What’s (not) in a name? GAMC must ditch the word ‘council’

          Under the new recommendation, the elected council would be known as the “Presbyterian Mission Agency Board” and the denomination’s national staff as “Presbyterian Mission Agency.”

          The council’s executive committee approved the idea Sept. 21, and it will go to the full council for a vote later this week. Any change also would need approval from the 2012 General Assembly.

          In its rationale, the executive committee explains that the council has worked for seven years to “clarify its identity.” Most of the possibilities floated for a new name have had the word “mission” in them, with the consensus being that mission is “at the core of the council’s work,” the rationale states.

          One possibility was to simply call the agency “Presbyterian Mission.” Some felt, however, that that might appear as though the council was claiming to be the only part of the PC(USA) doing mission – leaving out congregations, presbyteries and synods. So the recommendation is for “Presbyterian Mission Agency” – partly in the hope that that language draws upon terminology that Presbyterians in the pews are accustomed to using.

          The full council will continue meeting through Sept. 23. A major theme of discussion will be leadership development – but some nuts-and-bolts of work also will get done.

          Here are some of the items up for consideration

Mid-council consultations. The council’s executive committee is recommending that the council meet jointly with presbytery and synod executives every other year, instead of annually, as has been the pattern in recent years.

          Liaisons. Some council members feel stretched thin. While the size of the council has dropped dramatically – it now has 40 voting members, down from 72 a few years ago – the obligations of its members to serve as liaisons to other PC(USA) entities (committees, task forces and the like) has not lessened.

          As a result, some council members have multiple commitments, and that can cause difficulty – for example, some council members with jobs outside the church already must take vacation time to serve, said Matt Schramm, a pastor from Michigan.

          To address that, the council will consider a recommendation that it initiate conversations with four General Assembly entities about the possibility of having Linda Valentine, the council’s executive director, or a member of the PC(USA)’s national staff attend that entity’s meetings instead of an elected council member. It also would talk with the denomination’s advisory and advocacy committees about “the roles, responsibilities and number of liaisons,” to see what changes might be made.

          Advisory and advocacy committees. Representatives of three committees – the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy – gave reports about their work – including initiatives they intend to present to the 2012 General Assembly. Some of those reports are still being written, but they address a range of concerns both in the church and out the world – from continued economic difficulties to the PC(USA)’s struggle to become more racially diverse.

          The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, for example, is considering issues such as the delay in processing rape kits in cases alleging sexual assault and also women’s access to health care. The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns is addressing immigration issues and disproportionate rates of incarceration for people of color. And among the issues the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy is discussing are democratic uprisings in the Middle East and their impact on U.S. foreign policy.

          These are not exhaustive lists – these committees have other projects as well.

          Council member Jan Martin described her involvement with the Women’s Concerns committee this way:  “The work is exciting, it’s valuable, it’s worthwhile, it’s diverse.”


          Season of change. Several speakers alluded Sept. 21 to the recent gathering in Minneapolis of the Fellowship of Presbyterians – and to the sense that the PC(USA) is in the midst of a time of significant change. The Fellowship is convening a “constitutional convention” Jan. 12-14 in Orlando, where it says it will create a “new Reformed body” with which congregations may affiliate.

          Valentine, who attended the Fellowship meeting, said she hopes the energy from that gathering will go toward building up the church. And she said the Fellowship organizers “are not alone in calling for change and reformation in the church” – that other proposals are coming from groups such as NEXT Church and the Committee on Theological Education.

          Council chair Michael Kruse spoke of the PC(USA) becoming “aqua-church,” of it “moving off the land and into the sea,” floating away from familiar landmarks and into new waters.

          Tool kits.  The denomination’s communications staff has prepared “tool kits” for council members, to help them share with others the work of the PC(USA). Rob Bullock, director of mission communications, described this to the executive committee as a tool kit “to equip you to tell the stories” and to give elected council members “message points” to talk about the council and its funding.

          The kit includes messages of varying lengths – what Bullock called the elevator speech, a longer elevator speech and a table conversation. It also has a 60-slide PowerPoint with talking points for each slide and DVDs with stories of vital new and revitalized congregations.

          Some of the information is available through the PC(USA) Web site, Bullock said, at http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/gamc/ambassadors-program/.


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