Bit by bit, the 2020 Vision Team is beginning to gather ideas and opinions about the future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – listening to both Presbyterians and those outside the church.
Working by regions, team members are making contacts with mid councils and other groups – getting on the agenda to speak at presbytery and synod meetings, reaching out to congregations and community groups. So far, they’ve heard people lifting up issues outside the church walls such as gentrification and police shootings – asking where and how Presbyterians can be involved in responding to those community concerns.
The listening is just getting started, with team members reporting they are scheduling sessions through the fall. They are are working to gather feedback at presbytery meetings from Michigan to Puerto Rico; informally at the World Communion of Reformed Churches General Conference, which is meeting in Germany June 29 through July 7; with local mission initiatives and congregations; and in groups ranging from college students to hospital chaplains.
The 2016 General Assembly gave birth to the 2020 Vision Team, instructing it to create a “guiding statement” for the PC(USA) and a plan for implementing it. The Vision Team will report to the 2018 assembly in St. Louis, although its co-moderators say they expect the work continue until 2020.
The team met by videoconference June 8 to provide an update on progress so far and to chart some next steps. The team’s second in-person meeting will take place July 6 in St. Louis, just before the start of the Big Tent conference. The 2020 Vision Team also will hold two workshops July 7 and 8 at Big Tent to gather feedback, although one additional Big Tent workshop was cancelled because of insufficient registration.
As of June 2, Big Tent registration was at 464 people – including 317 from the church at large, plus 147 speakers and staff.
So far, some of the most fruitful conversations have been informal ones, said DèAnn Cunningham, a ruling elder from the Presbytery of Charlotte, encouraging the team members to “keep your ears on at all times.”
Team members report they’ve sensed reluctance among some people when they’re asked to respond to a formal survey – and so far, responses to the survey the Vision Team created have been sparse.
At a recent mid council gathering, “it didn’t quite go like I was wanting it to go,” said Bernie Coffee, a ruling elder from Texas who serves as the Vision Team’s co-moderator, along with teaching elder Lisa Juica Perkins. Only two people completed the survey at that meeting, she said, with some essentially saying, “we’ve done this before.” In one-to-one conversations, however, “I had a lot of people who had a lot to say.”
Some were more familiar with the work of the Way Forward Commission than the role that 2020 Vision is expected to play, Coffee said. She responded that “the part we’re doing is the part that’s not ‘hurry up and get it done.’ It’s the part where you hurry up and wait,” to hear what Presbyterians have to say.
The 2020 Vision Team is asking people to complete a survey with these six questions:
- What do you think breaks God’s heart in your local community?
- What do you think God might be calling us as Christians to do about this, and to do in general?
- What do you feel lifts up God’s heart in your local community?
- How could our denomination do things even more effectively than we have been doing?
- How is the PC(USA) engaging you, and also not engaging you?
- What else would you like to share with us?
There are three versions of the survey:
- PC(USA) insiders
- PC(USA) adjacent (those who have some connection to the church but aren’t directly a part of it, such as community coalitions that work with Presbyterians)
Justin Botejue, a ruling elder from Washington state, wrote in a comment during the June 8 meeting, “overall, a lot of Presbyterians around the Northwest are willing to talk about their goals and hopes for the denomination.”
But “there’s been a bit of hesitation to take the survey, even though there’s knowledge that it can be taken anonymously,” Botejue wrote. “I’ve just found there was more honest and candid comments” through face-to-face communication, including from those who voiced appreciation for the team’s willingness to listen to the local church, particularly in the rural areas.
Salvador Gavaldá Corchado, a ruling elder who works at the Synod of Mid America, said in conversations so far he’s heard people say “there are two different stories” – what the church says it wants to stand for (being inclusive, caring about the environment, working with immigrants, for example) – and what it actually does. He’s also heard concern that the PC(USA) doesn’t provide enough support for small and rural churches, and that “going forward, we leave those communities out of the loop.”
Team members also talked about how to analyze and present the feedback they receive – including both narrative themes and some analysis. “Although it’s not the first time a group has tried to take the pulse of the church, “this is historical,” Cunningham said.