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2020 Vision Team listens to those inside the PC(USA), those who aren’t

(Outlook) The 2020 Vision Team is beginning its work of trying to listen to people both inside the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and those who aren’t connected to church – with its members conducting “listening conversations” across the country in the months to come. In all the team’s work, “the chief goal is to figure out God’s vision for the PC(USA),” said the team’s co-moderator, Lisa Juica Perkins.

The vision team met by video conference call April 6, to track its progress so far and figure out next steps – it held its first meeting in Texas in February. Perkins, a teaching elder from Texas, said the team expects to hold two more face-to-face meetings in 2017 (including at Big Tent July 6-8 and most likely at the Fall Polity Conference in October – both in St. Louis) and to make a report to the 2018 General Assembly (although the team’s work might continue through 2020).

It’s not clear yet what form the team’s final product will take, Perkins said. It might be a paragraph or a quote to fit on a bumper sticker or a re-articulation in some way of the six Great Ends of the Church. “It’s really open”– which can be both freeing and a source of anxiety, Perkins said. She’s confident that it “organically will come together, and we’ll know when we know. … Things will bubble up” and something will emerge.

Here’s more of the conversation from the April 6 meeting.

Coordination. Several members of the Way Forward Commission participated in part of the meeting, to help identify places for coordination.

Bernie Coffee (left) and Lisa Juica Perkins (right), co-moderators of the 2020 Vision Team

Perkins said that earlier in the day the PC(USA)’s stated clerk, J. Herbert Nelson, had a conference call with the leaders of the 2020 Vision Team (Perkins and co-moderator Bernie Coffee) and with Mark Hostetter, moderator of the Way Forward Commission, and Deborah Block, moderator of the All Agency Review Committee.

In February, Nelson was formally asked (he has not said by whom) to offer an interpretation clarifying the responsibilities of the three groups and the instructions that the 2016 General Assembly provided to them.

Perkins said Nelson explained that any proposals from the Way Forward Commission involving structural or governance changes would need to go to the 2018 General Assembly for its consideration, but that “any other decision could be made in the meantime” by the commission on its own initiative. Nelson offered no interpretation regarding the work of 2020 Vision and the All Agency Review Committee other than to encourage them “to work collaboratively together,” Perkins said.

Hostetter said Nelson was responding to a question submitted regarding the powers of the Way Forward Commission, and said Nelson’s interpretation will help guide the commission’s work. He also said Nelson acknowledged there will be overlaps, but expressed hope that the three groups will “work together to try to figure out how all these pieces that the General Assembly gave us fit together.”

The Way Forward’s mandate is limited to the structure, function and staffing patterns of the PC(USA), Hostetter said – in other words, on the form of the denomination, he said, but not the questions of vision or identity that 2020 Vision is considering.

Listening. With the help of PC(USA)’s Research Services, the 2020 Vision Team has refined the questions that team members will use as they conduct listening sessions across the country. Those questions are:

Questions for PC(USA) insiders

  1. What do you think breaks God’s heart in your local community?
  2. What do you think God might be calling us as Christians to do about this, and to do in general?
  3. How could our denomination do things even more effectively than we have been doing?
  4. How is the PC(USA) engaging you, and also not engaging you?
  5. What else would you like to share with us?

Questions for people adjacent to the PC(USA)

  1. How are you connected with the PC(USA), if at all?
  2. What do you think breaks God’s heart in your local community?
  3. What do you think God might be calling us as Christians to do about this, and to do in general?
  4. What, if anything, do you see as PC(USA)’s unique calling?
  5. What else would you like to share with us?

Questions for non-PC(USA) people

  1. How do you find meaning and purpose in your life?
  2. What do you think of when you hear the words “Christian churches” and “Presbyterian”?
  3. What breaks your heart in your local community?
  4. What might people do about this?
  5. How might a religious community be involved in this?
  6. What else would you like to share with us?
Salvador Gavaldá Corchado

At the suggestion of team member Salvador Gavaldá Corchado, a ruling elder who is a fellow with the Synod of Mid America, the team decided to add another question to the lists. Mid council leaders from the synod suggested that along with asking “what breaks God’s heart?” that the team also ask a more positive question of “What’s working well? Were do we see hope?”

So Gavaldá Corchado’s idea for an additional question was: “What do you feel lifts up God’s heart in your area?”

Team members will hold listening sessions at Big Tent in July, and the members have divided themselves into regional groups to conduct conversations in their own parts of the country.

The team also discussed the possibility of listening both in face-to-face conversations and perhaps by emailing questions or collecting responses through an online survey. Hostetter said the Way Forward Commission had an online survey open for about six weeks and collected responses from about 100 Presbyterians and organizations, the responses to which it will share with the other two groups.

Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, who serve together as co-moderators of the 2016 General Assembly, can also share what they are hearing from around the church, Anderson said. The co-moderators appointed the 15 people who serve on 2020 Vision and serve as ex-officio members of it.

Michael Fagans, a ruling elder from California, reiterated his concern that 2020 Vision have conversations not only with Presbyterians, but also with people outside the denomination, including some “who have not felt welcomed” by the church. Fagans said he works on a campaign to stop human trafficking with people who are passionate about social justice, but many of whom are not involved with any church. Fagans said, “I don’t want us to be staring at our bellybuttons” by limiting conversations only to those who are Presbyterian.

Chris McCain, a ruling elder from Atlanta, urged the team to collect vision statements from other denominations and faith-based organizations – not to constrain the team, but to give some ideas of the shape and form those statements might take.

Samuel Bonner, a ruling elder who serves on the Way Forward Commission, urged the 2020 Vision Team to act with a sense of “clear urgency” and “to listen to your own hearts. Search there for the answer to this. We clearly have a problem. We’re growing smaller and smaller. That might be God’s will. … Listen to your heart and understand the urgency of the situation, and the moment and the opportunity that you have.”