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The PC(USA)’s Unification Commission concludes its three-day meeting by dividing up its work

Commissioners are even given a little something to do during their flight home

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Joined by the faces of a handful of people participating via Zoom, members of the Unification Commission and the staff serving the commission took time Saturday for a group photo in the conference center of the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Faith Santana-Grace)

LOUISVILLE — The Unification Commission spent the bulk of its Saturday morning together divided into the four teams that will do much of the commission’s work over the coming months.

Those four teams — Governance, Financials, Common Mission and Consultations — met privately scattered throughout the first floor of the Presbyterian Center to discuss the work ahead before reporting on their progress to the rest of the commission.

Speaking for the Governance group, the Rev. Debra Avery said the team’s initial steps will include reviewing the Manual of the General Assembly and recent General Assembly actions impacting the commission’s work, as well as organizational charts. The team also plans to examine the minutes of meetings of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly “to see how culture has evolved,” Avery said.

The initial work of the Consultations team will include conversations with the PMA Board and with COGA, the Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper said. The team also discussed values it believes are important, including transparency and “not rearranging the deck chairs,” Cooper said. “We are stepping into those faithfully and looking to God’s wisdom to lead us.”

“We are charged with coming up with common understanding of what mission looks like for a unified body,” said the Rev. Bill Teng, speaking for the Common Mission team. The team developed a word cloud with elements it believes are important, including sharing the gospel, building disciples, equipping the saints, global mission, good stewardship, accountability and transparency, social justice, advocacy, communications and equipping for worship. “We believe the whole Church owns these tasks,” Teng said.

The Rev. Scott Lumsden said the Financials team reviewed the PC(USA)’s 2021 consolidated financial report, then made “some preliminary assessments of what we want to take a deeper dive into.” Team members want to talk to the Presbyterian Foundation to gain clarity on why some funds are considered restricted, “and we want to understand how funds development happens within the OGA and PMA,” Lumsden said. “We want to approach it with the idea of abundance,” Lumsden said. “Let’s be clear: the PC(USA) has resources, including financial.”

As Saturday’s meeting wound down, Commission Co-Chair the Rev. Dr. Felipe Martínez asked commissioners a question first posed by Commissioner Carson Brown: Are we leaving with a common understanding of what the work entails?

“For me, the picture is becoming clearer,” Teng said. “Alignment is coming into focus.”

“I feel this is a great, great start,” said Francis Lin.

“Absolutely I feel we are on the right path,” Brown said. “Meeting in person has been absolutely critical. It has been transformational in my understanding of the work, and I think that’s because of being together.”

“It’s been really good to get to know folks. It’s important to ground our work in relationships and understanding,” Lumsden said. “I’m aware this is challenging work,” work that will “require us to think in different ways than I have thought in my years in the church.”

“One of our most daunting tasks was naming the members of this commission,” the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly (2022), told commissioners. “You have embodied the hope that Shavon [the Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly, the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis] and I were prayerfully discerning as you came together, and you have embodied it with great integrity and hope. I leave with a sense of great joy as we head back.”

Meeting with the commission via Zoom, Starling-Louis challenged commissioners to have a chat in the coming days with a commissioner they don’t know well. “There’s something about relationality,” Starling-Louis said, “something to be said for developing relational glue.”

“I have found it helpful that everyone came with openness,” said Commissioner Kris Thompson. “You start to see the richness that comes with all the different viewpoints and skill sets people bring. This is a diverse group with a lot of complementary skills.”

Commission Co-Chair Cristi Scott Ligon thanked fellow commissioners “for the support of Felipe and me. It means a lot to me that you have entrusted us with this task. I firmly believe we will take the journey together.”

Then Scott Ligon produced a parting gift few if any chairs have bestowed to those serving alongside them: a word search Scott Ligon devised with the names of commissioners and the staff serving the commission concealed within: horizontally, vertically and diagonally. “It’s something to do while you wait for your airplane,” Scott Ligon said.

The commission is set to meet next via Zoom on April 16. Learn more about the commission’s mandate here. Previous reports on the work of the commission are here and here.

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