SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Outlook) – The Way Forward Commission is working to build consensus about what changes are needed in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and then “let’s move it forward as fast as we can. Let’s move it forward as far as we can, with the consensus that this is the right way forward.”
Mark Hostetter, moderator of the Way Forward Commission, brought that message to the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board meeting in Puerto Rico March 23 – describing for the board the commission’s process, the Affirmation of Approach it wrote earlier this month, and his hopes for the denomination.
“We’re not going to create some super-agency over everybody else,” said Hostetter, a teaching elder from New York. The commission has been in conversation with all the denomination’s six agencies, trying to encourage them to work together, and already has seen the agencies identify “exciting new initiatives,” he said. “We want to empower the agencies themselves to start thinking this way,” he said, asking questions such as “what can the commission help you do that you can’t do on your own?”
Or how can the commission use the sense of urgency that led the 2016 General Assembly to create it to overcome inertia, and a reluctance to change?
The affirmation, released at the commission’s meeting at Columbia Theological Seminary March 7, is an attempt to describe the values the commission is promoting in its work and for the PC(USA) as a whole. The commission also is working to identify possible short-term changes, Hostetter said, and ultimately will conduct a comprehensive review of the national structure – identifying the “pinch points” – and any changes needed there.
The current denominational structure is more than 30 years old, dating back to the reunion of the northern and southern branches of the Presbyterian church, so maybe it’s time for a revision, Hostetter said.
“We have no vision this will be in place 30 years from now – we hope it’s not,” he said of any structural revision the commission might put forth. And “if it doesn’t work, fine. Fix it in four years.”
Patsy Smith, a ruling elder from Indian Nations Presbytery, asked about Hostetter’s sense of the discomfort that comes when a redesign “inherently changes the power structure.”
Hostetter said the commission is leaning on its values, asking Presbyterians to “hold to our core as Christians,” hoping those shared affirmations such as an appreciation for diversity, a sense of collaboration and a desire to be responsive and to support local ministry will lessen that concern.
“We don’t know where this will go,” he said, in answer to a question from Wendy Tajima, a board member from California, about how to be visionary – to see and think beyond what Presbyterians think they want.
But Hostetter said he is tremendously hopeful.
“This is an amazing moment. There is so much strength in this denomination. There is so much money in this denomination. … I can’t imagine a more fun project to work on.”
The Way Forward Commission meets next by conference call April 18.
The board’s meeting in San Juan will conclude by mid-day March 24.