From love to action: What 2020 Vision Team is hearing from the church

The 2020 Vision Team is continuing its work of trying to listen to people around the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and outside the denomination – and its members are reporting they’re hearing a call for Presbyterians to be committed to social justice, to move from dialogue to action (“become the unfrozen chosen”), and to work in global partnership.

During a conference call meeting Sept. 19, team member Chris McCain, an elder from Atlanta, summarized responses that he and Debbie Foster, a mid council executive from Foothills Presbytery in South Carolina, heard during a listening session with roughly 200 people in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. People spoke about translating love into action – but McCain also cautioned that most of those attending a typical presbytery meeting are ministers, so “there may be a stronger disposition about wanting to make claims about (the importance of) social justice” than in the church as a whole.

DèAnn Cunningham, an elder from Charlotte, North Carolina, said one of the themes she’s heard has to do with the nature of the connectional system in the PC(USA). Many presbyteries are going through organizational and structural changes, and she senses a desire for presbyteries “to be a partner to the church,” rather than primarily regulatory bodies. Congregations want, she said, “the opportunity to discern what the Holy Spirit is doing” in their local contexts and communities.

Cunningham also said she heard calls “for us to be very bold and courageous,” and to follow wherever Christ might lead.

Some members of the 2020 Vision Team at Big Tent in July (others had to leave to catch their flights). Photo by Leslie Scanlon.

The team’s co-moderator, Lisa Juica Perkins, a minister from Texas, urged the team’s members to also talk to people outside the PC(USA) – to reach outside their normal comfort zones. Some of those conversations have already happened or are in the works – such as a session that Michael Fagans, an elder, held with activists working to stop human trafficking in California, and a meeting that Jerrod Lowry, a minister, has planned with a Mormon bishop in Utah.

The 2016 General Assembly gave the 15-member vision team the job of writing a “guiding statement” for the denomination and proposing a plan for implementing that statement. Its deadline for finalizing its report to the 2018 General Assembly is Feb. 16, 2018, although its co-moderators expect the vision team will keep working until 2020.

The vision team’s last meeting was at Big Tent in July. Another ongoing theme in its conversations: confusion about how its role meshes with that of the Way Forward Commission (which just concluded its Sept. 18-19 meeting in Louisville) and the All Agency Review Committee – and how structural changes can be made in the church without also having a sense of vision. The leaders of those three groups remain in communication and there doesn’t seem to be tension among them – but more a sense of wanting to remain informed and to avoid duplication.

McCain, for example, asked about an “ethos statement” that All Agency Review has been working on, and whether Way Forward has written any guiding statements.

Team members are gathering vision statements from other organizations they find compelling, and will use those as ideas for what the PC(USA) might do.

Tbe team’s next face-to-face meeting will be in November 12-14 in Dallas, with another meeting tentatively scheduled in January.