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Report charts a course for the church through challenges of the 21st century

The Special Committee on the Nature of the Church in the 21st Century got clobbered by reality.

As its report states:

» 44 percent of the congregations in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are without installed pastoral leadership, with many churches being unable to afford an installed pastor.

» Over the last decade, the denomination “lost more churches than we planted.”

» Most Presbyterians — more than nine in 10 — are white. “In the next generation, Caucasians will be a minority in our country.”

» There are pay inequities in the PC(USA), particularly for women and ministers from racial ethnic communities. “Racism, sexism and patriarchy still have a hold on the church.”


Those are just a few of the findings gleaned from the committee’s report to the 220th General Assembly. But this is not a tome of pessimism. Using a liturgical approach — including confession and thanksgiving — the committee also expressed hope for the future and made recommendations for change.

Here are some of the areas to which the committee, which was created by the 2010 General Assembly and led by teaching elder Carol Howard Merritt, turned its attention.

Discerning new ministries. The committee recommends that mid councils work closely with congregations to discern next steps. That would include helping congregations use denominational programs to discover future possibilities, and working with congregations that are closing to find ways to use the assets of those congregations to support new church development.

Bivocational ministry. The committee is asking the assembly to appoint a task force to study and make recommendations to the General Assembly in 2014 regarding bivocational ministry “as a critically viable form of ministry in the 21st century.”

Education and support for new ministries. Seminaries could do more to prepare students for “emerging cultural realities,” the report states. That could include courses and training in new church development, community organizing, congregational transformation and nontraditional worshipping communities. The Committee on Theological Education could work with seminaries to intentionally increase the number of racial ethnic and immigrant students, and to come up with plans “to hire, mentor, support and retain scholars from underrepresented communities.”

The report states that education in Presbyterian seminaries too often “focuses on pastoring established congregations and older models of ministry. When pastors want to start a new community, they often have to take courses in non-Presbyterian seminaries to gain the tools they need.”

The report also calls on mid councils to establish policies “allowing for new categories of church,” such as worshipping fellowships or missional communities. And it challenges mid councils to develop strategies for identifying and welcoming into membership Reformed and Presbyterian immigrant fellowships — including providing financial resources to support such ministries.

Salaries. The General Assembly Mission Council should do work “to articulate a Reformed understanding of just compensation,” the report states. The committee also asks that various Presbyterian entities explore other aspects of how Presbyterian workers are paid — including how to raise the wages of teaching elders (often women and pastors of racial ethnic and immigrant congregations) who are being paid below presbytery minimums.

Other ideas the committee proposes include: addressing the debt being incurred by seminarians; collecting statistical information on salaries paid to church workers, including information on gender and race or ethnicity; and urging mid councils to establish maximum compensation levels for teaching elders. If congregations wanted to pay a pastor more, they would have to match the extra amount with a payment to a fund for those being paid below the presbytery minimum, the committee suggests.

It also issued calls for “a priesthood of all believers” and prayerful discernment that will go to the Mission Coordination Committee, which also will consider revamping Special Offerings.