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The gospel from Utah

Presbytery of Utah executive presbyter builds excitement for next month’s General Assembly in the Beehive State

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Mirjam Haas-Melchior, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Utah, addresses Tuesday’s joint meeting of PC(USA) governing bodies. (Photo by Rick Jones)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The Rev. Mirjam Haas-Melchior gave the governing bodies meeting Tuesday morning at the Salt Palace Convention Center a taste of what’s ahead during the 226th General Assembly next month.

“We are here to show you how we can live God’s love differently than the dominant religion here,” said the Presbytery of Utah’s executive presbyter. “Our folks work hard to make sure this is an open and welcoming place. It’s important for our churches to see you support them in their ministry. That’s why it’s so important for you to be here as a General Assembly.”

In “The Gospel from Utah,” presented by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and the Presbytery of Utah, the 450-mile long presbytery is described as “one church with 20 campuses.”

“As a denomination, one of our goals is to dismantle unhealthy and destructive systems and create healthy and welcoming communities of faith wherever our congregations are located,” the document states. Often, Utahns experience “strange and untruthful assumptions about Utah,” including “You cannot find good coffee in Utah” and “There are only Mormons in Utah.” In fact, in the Salt Lake metropolitan area, fewer than 40% of residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Coffee is both plentiful and delicious.

After thanking Rick Jones and Randy Hobson, members of the national staff who produced videos celebrating ministry in the Presbytery of Utah, Haas-Melchior said, “We are excited for our denomination to see the important work we are doing here, being a voice in Utah that’s different from the loud voice people hear.”

The Rev. Bronwen Boswell, Acting Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, lead worship during Tuesday’s joint meeting. (Photo by Rick Jones)

“We as the Presbytery of Utah are proud to host [the 226th General Assembly], and the Synod of the Rocky Mountains is proud to be a partner in the hosting,” she said. “A lot of innovative ideas” to support ministry at small or rural churches across the country “aren’t working in the Intermountain West,” Haas-Melchior said. “That’s why it’s so important that you listen to us and seek conversations with us.”

The presbytery “is very thankful” the General Assembly isn’t meeting Monday through Friday, but rather over a Sunday so that commissioners can worship at many of the presbytery’s more than 20 faith communities. “Why should I host you if I don’t get the chance to get the denomination into our churches?” she said. “It gives the denomination the chance to see there are faithful people worshiping here in Utah.”

Alongside the Rev. Dr. Dave Davis, the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo and the Rev. Michelle Hwang, the Rev. Eliana Maxim addresses Tuesday’s joint meeting. (Photo by Rick Jones)

Unification Commission co-moderators Cristi Scott Ligon and the Rev. Dr. Felipe N. Martínez offered an evaluation as the commission’s work nears its midpoint.

“We are beginning to see the first fruits of how God is using this process,” Martínez said.

“The commission envisioned a new agency that will resource mid councils and equip congregations,” Scott Ligon said. Upcoming tasks include identifying a model for governance and then revamping the Organization for Mission. “The commission is here to coordinate and facilitate unification, which all these folks are making happen.”

The Rev. Dr. Dave Davis, a member of both the Unification Commission and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, noted that “at some point in the future, COGA and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board won’t exist” once unification is complete. “I want to name that and invoke the Holy Spirit. God has more in store for the Church than we can acknowledge.”

“We acknowledge the grief involved in transition,” Martínez said. “We grieve together even as we work together.”

PMA Board committee reports

Board members discussed, among other items, comments they’ll be making on overtures to be taken up during the upcoming Assembly. The one receiving the most discussion Tuesday was an overture by the Presbytery of the Pacific, GAEC-26, “On Realigning Self-Development of People With Its Historic Purpose.”

“We’re deeply concerned about this overture,” said the Rev. Denise Anderson, director of Compassion, Peace & Justice Ministries. “It asserts SDOP has deviated from its original purpose and mandate. It has not.”

“The original mandate for the National Committee on the Self-Development of People was broad, but never intended to act as a vehicle for reparations in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” the Board’s comment states.

The overture seeks to re-allocate $5 million from SDOP grants in 2025 and $1 million annually for the next 25 years. That “would dismantle the historic and vital ministry of Self-Development of People, now in its 54th year,” according to the Board’s comment. “Nevertheless, the overture does raise endemic challenges facing African American congregations. The PMA Board recognizes that these are serious issues. Infrastructure for change does exist in other PMA areas, including Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries; Theology, Formation & Evangelism; and the Center for Repair.”

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