CHICAGO – Hoping to give the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a sense of some of the big themes it considers essential – from the voice and authority of the stated clerk to the ministry of mid councils – the Way Forward Commission hopes to issue a midterm report, perhaps following its conference call at the end of June.
The commission’s final report and recommendations to the 2018 General Assembly are due to the Office of the General Assembly by Feb. 16, 2018. The midterm report will include:
- A design schematic listing major themes.
- A response to initiatives that are specific to some of the PC(USA)’s six agencies (work the agencies are doing in response to conversations with the commission and to their own agency reviews) and to other issues highlighted in the agency reviews.
- A review of the commission’s process.
- An invitation for feedback to the commission. That likely would include a survey seeking responses to some of the issues and themes the commission has identified, plus an effort to speak with the leadership (both staff and board) of the six agencies.
Underlying it all, said Mark Hostetter, a teaching elder from New York who is the commission’s moderator, is a commitment to service to Jesus Christ.
The commission also set up three subgroups to look more closely at:
- Mid council needs and mission delivery;
- Constitutional research – regarding the role of the stated clerk and of the PC(USA)’s corporate identity.
- The work of writing a midterm report.
The commission spent some time May 17 – near the close of its two-day meeting at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago – figuring out more specifically what it wants that midterm report to say.
“I’d like to see us be a little bit bolder,” said Eliana Maxim, a mid council executive from Seattle. She urged the commission to name some specifics they have determined to be true.
Maxim said that “if we are more pointed about it, we will be living into our charge to be bold and to proclaim our truth fearlessly,” and “it’ll garner a lot more feedback” than if the commission says something lukewarm.
For example, “our current structure is untenable,” Maxim said. “I think we need to proclaim that. We cannot go into the next season of being PC(USA) with the same structure we currently have.”
Some might read the themes as implying “no real structural change,” said Jo Stewart, a ruling elder from North Carolina. The commission might want to communicate that “the structure doesn’t need to stay the way it is. … It’s no longer an effective system.”
The commission also discussed these points:
Diversity. The commission added as one of its values “the centrality of our diversity” – while recognizing that the PC(USA), which is more than 90 percent white, is not very diverse. So is diversity as a value a reality or an aspiration? – asked Adan Mairena, a minister from Philadelphia.
The commission also discussed what diversity can mean – including racial ethnic diversity, gender identity and economic diversity. To some extent, with an emphasis on radical inclusion “we are first of all talking to ourselves,” said Cliff Lyda, a teaching elder form Florida. “It’s a shift away from the Presbyterian church which socially in my lifetime has been a very privileged, affluent and wonderfully safe place to be.”
Diversity “is aspirational and it’s a value,” said Sam Bonner, a ruling elder from New Jersey. But “what in that structure tells me that you’re working to be diverse?”
Authority. The commission continued to discuss the idea of who has authority to lead the PC(USA) – and whether that should rest primarily with the stated clerk, or whether it should explore the idea of also having some kind of “general presbyter” with executive authority.
Currently, “there is no accountability from the executive to the ecclesial,” said Tom Hay, the chief operating officer for the Office of the General Assembly.
Feedback. The commission discussed the best way to solicit feedback – including from mid council and agency leaders, and perhaps pastors of large congregations, Presbyterians involved with NEXT Church and Presbyterians of color, possibly through phone calls with representatives of the denomination’s racial ethnic caucuses.
Themes. The commission revised somewhat the list of themes it wants to include in the midterm report (a list it had developed the previous day). The revised list was:
- Stated clerk: voice and authority. Also: executive leadership accountability.
- Churchwide mission solely focused on mission.
- Mid councils refashioned to provide resourcing and coaching for congregations.
- Reconceptualized shared services – where should it be located in the denomination and how should it be administered?
- Congregational support – how can it be the locus of ministry?
- Effective communication.
- Post-traditional leadership – including leadership development.
The commission’s future meetings will be:
Jun 27 – Conference call, 5-8 p.m. Eastern
Aug 9 – Conference call, 5-8 p.m. Eastern
Sep 17-19 – Meet in Louisville (at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary)
Oct 24 – Conference call, 5-8 pm. Eastern.
Nov 29 – Conference call, 5-8 p.m. Eastern.
Jan 17-19, 2018 – Meet in Seattle (at Seattle First Presbyterian Church)