LOUISVILLE (Outlook) – The All Agency Review Committee is considering the concept of using openness as a significant “mission directive” of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – with a mission directive being a standard for measuring the work of the denomination’s six agencies.
The discussion comes because the 2008 General Assembly, in creating the first All Agency Review Committee, instructed it to “review the service of the whole of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its six agencies in implementing the General Assembly mission directives.” But the report of that first All Agency Review, conducted in 2010, found “there is no formal or consolidated specification of mission directives” for the General Assembly.
Considering that ambiguity, this current All Agency Review Committee (only the second ever) is discussing what the mission directives – the standards for measuring performance – should be.
The committee spent some time August 22 discussing openness – including language drawn from the Book of Order that notes, “as it participates in God’s mission, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seeks a new openness.”
And the rest of the committee’s conversations continue to widen in scope regarding what issues it might address in its report to the 2018 General Assembly – dancing through everything from finances and power-sharing to use of the PC(USA) national offices in Louisville to changes the committee might suggest for how the assembly itself functions.
Here’s some of what’s in the works.
Committee members plan to initiate conversations with at least 20 groups around the church – everything from the Advisory Committee on the Constitution to the racial ethnic caucuses.
Among other questions, representatives of those groups will be asked:
- To describe their relationship with the six PC(USA) agencies (“what’s working, what is not working, and where is there no relationship at all?”) and with the larger church (including General Assembly and mid councils).
- How could the six agencies better serve the whole church?
- What changes to the structure of the six agencies, or the interactions among them, would threaten or harm the work of your committee?
- What role does your group have regarding evangelism and numerical growth in the PC(USA)?
- Are there other concerns you have which you want All Agency Review to consider?
A coordinating committee with representatives of All Agency Review and the Way Forward Commission will meet in early September to continue trying to align the work of those groups.
And representatives of All Agency Review will be part of the conversations in St. Louis during a series of meetings Oct. 13-17 of mid council leaders.
Led by Eric Beene, an All Agency Review member who’s a pastor from Georgia, the committee participated in a lectio divina exercise regarding the idea of openness as a possible mission directive.
That emerged, said Deborah Block, a minister from Milwaukee who serves as moderator of All Agency Review, from a sense expressed by those conducting the last All Agency Review, in 2010, of “not having a clear sense of what we mean when we talk about the mission of the church.” This current committee “sees a desperate need of the Presbyterian church … to enthusiastically reclaim its identity and clearly define its mission,” she said.
Beene’s exercise (focused on section F-1.0404 of the Book of Order) led to a long discussion about the many implications of openness.
“The newness in the Book of Order piece is the newness of Christ,” an “old story we’re still trying to get right,” said Chris Mason, a ruling elder and lawyer from New York.
“It is new,” said Dave Davis, a pastor from New Jersey. “Christ works in me new every day. I give thanks for that salvation every day.”
The Book of Order language refers to “more joyous celebration in worship and work,” so the committee talked about what it means for PC(USA) agencies to provide employees a place to do faithful work that also is joyous.
In discussing “the possibilities and perils of institutional forms” and the idea of continuing reformation, Debra Avery, a pastor from California, acknowledged that some things may need to be grieved “because they may no longer be possible, ever,” and others put aside for a time.
Maybe the idea of “the sovereign activity of God” includes openness to things that are new to Presbyterians – that others are doing, but we have not yet seen, she said.
Block said “this so captures the Reformed ethos … being open to Scripture and being opened by Scripture,” saying that’s a place that the PC(USA) needs to go. “We’re a little stuck right now.”
Other ideas from that discussion:
- What do Presbyterians need to hold a little more loosely?
- In what ways could Presbyterians be more open to joining with others ecumenically or from other organizations doing work on issues such as immigration or hunger?
- What’s the importance of transparency in the PC(USA)? For example, Jim Wilson, an elder and lawyer from Ohio who serves on All Agency Review, spoke of a report that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board commissioned a law firm to produce regarding the 1001 New Worshipping Communities ethics investigation – the results of which have never been publicly released.
A subgroup from All Agency Review is planning to distribute a series of questions that emerged from this exercise to leaders of the PC(USA)’s six agencies. The answers the agencies give to those questions will be part of what the committee talks about at its next face-to-face meeting Oct. 9-10 in St. Louis.
The committee also decided to ask the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board to name a replacement for Mihee Kim-Kort, a minister from Indiana who had been serving on the committee but has withdrawn because of other commitments.
Valerie Small, manager for nominations for the General Assembly Nominating Committee, met with the committee, and said it’s the committee’s determination whether to ask for a replacement. However, when a replacement is sought after a person of color leaves a committee – and Kim-Kort is Asian-American – “I always encourage replacing them with a person of color,” Small said.
Kim-Kort had represented the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board on All Agency Review. The committee decided to ask Small to communicate to the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board that it wants the board to consider naming a replacement for Kim-Kort – and to ask the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP) also to name a representative. PILP’s representative on All Agency Review resigned before the committee began its work, and the person selected as a possible replacement also declined to serve because of schedule conflicts; so from the start that PILP slot on the 14-member committee has been vacant.
Ken Godshall, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, spoke with the committee later in the day, and said he thought it would be helpful for the board to try to name a replacement for Kim-Kort, particularly as All Agency Review discusses issues related to shared services and to the PC(USA)’s corporate identity.
A joint work group from All Agency Review and the Way Forward Commission hopes to have a report regarding shared services (the complicated system for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Office of the General Assembly to share services such as human resources or accounting, including the fees charged for those services) completed by Sept. 20. That would be right before the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s next meeting, which will be held in Louisville Sept. 21-23.