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Resetting the Coordinating Table

Members discuss helping groups reform together rather than separately

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Established this summer by what is now the Moving Forward Special Committee, the Coordinating Table hit a snag Wednesday as members debated what changes the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Mission Agency and Administrative Services Group ought to consider to better serve Presbyterian congregations, their leaders and mid councils.

The main impediment that surfaced during Wednesday’s two-hour online discussion is the PMA’s months-long process of re-imagining and then rebuilding itself, announced last month by the PMA’s president and executive director, the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, during a town hall held for PMA staffers.

The Rev. Debra Avery, a member of the Moving Forward Special Committee, said her concern is that process doesn’t allow for group discernment.

“What if our structures need to change, and not just the PMA?” she asked. “I am not seeing space for that. My encouragement is to open up that discernment space sooner than later.”

The moderator of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, the Rev. Stephanie Anthony, said she’s been hearing phrases including “alongside” and “listening in” as the PMA process was being described, “but the feeling of collaboration for the whole church just doesn’t exist for me. We have been invited to be there, but not to participate.”

“We are very much at the beginning, and not at the end,” Moffett said. “I welcome feedback, correction and guidance, but I think what we have in place will be beneficial. Is the current structure the one that’s most appropriate? We have said we want to be a Matthew 25 church. What does that mean? What changes are necessary?”

Marco Grimaldo, co-chair of the Moving Forward Special Committee, thanked Moffett and invited the PMA Board “to think about timing. As a church, we are headed down a path that will lead to really big challenges, and it’s coming fast. I’m worried we won’t be able to answer the tough questions. Your process is important to the PMA Board, but should we create some separate timelines? This might be the place to lay those out and set the agenda in motion. I am worried about time and process.”

The Rev. Eliana Maxim, a COGA member, said she’s concerned that “focusing on the work the PMA Board needs to do is not the same as the two of us working together for what is the best structure and way forward for the entire church … The work we are looking to do is to engage in conversation with a sister agency about unity and possible merger. If we don’t get to that until the fall of 2021, it won’t give us enough time to have a recommendation for the next General Assembly (in 2022). I’m concerned we are mistakenly doing our own work and not the work that the special committee asked us to do, which is something different.”

It may be, said the Rev. Warren Lesane, who chairs the PMA Board, that a neutral third-party is called in to “help clarify some things” and perhaps adjust the timelines suggested in the PMA process, which is expected to last into summer of 2021.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), said that “no matter what we internally look like, the church out there is looking to see what the denomination is doing. Period.”

“Most folks don’t know the acronyms” including PMA, OGA and ASG, Nelson said. They want to know, “What is the church doing — the one I grew up in, or the one I joined recently?”

“A lot of what may be missing in this discussion is what do we look like together? We are pushing merger or some other way of putting people together. What in the life of Christendom are we called to live, to be the most effective at this period in history? I think it’s a totally different set of questions and answers.”

“I think the conversation has to shift,” Nelson said, “for us to get real clarity on strengthening the PC(USA), both nationally and globally.”

Answers, he said, “won’t come out of our personal playbook, but out of, ‘How do we sit down at this table and figure it out?’ I think we all have agendas we brought to the table, including the committee that is facilitating this whole process, which was appointed by the General Assembly.”

“Merger has been a dirty word for a long time,” Nelson said. But “there are other questions that can be asked, like who are we and how do we represent a larger witness, rather than starting from a place of merger?”

A small group will meet before the next online meeting of the Coordinating Table, set for 1-3 p.m. Eastern Time on Jan. 14, 2021. That group will try to answer some of the questions raised during Wednesday’s session.

“Thanks for good and honest conversation,” said Kathy Lueckert, president of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, as the meeting was concluding. “These are things we need to be in conversation about.”

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