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World Mission’s Northeast Consultation encourages boldness and action

The times call for Presbyterians to turn fearfulness into faithfulness

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

Groups discuss a series of key questions to inform the World Mission strategy process. Photo by Jieun Kim Han

STONY POINT, N.Y. — More than 30 people representing congregations, new worshiping communities, mid councils, racial-ethnic caucuses, Young Adult Volunteer alums, mission networks and others gathered by invitation of Presbyterian World Mission in early April. The gathering, held at Stony Point Center, was the second of three U.S. consultations to discuss and discern God’s mission in partnership. The first day of the three-day consultation coincided with the 51st anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who is remembered for his legacy of courage, not fear.

Rick Ufford-Chase, co-director of Stony Point Center and moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 216th General Assembly (2004), spoke about the signs of the times, saying Presbyterians must be prepared to practice boldness in a time of fear.

“We are a fearful people. We are scared to death,” Ufford-Chase said. “If we want to do, embody, be mission in the coming year, we must recognize and be able to accept the cost of following Jesus.” He said the goal is not to get more people on the Presbyterianism bandwagon, but he would love for the Presbyterian church to be known for its core values and commitments. To have people say, “Oh, yeah: They’re the ones actually willing to put skin in the game when they say they’re sorry for all the things they did to the Native Americans in the United States, or to indigenous persons anywhere in the world.”

“I don’t care about growing the number of members of the Presbyterian Church. I don’t care,” Ufford-Chase said. “I care about being a faithful follower of Jesus. I think that’s what mission should be.”

The Rev. José Luis Casal, director of Presbyterian World Mission, explained that partners’ vision for mission in the 21st century is important and that every opinion is valuable. “This is not a conversation from ‘us’ with ‘them,’ ” he said. “It is all of us. This is a conversation of partners that suddenly, in the middle of the road, discover that they have to do changes in the vehicle when they are running together. They want to discover how to do those changes in the best way, and how to push the cart together. It is necessary. We are partners.”

Both the 222nd and 223rd General Assemblies (2016 and 2018) challenged the PC(USA) to be a Matthew 25 church, to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor.

Casal asked what it means to be a Matthew 25 church in this new era. A church that “feeds the hungry, cares for the sick, visits people in jail, gives water to the thirsty — that is the church we hope we can be.” This challenge of the gospel is the reason for the World Mission strategy process consultations that began in Africa and will conclude in Louisville, he said. The entire strategy process is being facilitated by World Mission staff: the Rev. Philip Woods, associate director for strategy, program and recruitment, and the Rev. Debbie Braaksma, Africa area coordinator.

Left: Rick Ufford-Chase, co-director of the Stony Point Center and moderator of GA 216, presents the signs of the times during the World Mission Northeast partner consultation. Photo by Jieun Kim Han. Right: More than 30 partners and nine World Mission staff members took part in the Northeast strategy process consultation at Stony Point Center in early April. Photo provided

Participants in groups of six or seven per table tackled key questions related to effectiveness in mission, and puzzled over ways to deal with structural brokenness, inequities and root causes of poverty. They suggested learning more from partners, being adaptable, promoting interfaith dialogue and seeing mission from our own backyards. They asked how to tell the story of mission better after returning home and how to provide resources in multiple languages, use social media effectively and communicate best practices, so that each congregation and mission network isn’t starting from scratch. One group asked, “How can small churches still contribute to mission?”

“It was encouraging and inspiring to be in a place with leaders from all across the denomination who were not afraid to share their experiences, challenge one another, or re-imagine new missional and relational paradigms for the PC(USA),” said Teresa Larson, an alum of the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer program and student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. “I’m hopeful that the leaders in World Mission heard the resounding desire for clear communication and resources to facilitate connections of mutuality across all dimensions of our denomination’s approach and understanding of what it means to be a church that is co-laboring with God, one another, and all of our global partners.”

A Bible study from Isaiah 43, the lectionary reading for the fifth Sunday of Lent, reminded those taking part in the consultation strategy process to forget the former things because God is about to do a new thing.

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, general presbyter of the Presbytery of Southern New England and chairperson of the Outreach to the World Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, said: “It was energizing to talk with Presbyterians from around our region who are invested in World Mission from different locations and missional commitments. There are many shifts in our future, and I am excited to see how World Mission, in consultation with partners internationally, domestically and within the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Office of the General Assembly, sees that future unfolding as they present plans in fall of this year.”

The Presbyterian World Mission Northeast Consultation followed partner consultations in Atlanta (U.S. Southeast), Nairobi, Kenya (Africa); Berlin, Germany (Europe and the Middle East); Chiang Mai, Thailand (Asia and the Pacific) and Cartagena, Colombia (Latin America and the Caribbean).

The next World Mission U.S. strategy process consultation will be held May 10–12 in Zephyr Cove, Nevada.

These international and domestic consultations will be followed by a Presbyterian Mission Agency staff consultation at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) headquarters in Louisville. All eight consultations, along with a regional liaison gathering held prior to the consultations, will bring together a total of more than 700 partners, supporters and mission personnel to include a broad range of diverse voices to inform the Presbyterian World Mission strategic plan moving forward.

On April 1, the Presbyterian Mission Agency launched the Matthew 25 Invitation, a bold new vision that calls Presbyterian congregations and mid councils to actively engage in the world around them so that “our faith comes alive and we wake up to new possibilities.” The invitation, open to any church or mid council, has three goals: to build congregational vitality, to dismantle structural racism and to eradicate systemic poverty. The first step to becoming a Matthew 25 church or mid council is to sign up at pcusa.org/matthew25, then to follow up by sharing stories of impact toward one or more of the three goal areas. As the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, explains, “The journey is just as important as the end results.”

Woods said that when World Mission leadership has reviewed the information gathered through all of the consultations, a report will be issued and shared with everyone who took part. The outcomes and how World Mission expects to move forward will be included.

Ellen Sherby, coordinator of Equipping for Mission Involvement, and Richard Williams, coordinator of the Young Adult Volunteer program, contributed to this article.


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