PITTSBURGH , July 2, 2012 – A General Assembly committee voted Monday not to establish a task force to study bivocational ministry – even though that had been identified as a critical issue by a special committee studying the needs of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in a changing world.
Chad Herring, a teaching elder from Heartland Presbytery, moderated ongoing discussion Monday in the General Assembly committee on Church Growth and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP). Morning discussion focused on the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program. The afternoon and evening were dedicated to reviewing the 10 recommendations from the Special Committee appointed by the 219th General Assembly on the Nature of the Church in the 21st Century.
Representing the Special Committee, teaching elders Carol Howard Merritt and Stephanie Sorge Wing shared the recommendations and their excitement about opportunities for underserved churches and for expanding bivocational opportunities. Key goals of the recommendations are to start new ministries, fuel diversity, and explore different forms of vocation as the church lives into its calling in modern contexts.
The committee spent considerable time reviewing the 10 recommendations, amending wording, and debating the spirit of the proposals. One recommendation supporting new churches referred to new immigrant communities and those with underrepresented leadership, particularly women and people of color. Committee discussion centered around whether that language was too limited, with some committee members suggesting that new church development should be more inclusive but also that it should recognize the efforts of existing leaders who may not fall into “underserved” categories.
In a somewhat surprising move to those who offered the report, the committee did not approve a recommendation to “charge the 220th General Assembly to appoint a task force to study and make recommendations affirming ordained bivocational ministry as a critically viable form of ministry in the 21st century.” Instead, the committee voted to instruct the denomination’s national staff to do the work.
On her blog, Sorge Wing addressed the problems she sees in this change noting that this change delivers a less comprehensive approach with the General Assembly Mission Council staff already overextended and lacking representation from those currently engaged in bivocational ministry. She summarized, “It is difficult to imagine how significant work will be accomplished in this critical area with the recommendation as amended. I hope that when this recommendation comes to the floor of GA, there will be some opportunity to restore the task force and salvage that important motion.”
After voting on all of the special committee’s 10 recommendations had concluded, ruling elder commissioner JoAnn Ruther of the Presbytery of Baltimore stated, “I found the actual report on which these recommendations were based to be one of the most meaningful and amazing documents I’ve ever seen come out of the church.” She added, “I would like to take the whole report back to my congregation and use it as the basis for worship services and forums… because of the way it takes us back to the beginning of the church.”
Other committee members echoed her remarks, adding: “Thanks be to God!”