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The Outlook speaks with Randolph Branson

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?

RB: Of all the issues facing this General Assembly, the most important is how we address the issues. Business as usual with up-or-down votes on overtures and recommendations from special committees will only perpetuate division. Adopting more creative and less divisive responses to the great issues offers hope to the whole church.

bransonThe reports of the Mid Council Commission and the Future of the Church are the most vital pieces we’ll address at the assembly. They should be studied by every part of the church. Rather than adopt their recommendations, however, I suggest we develop a 2-4 year plan of study for every part of the church. Employ unemployed certified Christian educators to create a process for considering the critical information contained in them. Send teams to mid councils to lead the study. It will be a better way to spend our money than reorganize yet again.

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?

RB: Some years ago various parts of the church quit talking to each other. We’d possibly interact at presbytery meetings, but communication became debate on the issues of the day. We no longer invested in a relationship with one another. We organized to win the day for our position, cause, leadership and authority. This came to a head in the late 1960s and early 1970s when affinity groups began to emerge to push particular causes or directions for the denomination. We became an extension of the national political process.

I hope this General Assembly begins the process of changing this trajectory. I am standing for moderator because of my experience in adopting a new way of relating to one another. In Palo Duro Presbytery we invest in our relationships before we address issues. I hope the General Assembly commissioners will begin doing the same.

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

RB: We must call on the power of Holy Spirit to “break down the dividing walls of hostility.” If God could do it between Jew and Gentile, I believe God can do it with Presbyterians. Creating new relationships in Christ and strengthening congregations for their mission and ministry are the most urgent needs in our denomination.

There are many examples of this happening in the PC(USA) right now. In Palo Duro Presbytery we adopted the goal of strengthening congregations, and we created a new structure to ensure that this happens. Our way of doing presbytery meetings is built around relationships. Only after Bible study, prayer and personal sharing do we address the divisive issues in the denomination. It is working. Outsiders who visit our meetings all comment on how terrific our meetings are. We are now using our resources to help congregations grow in vitality and witness.

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

RB: My primary goal as moderator is to develop an atmosphere of appreciation, respect and trust within the denomination. I will do this by listening for stories of vitality, sharing those with the larger church and inviting people to celebrate successes. I will encourage the sharing of best practices with one another instead of concentrating on what is wrong. I hope to encourage fun, laughter and joy among people wherever I go. I will promote the message of Paul to the Thessalonians to “appreciate those who diligently labor among you.” That attitude of appreciation has been sorely lacking, and I hope to encourage its re-emergence.

I will work to encourage those who are struggling to find hope for their future by sharing stories of rebirth and new life in churches many had decided were no longer vital. This is my second goal, to strengthen the mission and ministry of local congregations.