Heath Rada, moderator of the 2014 General Assembly, has issued an urgent “Call to the Church” – a call for reform of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), naming a “a lack of trust across the church” and saying it’s imperative for the denomination to act soon.
Rada’s call carries with it a sense that change is seeping the PC(USA), whether the denomination is ready for it or not. The leadership at the top is changing; money is running tight; and “there is a profound and rapid change in the world around us that has put the church’s relevance in question in ways we have not seen in our lifetime,” he said.
“We do not have the luxury of time to discern and to debate,” Rada said in remarks prepared for the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, meeting in Louisville Sept. 23-25.
Rada’s call to the church grew out of conversations he and other Presbyterian leaders were having about funding for PC(USA) World Mission – and the projections which show that World Mission may face a $4.5 million shortfall by 2017, which would force the PC(USA) to recall about 40 of the 162 mission co-workers it now has assigned internationally. As a result of those initial conversations, Rada said, he became aware of the urgent need for change.
People are not giving to the church because of a “lack of trust,” including of the PC(USA)’s national staff in Louisville, he said, and from “a total desire to see where we’re going on the part of members of our denomination before people want to give money.”
Among the “bold and immediate steps” Rada is calling for:
- A churchwide discussion to assess the will of the PC(USA) that would be led by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. In late October, the denomination’s Research Services office intends to send a survey with open-ended questions to Presbyterians to gather responses.
- A series of “Moderator Chats” to listen to Presbyterians’ concerns.
- Regional gatherings in early 2016 of commissioners elected to the 2016 General Assembly.
Rada said he wants all who care about the PC(USA) to be involved in those conversations about the future and direction of the denomination – including “people who have felt disenfranchised, people from different theological positions and different cultural and racial backgrounds, staff members at the local and national levels, and all others who care about our denomination” – to participate in that effort to help guide the 2016 General Assembly.
Those conversations would be taking place at a time when the budget of the PC(USA) is running out of unrestricted reserves, which potentially could trigger deep budget cuts and restructuring, and when discussions are bubbling around the church about the possibility of merging the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly. The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board will consider the budget for 2017 and 2018 when it meets next, in February and April 2016.
To start with, Rada is asking the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly to take the lead – and it’s unclear whether the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is inclined to move as quickly as he is, particularly as the idea of possibly consolidating or restructuring agencies at the top of the denomination’s structure already has people unsettled.
The board voted Sept. 24 to “embrace the churchwide listening effort” Rada suggested, but to recommend that the 2016 General Assembly forward the results of that research, along with the reports underway, “as input for the next agency review cycle,” which is scheduled for 2016-2018 and is intended to review “the whole of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its six agencies, focusing broadly on the effectiveness of the six agencies and other governing bodies in working collaboratively to implement the General Assembly’s mission directives.”
Rada, on the other hand, said this: “We cannot wait until this upcoming assembly to appoint a study committee to come back in two years with a recommendation that will take two years to implement. The people in the pews as well as the ongoing health of our organization and our staff says we cannot wait for four years to get this resolved. The need is immediate.”
He asked the board members: “Are we listening to God’s call for us to do a new thing? And are we willing to risk the comfort and in some ways the traditions of our past in order to accept our place in a resurrected church?”