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The Outlook speaks with Neal Presa


Outlook: In your opinion, what is the most significant matter coming before this General Assembly, and how do you propose that the assembly respond to it?

presaNP: While there are many significant matters coming to the Assembly, including marriage, ordination standards and Israel-Palestine, the Mid Council Commission report is pivotal in its descriptions of where the church is and its prescriptions of where we might be. The comprehensive nature of the report challenges us to rethink the nature, purpose and mission of mid councils and how we understand ourselves to be in community with one another for the sake of Christ’s mission in our contexts. It would be good for the assembly in plenary and in committee to follow a method of deliberation similar to the creative ways the report describes how presbyteries across the country are doing “business,” e.g., consensus decision-making, table discussions, and World Café conversation models.

Outlook: What do you believe are the causes of conflict in the PC(USA), and what do you hope this General Assembly will do to help bring resolution?

NP: Conflict is inescapable. Particularly when we consider 2.1 million members with varying opinions and interpretations of how the world should be, there is bound to be conflict. The questions, therefore, are: what are “essential” and “non-essential” to our life together? And when one’s “essential” encroaches or disagrees with another’s sense of what is “essential,” how can we dignify those differences and regard one another still as ones who have been redeemed by God in Christ?

Our Presbyterian DNA has, as its default response when conflict arises, one of two options: flight or fight. There’s a better and more excellent way, which I hope the assembly will seize: the response of gift/forgive. That is, giving of ourselves to one another, forgiving each other, giving for the other. This begins with prayer, intentional listening, humbly speaking and acknowledging Christ is and always will be the Lord and Head of the Church.


Outlook: In your opinion, what is the most urgent need in the PC(USA) over the next five years?

NP: After the debate finishes, votes are cast, and the assembly adjourns, all of us will return to our congregations; worship across the church will resume on July 8. Over the next five years, it will be critical for us to see that Christ calls each and all of us to continually follow the pattern of “gathering-sending-gathering-sending” in our faith, witness and service with refreshed vision and creative passion. We do so, grounded in God’s promises, moving onward with love, confidence and humility in our hearts. We gather in worship to pray and praise God, to be reminded of the Good News. We gather in councils to discern together the will and mind of Christ.

Outlook: What are your goals for your moderatorial years, and what strengths do you bring to the task?

NP: Over the next two years, I want to serve as a convener of intentional, focused conversations on some of the following key questions:

What would it mean for our life/service together to see our worship of the triune God at the center and circumference of who we are as children of God?

If our journey began at our baptisms, sustained by Scripture, bread/cup, and community, and enacted whenever we serve “the least” and “the last,” how can we recover a renaissance of mission service all across the church?

In a time of great, fast-moving change facilitated by social networking platforms and fueled by profound passion by a new generation of leadership that wants to make the world a better place, I believe my demonstrated gifts of pastoral diplomacy, coupled with a nimble rootedness in our Reformed tradition, will be assets in serving the church as a convener of conversations.