DALLAS – The 2020 Vision Team continues to struggle for clarity – figuring out exactly what to report to the 2018 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A); how to say not too much or too little; and how to make its work resonate with congregations.
The 2016 General Assembly gave the 2020 Vision Team a directive to develop “a guiding statement for the denomination and make a plan for its implementation with all deliberate speed.”
The Vision Team has set up a four-person writing team – the team’s deadline to submit its report is Feb. 16. The team seems to be leaning towards crafting some sort of brief statement – perhaps accompanied by a longer statement of explanation. They’ve also talked about writing music; producing a bumper sticker-style tagline; and using images.
There also was conversation about the idea of asking the 2018 General Assembly to commend to the Presbyterian Church for study and comment whatever the Vision Team presents – giving the PC(USA) a chance to weigh in on the Vision Team’s ideas from 2018 to 2020.
The idea would be “let’s study this together,” said Lisa Juica Perkins, a minster from Texas who serves as co-moderator of the Vision Team, along with Bernie Coffee, an elder also from Texas. The church would be asked to help determine “is this really the vision?”
Perkins said she learned from the denomination’s initial rejection of adding the Belhar Confession from South Africa to the PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions that “if the church feels it’s hasty, they will reject it.” The PC(USA) presbyteries voted down the idea of adding Belhar as a PC(USA) confession in 2011, but after more study and consideration, it won approval in an historic vote in 2016.
Vision Team members also said they could use that time from 2018 to 2020 to begin the work of developing study or curriculum materials for congregations to use.
Vision Team members also encouraged one another to “trust God” – in the words of DèAnn Cunningham, an elder from Charlotte, North Carolina – and to recognize that their task is to give the PC(USA) guidance for the immediate future, not necessarily for all time.
“This does not have to be definitive,” said Karen Sapio, a minister from California. “We are not making a definitive statement for the Presbyterian Church for all time and all places. …. We just need to shed some light on the next five to 10 years.”
The Vision Team also needs to make it clear what this report will not be, said Chris McCain, an elder from Atlanta. “We’re not writing a confession. We are not writing a statement of faith. We’re not writing something that is necessarily a liturgy.”
McCain said the Vision Team will need to make recommendations to the 2018 General Assembly for what will happen next – including whether the assembly wants the team to keep meeting until 2020; a request for continued funding if that is to happen; and possibly money to hire a marketing or branding consultant to assist the team.
Vision Team members also said they could use that time from 2018 to 2020 to begin the work of developing study or curriculum materials for congregations to use. It’s important to explain “why does this matter for the local church?” McCain said.
What exactly the Vision Team will recommend still is taking shape.
A couple of ideas are on the table. One is to draft a guiding statement drawing on six words the Vision Team discussed Nov. 13: courage, compassion, justice, relationship, hope and love.
Another idea: a suggestion proposed by McCain, which the Vision Team began referring to as “The Ps,” using these words: Purposeful. Prophetic. Personal. Presbyterian.
Team members say they want their report to the 2018 assembly to include stories and passages from Scripture and references from the denomination’s creeds and confessions that can inform the current challenges of the PC(USA).
The denomination has endured several decades of struggle before deciding to allow the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers who have partners, and to allow PC(USA) ministers to perform same-gender marriages, Sapio said. There’s a sense of “being glad for the freedom. Not knowing what to do next. … We’ve come into this new place where we have some freedom to do things differently, and some people have left us. … We’re looking for direction.”
For her, that brought stories from the Bible to mind – including Jeremiah’s instructions to the people in exile to “build houses. Live in them. Have children. Plant gardens. Build the city where you are.”
And following Jesus’ crucifixion, his followers learn of his resurrection and say, essentially, “So he’s not dead? What do we do now?”
These are examples of “God’s people in a transitional, liminal, on-the-edge time of transformation and change, seeking wisdom and guidance,” Sapio said.
Coffee spoke of Joshua’s instructions to the people after Moses died: “You have to be strong and courageous.”
Cunningham continued the thought. “Moses was dead. … The church is changing, whether we want it to change or not.” And “this guiding statement should move us into the new. … Christ has already gone forward, and we’re just trying to catch up.”
In exploring these ideas, Vision Team members stressed the importance both of being brief and also of explaining “the why” behind the words it will use.
McCain said he expects some possible pushback at General Assembly to the idea of short phrase or a tagline – something that could fit on a bumper sticker.
Perkins said, “There is a deep yearning for depth in the Presbyterian church. Bumper sticker taglines don’t get us there. I don’t think verbose reports get us there either. We have to work our way to that medium.”
And the report needs to answer the question of why this guiding statement, Perkins said.
“Apple does this every day,” she said. When someone asks, “Why is Apple doing this? they say, ‘We’re doing this because.’ … They always tell you ‘why’ first, then they say ‘Come, be part of it.’ ”
Over and over, the Vision Team also has returned to the idea of writing music and using images as part of its report.
“There’s a unifying something in singing,” Lowry said.
As Perkins said: “There’s a heartbeat in song.”
The Vision Team members talked about their frustration that only 9 of the 15 people appointed to do this work came to this Dallas meeting – and their desire that all voices be heard and as many as possible attend the next face-to-face meeting on Jan. 21-23, also in Dallas.
“We need everybody here, either in person or by internet,” Sapio said. Coffee plans to touch base this week with each absent member, to check in and stress the group’s desire for their participation.
Vision Team members also voiced a desire for greater participation from the co-moderators of the 2016 General Assembly, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, who appointed the 2020 Vision Team and are ex officio members of it.
“Their absence though, even more than our committee members’, says something – at least to me – about where this is on the level of priority,” said Jerrod Lowry, a minister from Utah. “I know there’s a lot of other stuff going on. I know they are insanely busy with their travel.”
Lowry said he’s looking for a sense from the moderators “a prayer, a devotion, this work is very important.”
Joshua Andrzejewski, a chaplain from Virginia, is looking for more – “I would like to know what their unfolding vision for the PC(USA) is.”
Sapio added: “I think I do need more than cheerleading at this point. We need some clarity.”
Robina Winbush, who is the PC(USA)’s associate for ecumenical relations and serves as staff support for the Vision Team, explained that moderators are placed on some committees by virtue of the office, “but it is not expected they will be full members as are other members. It would be impossible for them.”
But Winbush said Edmiston has offered to meet with representatives of the Vision Team in the next few days by conference call.
The Vision Team’s next meeting will be Dec. 14 by conference call.