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Presbyterian Mission Agency Board looks back and gazes ahead

Chair Warren Lesane, Jr. says the 23-member board will be energized with new membership

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Presbyterian Mission Agency circle

LOUISVILLE — What has the Presbyterian Mission Agency been up to? What’s it going to be up to? What might get in the way of progress?

Two top leaders — the Rev. Warren Lesane, Jr., who chairs the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, and the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the mission agency, offered up reports during the first day of a three-day set of meetings of the PMA Board.

The Rev. Rosemary Mitchell, senior director of Mission Engagement and Support, also delivered a talk Wednesday she called “No More Fund-raising — Only Stewardship.”

The Rev. Warren Lesane, shown speaking earlier this year, chairs the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Lesane said he finds “great hope” in the slate of new PMA Board members. “They will bring valuable insight and foresight that will propel the agency forward,” he said. He said the new board “has what my grandmother called ‘gumption,’” a “willingness to get into good trouble, necessary trouble,” the kind that the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, used to talk about.

“By espousing the mission of Matthew 25, we are challenged to address the status quo,” Lesane said. “Anytime you do that, you make trouble for yourself and the system. This is gospel and salvific work. It leads to a reformed church we all love and want to see continue to grow.”

He reminded board members and others in attendance that “God does not call the qualified. Rather, God qualifies the called.”

Moffett updated the board with how many churches and organizations have accepted the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation, which was first extended in April 2019. To date, 632 congregations, 22 groups and 51 mid councils representing more than 6,700 congregations have agreed to take on one or more of three Matthew 25 focus areas: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism or eradicating systemic poverty. The PC(USA) is home to about 9,040 congregations.

She noted that one church said it didn’t choose the focus of dismantling structural racism. “It chose us,” the church said.

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

“We have been called to be a prophetic voice,” Moffett said. “We want people to know we really are committed.”

With a recent emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, Presbyterians have been engaging denominational social media sites in recent weeks like never before. While Moffett said 500 comments is typical, the PC(USA)’s Facebook page has received more than 14,000 comments in recent weeks as the church has worked to put an end to white supremacy and affirm that Black lives do matter. “The majority have been supportive, but a significant amount are not comfortable (with the church) standing against white supremacy and for Black lives,” Moffett said.

PMA leaders find themselves at a place “where we need to shift to a post-pandemic future, setting goals and letting go of the past,” Moffett said, calling the process “a critical thing we need to do in service to local pastors and mid councils.”

No more fund-raising — only stewardship

Mitchell lodged her discussion in Scripture, foundationally the first verse of Psalm 24: “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”

“It all belongs to God,” she said. Or, as John Calvin put it, “All the blessings we enjoy are divine deposits … dispensed for the benefit of our neighbors.”

“We have to ask ourselves not, ‘What do I want to do with this?’ but, ‘What would God have me do with this?’” Mitchell said.

The Rev. Rosemary Mitchell is senior director of Mission Engagement and Support.

Mitchell recommended Edgar Villanueva’s book “Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance.”

In Part 2, Villanueva discusses seven steps toward healing: grieve, apologize, listen, relate, represent, invest and repair. Mitchell focused on the third step.

According to Villanueva, there are at least three kinds of listening: factual, empathetic and generative.

In the first kind, we listen for new data, new evidence. “It can be a person’s story,” Mitchell said. “What they’ve experienced can change our worldview.”

Empathetic listening is “connecting and feeling,” Mitchell said. “It’s more than walking in someone’s shoes. It’s how trust is built, and it’s fundamental in relationship-building. You have to honor the time it takes.” Fortunately, she said, the church “affords us that time so people can grow in grace and relationships, which don’t magically happen overnight.”

Generative listening is “connecting in a way that allows for the greatest possibility for the future,” Mitchell said. “What is an idea for moving forward? What can we all create together that leads to the richest experience for all to be part of?”

While many people see “diversity” and “inclusiveness” as goals to be achieved, Villanueva instead uses the term “power,” which Mitchell described as “an interconnected power that allows each person to grow into their most powerful self.”

Once again, Mitchell turned to Scriptures, this time 1 Cor. 12:4-7, 27, which talks about the varieties of gifts, “but it is the same Spirit” who gives them  and concludes with, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.”

“Every person’s gift matters, and every gift has power,” Mitchell said. “All gifts contribute to health of the whole body.”

Gifts to the local symphony, Mitchell pointed out, are typically listed by the size of the gift. The biggest contributors are at the top of the program, often in boldface print.

Gifts to the church are generally listed alphabetically, Mitchell said, because “dignity is at the heart of everything. This is the most important belief in how we are together and how we are to treat one another.”

“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’” Mitchell said, quoting a favorite sign that hangs on her wall, “that is enough.”

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