CHICAGO – Once a year, mid council leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) gather for several days of conversation and training — talking about what’s working and what’s not in the denomination as they look ahead.
This year, about 280 presbytery and synod executives and stated clerks are gathered at a hotel near O’Hare Airport in Chicago, in a gathering organized by the Office of the General Assembly and Board of Pensions. Part of their time will be spent looking back at the 2018 General Assembly — considering what happened there that will affect mid councils, including a discussion of proposed constitutional amendments presbyteries will be asked to consider.
Doug Portz, a senior church consultant for the Board of Pensions, said the two agencies have developed a collegial culture that includes give and take, and is “always focusing on the why” and on “what churches need from us.”
As one example: This gathering is being simultaneously translated into Korean and Spanish, part of the commitment the Way Forward Commission and 2018 General Assembly made to ensuring that translation services be a priority and be provided.
The first day of the gathering is being dedicated to “fearless dialogues” training, led by Gregory C. Ellison II, an associate professor of pastoral care and counseling at Candler School of Theology at Emory University and the founder of Fearless Dialogues and the author of a book by the same name. That organization tries to help people learn to listen and see one another and have difficult conversations.
The idea: to learn how to practice the arts of seeing and hearing – including those who are often unseen and unheard – and to provide tools that can be used as people move back into their communities to make change.
If you can’t see another as made in the image of God, “it is not possible for you to hear that person’s story,” Ellison said.
“Seeing and hearing people is life and death work,” said Georgette Ledgister, Fearless Dialogue’s executive director. “Belonging is a fundamental human need.” And she said: “You are the leadership in this church. If we can’t see one another in this room, God help us. No one has a corner on pain.”
This gathering also will include an updated report from the Board of Pensions on salary and benefit trends in the PC(USA) – a report which shows continuing evidence of gender disparities.
J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk, of the PC(USA), will speak about per capita and his vision for the denomination.
And Cindy Kohlmann, a mid council leader who serves as General Assembly co-moderator with Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, will preach during closing worship on World Communion Sunday.