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MCC calls for initiatives on agencies, ethnic ministry

The General Assembly Mid-Councils Commission is calling for reviews of the denomination’s top-level agencies and its racial ethnic ministry.

While still at work on its final report during its Feb. 2-4 meeting in Dallas, the commission added those two recommendations to the 2012 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The commission voted Feb. 3 to ask the assembly to create a task force “to review the nature and function of General Assembly agencies” with respect to the changing context in which Presbyterians do ministry. The commission approved the recommendation even though Daniel Saperstein, a representative of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, warned it might exceed the commission’s mandate.

The commission also will ask the assembly to create another new task force to consider how the PC(USA) approaches racial ethnic ministry. The commission voted to do that after hearing that Presbyterians of color have expressed widespread feelings of frustration and disenfranchisement.

As part of its 18 months of work, the commission held consultations with the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns and others regarding racial ethnic ministry in the PC(USA). One topic was the commission’s recommendation that synods be discontinued as ecclesiastical councils in the denomination — and the potential impact of such a move on racial ethnic ministry, which often has found a home at the synod level.

Those conversations revealed a “feeling of disconnect in the racial ethnic community,” said Warren Cooper, a ruling elder from Pittsburgh Presbytery who reported the findings of the commission’s Racial Ethnic Strategy Task Force.

While many in the PC(USA) may feel disconnected to some extent, for people of color “it’s a double disconnect,” Cooper said. He described “a feeling of disenfranchisement that is very deep-seated,” even among Presbyterians “who have served the church faithfully for many years.”

The commission was considering ways racial ethnic ministry could proceed even if the denomination’s 16 synods were not to continue as ecclesiastical councils.

In trying to identify possible models for racial ethnic ministry in a time of potential transition, “we heard a widespread outcry for relief from conditions as they currently exist,” the strategy task force report states.

Established racial ethnic congregations continue to struggle in their relationships with their presbyteries, resourcing and nurture are widely unavailable to them, and there is a feeling within this community that they are being abandoned in favor of other priorities within the denomination. The commitment to Racial Ethnic Ministry that the PC(USA) has professed is seen as mere lip service, due to the general absence of evidence of that commitment on the local church level.”

The report also states that the PC(USA)’s support for emerging racial ethnic worshiping communities — such as immigrant new church developments — is sometimes coming at the expense of established racial ethnic congregations that are struggling with decline.

A realignment within the PC(USA) that does not include synods as ecclesiastical councils “presents a fundamental threat to racial ethnic ministry, because it removes a recognized place of shelter,” the report states.

So the commission voted to recommend that the 2012 General Assembly create a task force “to review, assess and explore” racial ethnic ministry in the denomination, regardless of whether the assembly supports the commission’s recommendation on synods.

The commission also discussed the importance of cultural proficiency training and the need for Presbyterians to recognize the full complexity of racial diversity within the denomination.

After hearing Cooper’s report, commission member James Harper, a teaching elder from Georgia, said he thinks the commission has a “moral responsibility” to say to the assembly, “this is a problem we discovered, and it needs to be addressed.”

Commission members were expected to vote on their full report during a Feb. 13 conference call.