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Presbyterian Mission Agency’s 2020 annual report offers glimpses of God’s grace during the pandemic


Presbyterians worked to innovate and thrive and were faithful with their giving in the face of COVID-19 and racial unrest

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The 36-page Annual Report of the Presbyterian Mission Agency has been published online and can be seen here. The theme for this year’s report is “A year unlike all others … and we responded.”

In their joint message, the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and the Rev. Warren Lesane Jr., the PMA board chair, called the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 vision “the motivating factor that drove the development of goals and strategies to build congregational vitality, dismantle structural racism and eradicate systemic poverty.”

Even the pandemic and the unrest following the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others didn’t halt ministry. “But we did take time to consider how to be the Church and live into the Matthew 25 vision considering the realities that confronted us all,” Moffett and Lesane wrote. “Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we navigated the new terrain facing us” through “creative and innovative ways to do ministry” and through “a new way to engage, inspire and connect with churches and mid councils and other groups in our denomination. Technology became our friend, awkwardly at first, but we quickly realized that worship is not confined to a building” and conferences “can take place through new virtual designs and approaches that make the experience meaningful.”

The mission of the PMA — to inspire, connect and equip Presbyterians in mission — “continues in new and powerful ways,” they wrote. “We learned that hearts can be lifted in virtual worship. Planning and strategizing can happen in digital platforms. Conferences can be presented in new and inspiring ways. Disciples can be nurtured. The Word can go forth. Ministry can take place … God is doing a new thing; do you not perceive it?

The two noted that the PMA offered Mathew 25 grants to congregations whose survival was in question due to the impact of COVID-19. Mission co-workers “also continued their work with siblings in Christ, utilizing technology and discovering new ways to strengthen relationships with international communities hit hard by the pandemic,” they wrote.

“The Presbyterian Mission Agency was actively engaged in mission and ministry in 2020 because of the prayers, persistence, patience and generosity of Church members and friends like you,” Moffett and Lesane wrote. “We hope that the stories in this annual report reflect our work in this ‘new normal’ and serve as a source of inspiration for you.”

Indeed, the report offers photos and stories from churches and organizations across the nation and around the world. Less than a month into the pandemic, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance had granted more than 200 requests for assistance, totaling more than $1.1 million. The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People worked with organizations like City Roots Community Land Trust in Rochester, New York, to get people of modest incomes into quality homes.

The annual report also tells the story of how mission co-workers returned to their homes from their stations around the world during the first weeks of the pandemic. World Mission’s crisis management team met with each co-worker regularly to ensure the integrity of mission work. Those who returned home were quarantined and received housing assistance. Others hindered by the closure of borders and airports were aided with shelter-in-place and evacuation plans. The Young Adult Volunteer program also closed its international sites during the pandemic.

“Wherever we are, our work continues: accompanying, encouraging and teaching,” said Maribel Smith, a mission co-worker in Argentina. “We go on serving as God’s gracious presence throughout this stricken world.”

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance deployed virtual disaster response teams during the pandemic, including its ministry following a series of hurricanes that clobbered the Presbytery of South Louisiana and wildfires in California and elsewhere in the West. “I’ve been amazed by what can be accomplished by a virtual deployment,” said Jim Kirk, PDA’s Associate for Disaster Response in the United States. “Our national volunteers have stepped up and adapted so that PDA can continue to offer (virtual) ministry of presence to presbytery and congregational leadership impacted by a disaster.”

The Presbyterian Week of Action, held Aug. 24-30, drew thousands of Presbyterians and their partners to the streets of Louisville and other cities across the country. Demanding social justice, advocates called for an end to racial violence while remembering the lives of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. “Let‘s go out into the streets of this city,” Moffett told the crowd gathered at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, “and be the re-presentation of Jesus, doing what we know God calls us to do. We aren’t being political by rallying and marching. We are being deeply spiritual and moral.”

In the fall, the first-ever International Peacemaker Virtual Symposium brought the stories of 16 international peacemakers to a U.S. audience. Some shared their thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. and how it affects their countries.

Despite the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial unrest and the toll they took on the nation’s economy, 2020 was a year of unprecedented generosity, with individual Presbyterians giving directly to ministries of hunger relief, disaster assistance, education and witness at rates not seen before. Congregations reported increased support with greater and more consistent connections made through videos and testimonial content.

Contribution revenue, which makes up about 50% of the PMA’s income budget, is where the agency felt only a surprisingly modest impact from the pandemic, about 6% less than budgeted. Total revenue and other support came in only 2% less than budgeted. These trends, coupled with understanding on the expense side of the PMA budget, yielded a good result, which is good news for the PMA and its faithful supporters.

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