community engagement and action steps that congregations, mid councils and groups can take, which are minor priorities, along with church vitality and challenges.

Six percent of those who gathered Jan. 16-18 at New Life Presbyterian Church in South Fulton, Georgia, had not yet accepted the Matthew 25 invitation to join the movement. Every synod but one — the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii — was represented at the summit. The three largest delegations were from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Denver Presbytery and the Presbytery of Baltimore.

Ross-Allam said tools including the Matthew 25 interactive map can be of great use for, say, a 14-year-old who’s just heard a sermon “making me want to do something right now about climate justice. The map will be a resource to go for inspiration to understand who is working on this focus in my region.”

“Our delegation came back charged up from the event,” said PMA Board Member Charese Jordan Moore of the Presbytery of Baltimore. “I think people were really hungry.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director, encouraged even more groups and congregations to join the movement. “We are a connectional church. The issue is to join so we can know who is doing the work,” she said. Another benefit is developing leverage at the local, national and even international levels. “You’re much more powerful when you come in with your colleagues,” Moffett said. “It’s much bigger than PMA. Let’s begin to see what God is doing and come together.”

Board Member Dr. Felecia Hardy said her church’s grant-writing process gets better results when the granting agency knows her church is not only a Matthew 25 community, it connects with other nearby churches. “We have a better chance of obtaining that grant,” she said.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, preaches during closing worship at the Matthew 25 Summit. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Although there’s no other national summit being planned currently, Moffett said she’s “excited” so many presbyteries and churches are engaged in Matthew 25 work going forward. “Matthew 25 has a life of its own at this point,” she said. “We are seeking to listen to the voice of the people, and we are responding in a very personal kind of way so we can point people to the help they need. It’s not to lift up the PMA. It’s to lift up good work being done” by pastors, mid-council leaders and others, she said.

“God is creating something different. It’s refreshing and renewing,” Moffett said. “We need to make sure we saturate this in prayer and give it the resources they need.”

Two reports on Gaza

As part of its Matthew 25 focus on militarism, antiracism and poverty, Doug Dicks, a mission co-worker in Bethlehem, and the Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, Moderator of the 214th General Assembly (2002), discussed the fighting in Gaza.

The United States continues to fast-track weapons and money Israel needs to wage war, Dicks noted. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers who depend on their ability to work in Israel cannot get to work because of the fighting, and tourism in the Holy Land and other places has almost come to a standstill. “The situation is now very dire,” he said. Both his neighbors work in a souvenir shop that’s had to close as tourism has dried up. “I don’t know how they’re making it,” Dicks said. “That story gets repeated over and over.”

Negotiations between the warring sides are ongoing, “and of course our concern is for both peoples,” Dicks said. “It will take many years to return Gaza to some sense of normalcy.”

Doug Dicks

 

He expressed appreciation to the PC(USA) “for allowing me to stay here. You are present in me,” he told PMA Board members, “and I am grateful for that.” He also praised the work of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, which has awarded “a number of grants to partner organizations” for aid and psychosocial training. “It’s been incredible,” Dicks said. “We have put our money where our mouth is. Small grants to help our partners get through are getting through this time, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

Abu-Akel, the first Arab American to be elected Moderator of the General Assembly, said the situation is Gaza is emotional for him. “When I see the children of Gaza, I see myself as a child,” he said. In 1948, he was among the one million people exiled at the creation of the state of Israel. His mother stayed behind because the draw of home, land and church was so strong in her.

The Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel

Until he moved to the United States in the mid-1960s, Abu-Akel had to secure a permit from the Israeli military governor just to leave his village. “Imagine being born in 1967. You would know nothing but occupation,” he said. As a college student in the U.S., a friend invited him to share Thanksgiving back home with his family. Abu-Akel’s first thought was, “We will need a permit.”

“My most liberating experience,” he said, “was to travel without a permit.”

Abu-Akel had board members watch this TEDx talk by Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American activist for Palestinian human rights. Baltzer called the talk, “The Danger of Neutrality.”

Abu-Akel also recommended the website of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace to learn more about concrete steps that can be taken to help bring about peace in Gaza.


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