LOUISVILLE (Outlook) – This is a time of great opportunity for the Presbyterian Mission Agency – but also a time when “the Presbyterian Mission Agency needs to change.”
That’s part of the message that Kenneth Godshall, a minister from Kentucky and chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency board, brought in his remarks to the board Sept. 14 – reflecting that the board is trying a new way of doing business at exactly the time when groups that the 2016 General Assembly commissioned to find a way forward for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are preparing to start their work.
“Are we prepared to do something significant?” Godshall asked the board.
In the work of these new groups – a new 2020 Vision Team and the Way Forward Commission, along with the the All Agency Review committee, which will review the interactions of the six PC(USA) agencies – “it will be fair to say the Presbyterian Mission Agency will receive special attention,” Godshall said. “There is great excitement and some anxiety about the new commission, and a clear sense of urgency about their work. In this time of challenge and change, it’s my belief that the actions of the General Assembly provide a great opportunity for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.”
Godshall spoke of the board operating in “parallel fashion” to these groups, in a way “that will make the work of reformation that much easier.”
Deborah Block, a pastor from Milwaukee, will chair the All Agency Review committee. The moderators and membership of the 2020 Vision Team and the Way Forward Commission have not yet been named.
There was, however, some disagreement during the Wednesday plenary about appointment of the board’s representative to the Way Forward Commission. The board voted to name Jo Stewart, a ruling elder and its former vice-chair, as its representative – but only after questions arose about whether it’s appropriate for the board to name a former member, rather than a current one, to represent it. Stewart rotated off the board in July after serving a six-year term.
The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) has done the same – naming Eileen Lindner, a teaching elder and former editor of the “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches,” who had also just rotated off of COGA, as its representative. The assembly’s action creating the commission states that its membership shall include “a representative from both the current Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA).”
Tom Hay, from the Office of the General Assembly, said J. Herbert Nelson, the PC(USA)’s newly-elected stated clerk, and Gradye Parsons, the former stated clerk, had offered guidance that the word “current” in the assembly’s instructions could be interpreted to mean someone who was a current board member when the assembly acted in June – but not necessarily someone who’s still on the board now. “This is appropriate,” Hay said of Stewart’s nomination.
Before the board acted to approve Stewart’s nomination, Chad Herring, a board member from Kansas City, made a motion to send the matter back to the board’s Personnel and Nominating committee, so the committee could nominate a current member instead of Stewart. Herring said he has no objection to Stewart’s qualifications – saying if she were still on the board, he would support her nomination.
Because the larger church may have concerns about the responsiveness of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, Herring said, the board should take seriously the language in the General Assembly action stating that “the membership has to be from the current board.”
Herring’s motion failed by a 13-17 vote.
Time for change
Godshall cited accomplishments of the Presbyterian Mission Agency since Tony De La Rosa became its interim director nine months ago – including a new Mission Work Plan and mission budgets for 2017 and 2018 that don’t draw on reserves. “The contribution of our agency to the denomination is very significant,” Godshall said – citing, for example, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Young Adult Volunteer program, World Mission and much more.
Despite that, the agency needs to change – and “the mission of this agency is not completely clear,” Godshall said. “We are the arms and legs of Jesus, and also his accounting department.”
He also described the changes in the board’s committee structure – saying it will make the board’s work more productive and relevant, and answer concerns some may have that “the board has little influence and basically rubber stamps” the work of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
As the result of changes the board approved last April, it now has a different internal structure, with both administrative committees (to do the nuts-and-bolts procedural work) and ministerial teams (to focus on specific questions).
The board is spending part of each meeting in “generative discussion.” At this meeting, they are considering the questions of “what is mission?” and “what is the purpose of transparency?”
The purpose of generative discussion is not to solve problems, but to provide insight, understanding and a sense of an organization’s identity, Godshall said. That’s important when the issues being considered are important and carry big stakes; and it’s important when they are somewhat ambiguous and capable of provoking conflict, he said.
An example: Instead of deciding how much to spend on Christian education, a generative question might be: What is Christian education?
The hope, Godshall said, is that the new approach will make the board’s work more productive and relevant, and give its members greater satisfaction and a sense of collaboration and trust.
In the first round, the ministerial teams (sometimes also referred to as strategic teams) will focus on these eight questions:
- Addressing power & privilege. What are the three most important things the Presbyterian Mission Agency can effectively do to address power and privilege?
- Overhead costs. How should overhead costs for the Presbyterian Mission Agency be managed, allocated and communicated?
- Implementing the Belhar Confession. What strategic steps should be undertaken to resource mid councils and worshipping communities desiring to implement the vision of a fully inclusive church informed by the Belhar Confession? The 2016 General Assembly voted in June to add Belhar, which focuses on justice and reconciliation and was written by South African Christians in the midst of their nation’s struggle over apartheid, to the PC(USA) Book of Confessions.
- Increased coordination with the Office of the General Assembly. What are the two areas in which increased coordination with the Office of the General Assembly would better serve the church?
- The role of print. How will print be implemented in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s communications strategy?
- World Mission competencies. How can the competencies of World Mission be implemented in the PC(USA)’s domestic mission work?
- New Worshiping Communities. What are the next steps for the 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative?
- Young adult volunteers. What are the next steps for the Young Adult Volunteer program?