PORTLAND, Ore. – The Way Forward committee of the 2016 General Assembly has begun to make decisions – voting June 21 to ask the assembly to create a new 2020 Vision Team to develop a “guiding statement” for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which will be charged to create a new vision for the PC(USA) by 2020.
The proposal approved says the guiding statement “will help us to name and claim our denominational identity as we seek to follow the Spirit into the future.”
The vision team would conduct “targeted listening exercises” with constituencies throughout the church to try to discern where the Spirit is leading the PC(USA). Those groups could include congregations, presbyteries, synods and seminaries. One question that might be discussed: “how God is calling them to respond to ‘what breaks God’s heart’ in their communities,” (that’s using language that assembly co-moderator Jan Edmiston has been encouraging Presbyterians to consider).
The committee would also look outside the church “to seek best practices and resources” for being relevant to changing landscapes.
And the 2020 Vision Team would develop recommendations that would be the only business for another The Way Forward committee to consider at the 2018 General Assembly in St. Louis. The committee did amend that language, to allow for that committee also to consider overtures submitted to the 2018 assembly directly in response to the 2020 Vision Team report.
“The intention is there would be a new vision for the denomination” by the General Assembly in 2020, the proposal states.
Steve Aeschbacher, the committee’s moderator, said part of The Way Forward’s charge had been to do generative work – to come up with its own ideas for the PC(USA), as well as responding to business which others sent to it.
The Vision 2020 language was drafted by a small group of commissioners from The Way Forward committee – a group which described itself as the “Over the Rainbow” group and which intentionally tried to think big, said one of its members, teaching elder Joshua Andrzejewski from the Presbytery of the James.
“We were a little schizophrenic,” he said – both dreaming and casting a vision, but also focused on the procedural details, the nuts-and-bolts.
“We want to allow this group to have a really specific mandate going forward,” but also the latitude “to listen to the Spirit,” he said.
While the proposal had strong support on the committee – only a handful of the committee’s 78 commissioners and advisory delegates voted “no” – some did question whether the process would be too slow. “I’m ready to move faster,” said Drew Henry, a teaching elder from the Presbytery of Santa Fe.
According to the committee’s proposal:
- The 2020 Vision Team would have 15 members, appointed by the co-moderators of the 2016 General Assembly, in consultation with the General Assembly, Nominating Committee and the General Assembly Committee on Representation.
- The committee would have at least six teaching elders and six ruling elders.
- In choosing the team members, the following demographic traits would be considered: gender identity; geographic location; inclusion of people under age 40; racial/ethnic minorities; those engaged in parish and validated ministries; and theological diversity.
- Skill sets considered when selecting the team would include strategic planning, visioning and experience on administrative commissions.
- The assembly’s co-moderators would serve as additional, ex-officio members of the vision team.
- The committee would build upon the work begun in the “When We Gather at the Table” report – a summary of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly listening project – as well as the conversations that Heath Rada, moderator of the 2014 General Assembly, conducted around the church this spring.
“We recognize that the church of the future will not look the same as it does today,” the rationale for the action states. “For this reason, we want to encourage that special attention be paid to the makeup of the committee. We hope it will include: longtime Presbyterians with an understanding of who we’ve been as well as young Presbyterians with a dream of who we can be; people with all kinds of cultural perspectives who can best represent the diverse expressions of God’s voice in the world; those who are doing ministry in a variety of settings, including the parish, validated positions, new worshipping communities, and church plants; and those who feel ‘left behind’ by the denomination.”
Among the issues the committee might consider, the proposal states, are:
- Demographic and social change;
- Shifts in economic power;
- Rapid urbanization;
- Climate change;
- Resource scarcity; and
- Technological breakthroughs.
As of early evening June 21, The Way Forward committee had more work to do – including finding a way to address the reports of the review committees for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA), and questions of whether a process should be set up to discuss the possibility of merging PMA and OGA.
The committee did vote to disapprove, with comment, a series of overtures from Foothills Presbytery, which presented ideas for reconfiguring how the assembly itself does its work (one would limit, for example, how frequently constitutional changes could be brought to the assembly).
The committee’s recommendations will come before the full assembly for its consideration later this week.