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Today in the Mission Yearbook

‘This seems to be the right tool at the right time’


Presbytery leaders join the Being Matthew 25 broadcast to swap stories and share their hope for the PC(USA)

June 15,  2022

Emmett and Clara Wise of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, participate in Austin’s annual Martin Luther King Day Walk. This image graces the cover of the 2021-22 Presbyterian Planning Calendar. (Photo by Elise Ragland)

Two presbytery executives who have seen firsthand what the Matthew 25 invitation can do to make ministry and evangelism more effective and more inclusive joined the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s president and executive director, the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, for the second edition of “Being Matthew 25.” The conversation is hosted each month by the Rev. DeEtte Decker, the Mission Agency’s social media strategist. Watch the episode here.

For the first half of their conversation together, Decker was joined by the Rev. Dr. Floretta Barbee-Watkins, transitional executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Detroit, and the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, general presbyter of the Presbytery of Southern New England. Both are also members of the PMA Board, with Vance-Ocampo serving as the chair-elect.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 invitation invites congregations, mid councils and groups to work on one or more of three focus areas derived from Jesus’ Judgment of the Nations found in Matthew 25:31–46building congregational vitalitydismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

“This seems to be the right tool at the right time,” Vance-Ocampo said. “It’s rooted in gospel values, it’s highly intersectional and it isn’t shirking from the hard things around us.” It also “deepens our core areas of discipleship,” both personal and corporate, Vance-Ocampo said.

Barbee-Watkins agreed and called Matthew 25 “an indictment.”

“It calls us to be faithful because we haven’t been,” Barbee-Watkins said. “Jesus came not to comfort, but to rouse some things up, and Matthew 25 embraces that.”

“Those of us on the margins have been pushed to the edges, even in our denomination,” Barbee-Watkins said, noting that at the time of her ordination, she couldn’t be an open and affirming about her sexual orientation. Fast-forward to today, when “I’m excited about how [Matthew 25] manifests itself in the Presbytery of Detroit.”

The Matthew 25 vision and the shift it’s encouraging “is the opportunity to live into that ‘always reforming’ part of who we are as Presbyterians,” Decker said before asking her guests what they’re seeing in their presbyteries as churches and individuals act on the Matthew 25 invitation.

“Our hunger ministry has been thriving,” Barbee-Watkins said. “Congregations are coming together in geographic ways, combining to do ministries.” First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Michigan, calls itself “Everybody’s Church.” “It’s a big-steeple white congregation saying, ‘We are everybody’s church,’” Barbee-Watkins said.

Vance-Ocampo said the Presbytery of Southern New England hasn’t officially signed on as a Matthew 25 presbytery, “but we are working on Matthew 25 initiatives all the time.” There’s been a big push to do antiracism work, she said, aided by a consultant the PMA has also used, Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Congregational vitality work has come in part by reorienting the work of the presbytery’s Committee on Ministry, using Theology, Formation & Evangelism’s comprehensive tool 8 Habits of Evangelism.

“We want to focus on leadership development. That is our niche as Presbyterians,” Vance-Ocampo said. “How do we diversify and find new people who have never served before” and “get them to think in ways we have not thought before, as a governing body and as a ministry body.” More than 60% of churches in the presbytery have welcomed new leadership in the past 4½ years, she said, which “has a force and energy of its own. God is shaking things up and making things happen.”

While some Presbyterians are uncomfortable even talking about evangelism, “it is our call to go and make disciples. We have a story to tell, and it’s a good story,” Vance-Ocampo said.

Evangelism is telling the good news, and Barbee-Watkins had a culinary example to illustrate how best to tell it.

“If I found out lobsters were on sale for $5 each, I’d tell everybody — once I bought 10 for my freezer,” she said. “We will trip over our own feet half the time” trying to live into our calling, she said, “but we get the chance to say how things are in this time.”

What she’s hoping is that someone will soon write a confession about how to be faithful during a pandemic. “We need to take back the narrative of Christendom,” Barbee-Watkins said. “The answer is still Jesus. It still is.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Being Matthew 25 broadcast

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Tonia Trice, HR Generalist, Human Resources, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Becky Trinkle, Project Manager, Administration, Communications Ministry, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Eternal God, in the midst of a world that simply won’t stop, or even slow, its relentless changing, grant us a deep and abiding sense of your sovereign power and steadfast presence in our lives. May we walk the way that is set before us in faithfulness to our calling in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.