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Presbyterian Mission Agency employees gather under the banner of ‘One Band/One Sound’

More than 200 PMA staffers journeyed from their posts around the globe for last week’s Vision Convocation

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Gregory Bentley, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020), was the preacher during last week’s Vision Convocation. Staff of the Presbyterian Mission Agency gathered at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky, for the first-ever Vision Convocation March 20-24. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

LOUISVILLE — An unprecedented gathering last week brought more than 200 Presbyterian Mission Agency staff to the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky, for Vision Convocation, a week-long celebration, sharing, learning and listening session that included mission co-workers serving in about 80 countries around the world.

From a spoken word summation presented Friday by the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director, to quiet or, more often, overtly joyous moments reconnecting with colleagues they hadn’t seen face to face in years, PMA staff celebrated using the theme of “One Band/One Sound.” The Rev. Shanea Leonard, director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, and the Rev. Mienda Uriarte, director of World Mission, coordinated the week-long convocation, the first of its kind in PMA history.

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson leads a drumming and dancing before a workshop on de-colonizing ministry along with Susan Krehbiel and Melonee Tubb. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

The week opened Monday with a dinner at the Muhammad Ali Center. “Vision,” “Identity” and “Mission” were the themes for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Friday’s two-hour morning wrap-up allowed staff members who don’t live in Louisville or southern Indiana to begin their journeys home.

The Rev. Gregory Bentley, a PMA Board member, pastor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020), drew on his prodigious preaching abilities during worship services offered Tuesday through Thursday. One memorable sermon explored the leadership and courage exemplified by the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah.

The Rev. Jermaine Ross-Allam, Director of the Center for the Repair of Historic Harms, speaks last week during Vision Convocation. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

Vision Convocation was a mix of both plenary sessions and workshops, many of them designed to dig deep into the three focus areas of the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation and its three intersectional priorities: climate change, gender justice and heteropatriarchy and militarism. Two new PMA initiatives, the Center for the Repair of Historic Harms and the planned Office of Innovation, also received their moments in the convocation’s spotlight.

Another new endeavor received considerable attention during the week. For weeks, a team has been working to develop the PMA’s Culture Code, which features nine values the agency is leaning into. According to the Culture Code, which was adopted on Valentine’s Day, PMA staff strive to:

  • Listen first.
  • Prioritize people and accountability.
  • Communicate with consistency and honesty.
  • Cultivate joy and belonging.
  • Wrestle with power and privilege.
  • Lead with empathy.
  • Lean into teamwork and collaboration.
  • Pursue positive impact.
  • Innovate to engage the biggest challenges in God’s world.

Staff members were invited to circulate throughout the Presbyterian Center’s conference room and the hallway outside, recording their spoken answers to questions including “What’s your favorite and why?” “What’s the most challenging to lean into?” Which one does your team best embody with each other?” and “In which one does your team most need to grow?” Those answers have been compiled for future use.

Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, Melonee Tubb and the Rev. Carlton Johnson participate in a skit set to the music of U2, Monty Python, and “Drumline.” (Photo by DeEtte Decker)

Staff members chose from among nine workshops to attend on Wednesday and Thursday. In one, the Rev. Samuel Son, the PMA’s Manager for Diversity & Reconciliation, used the psalms and other biblical sources including Isaiah as an entryway for helping attendees create their own spoken word performances, which they created on the spur of the moment and performed for their colleagues.

In another, Luciano Kovacs, World Mission’s coordinator for the Middle East and Europe, and the Rev. Sarah Henken, a mission co-worker serving in Colombia, led a workshop on doing ministry in a militarized context.

Samantha Davis, associate for Gender, Racial & Intercultural Justice, used some recent resources and a small group approach to help colleagues discover answers to this question: What is heteropatriarchy and what do we do with it?

Survey says …

By Monday, 52 employees, or about 25% of Vision Convocation attendees, had completed their evaluation form. According to Sara Lisherness, the PMA’s Deputy Executive Director for Mission Program, 76% said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the convocation overall. Nearly 9 in 10 were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with worship, and more than 3 in 4 felt the same way about plenary sessions.

Eighty-five percent expressed satisfaction with the slate of enrichment seminars, while 90% said they were satisfied with the Matthew 25 workshops.

Fourteen employees agreed that the Vision Convocation should be an annual event, while 24 employees disagreed with holding it every year.

Rob Fohr and the Rev. Shanea Leonard emceed the dinner that opened Vision Convocation. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

PMA employees offered these comments on what they liked most: “revival preaching and time for fellowship,” “it was laser focused on developing one shared vision,” plenaries that were “so creative and meaningful and helped our understanding,” “connection with colleagues, especially globally deployed colleagues, and being able to converse across ministry areas,” “hallway conversations and impromptu meetings,” “brainstorming around the edges about collaborations,” and “the energy and cohesion of the group” from one who has “worked alone for three years now and forgot how much healthier it is to be together.”

Among those suggesting improvements: “I wish there was more time to just see and talk with folks without an agenda,” “more testimony of how God is breathing Matthew 25 into our ministries and relationships with partners,” “a LOT more time for connecting across ministry areas,” one who needs “a plan for going back home and keeping the fire burning,” a time for questions and answers “and more examples from the work of the PMA would be helpful to interpret the mission and priorities,” “perhaps just a little less programming.”

Asked for their final thoughts, one respondent expressed gratitude “to all who assisted in the planning and preparation for this wonderful event,” especially to those who provided childcare and snacks and beverages. Another was “aware of the huge amount of work this was on so many people’s shoulders,” adding, “I think we all need to participate in shifting the power dynamics — to see them, acknowledge them, to learn from it and do differently in the future.”


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