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(OGA) We are moving towards a new future as a denomination. Membership loss, which was experienced since the 1970s, is slowing down. Congregations are refocusing on their mission. Mid councils are experimenting with ways to provide meaningful leadership in challenging times. Congregations are celebrating both anniversaries and new beginnings. Young adults are asserting their desires to serve in both domestic and international mission. Despite cries proclaiming the death of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we remain a viable interfaith and ecumenical partner in many local communities while proclaiming a prophetic witness throughout the world. Our eulogy as a denomination has been written too soon, because God’s Kingdom has not yet come. We are engaged both in the United States and around the globe. We are well-respected for our priestly and prophetic voice within Christendom. Our challenge is to see the powerful opportunities that are before us while declaring with Holy Spirit boldness that God is doing amazing work within us right now.
We have much more than we recognize. It is my hope that initially we will make bold moves to embrace the communal nature of our theology and practice. I want to encourage mid councils to implement strategies to move congregations categorized as “Fellowships” to the status of chartered congregations, particularly when they have met membership requirements to charter. Many racial ethic immigrant congregations are classified as “Fellowships.” These congregations are participating in the PC(USA), but are not fully brokered into the membership of the denomination. They are not required, in most instances, to pay per capita, while remaining non-voting members of presbyteries. This “half-in/half-out” status creates a perceived, racially motivated compromise that limits full participation even when many of these congregations outnumber by large margins long-term member congregations. My international travel offers clarity related to the new evangelism field of immigrants that know well the mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We should embrace these immigrants with a sense of kinship while recognizing their long-term familiarity and association with our missionary work. Immigrants are not strangers. Therefore, we must not categorize immigrants as such through existing membership double standards. They are Presbyterians and should be accepted and embraced as we do all Presbyterians. This effort alone could demonstrate our intentionality towards fulfilling our failed commitment to increase racial ethnic participation 20 percent by 2010.
God through Jesus Christ awaits our commitment. As we are challenged to become a more racially diverse denomination in order to grow into the future, it is imperative that we invite new immigrants into our congregations as members; connect with those who benefitted from our ministry partnerships across the globe; hear the voices of our youth and young adults regarding their vision for the future of the church; train a new generation of leaders; and creatively engage in inviting people to a transformative experience in our worship and mission. Take the risk of asking those persons in your midst (both members and nonmembers) the question Jesus ask Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk. 10: 51). This question has power when offered in love.
I pray that a move of the Spirit will come over us in this new period of reform. Claiming persons to both experience the joy of fellowship and the faith within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
by J. Herbert Nelson II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly