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Way Forward Commission concludes Chicago meeting

Midyear report writing team established; next steps outlined

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

The Way Forward Commission concludes it’s May 15-17 meeting with prayer at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

CHICAGO – The Way Forward Commission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) concluded its two-day meeting on the campus of McCormick Theological Seminary today. The focus of the meeting was brainstorming possible structural solutions for the denomination in anticipation of producing its midterm report. The final report of the commission will be presented to the 223rd General Assembly (2018) of the PC(USA) meeting in St. Louis.

Existing subgroups will continue to meet, including groups focusing on mid council relations and engaging diverse voices, while others will be added to take on the topics of constitutional research and creation of a midyear report for the group.

Goals for the Way Forward Commission’s midyear report. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

The commission Moderator, the Rev. Mark Hostetter, said a meeting of the Way Forward Commission, All Agency Review Committee and 2020 Vision Team coordinating committees next week would consider how to continue the discussion of shared services and whether one of the other groups would take on that task.

Hostetter asked a subgroup to engage in constitutional research to answer the question “What is the role of the Stated Clerk in the various constitutional documents?” Owing to its nature as an additional constitutional question, the commission added research of the PC(USA) A Corporation into its work, looking into the requirements for management and reporting in business aspects of the denomination.

In formulating the midyear report, the Way Forward Commission added a primary mission component centered on service to Jesus Christ. Elements of the anticipated report include a design schematic that contains major themes; responses to agency-specific initiatives and issues highlighted by past review committees; a review of the Way Forward Commission process, including its interaction with the agencies, review committees and other groups; and an invitation to further feedback via a survey mechanism.

Way Forward Commission member Eliana Maxim speaks to the need of engaging diverse voices at the group’s May 17, 2017 meeting in Chicago (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

“These are very broad, generalized themes,” said commission member the Rev. Eliana Maxim of the midyear design details. “I’d like to see us be a bit bolder in actually naming some of the specifics in reference to some of the issues we’ve arrived at. There are some things we’ve determined are a truth for us. It gives the denomination an idea of the direction we’re moving.

“If we are more pointed about it, we will be really living into our mission to be bold and live into a new truth. It will generate more feedback, instead of being lukewarm. We can agree that our current structure is untenable. We can’t go into the next season of being the PC(USA) with our current structure.”

“Let’s be careful,” said commission member the Rev. Eileen Lindner, noting the major themes of the presentation didn’t directly include the Presbyterian Foundation and Board of Pensions, which she said are also included in a possible structural redesign.

“We’re not giving a structural outline; we’re giving an indication of how we will approach our work,” said Hostetter of the goals of the midyear report. “The goal of this exercise [of the past two days] is so the document drafters will know the areas they need to hit.”

The group hopes to have an outline prepared to receive comment for producing a draft within the next two to three weeks. A “fully fleshed out draft” of the midyear report is expected by the group’s next conference call. No date has been specified for the release of the final report. Drafters are Maxim, Lindner, Jo Stewart, Sam Bonner and Hostetter.

The question of how to engage church members, pastors, mid council leaders, racial-ethnic caucuses and agency representatives in an invitation for feedback was raised. Various technology solutions were suggested for gathering interest groups, including large-congregation pastors and leaders, following the release of the report.

The commission will meet via conference call June 27 and Aug. 9 in preparation for their next face-to-face meeting, at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary on Sept. 17–19.

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