LOUISVILLE – How can the 2020 Vision Team lead the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in living into the future – into a redemptive, transformative type of change?
That’s at the heart of what the Vision Team is discussing during its Feb. 16-18 meeting in Louisville, in which the team is also considering potential revisions to its draft guiding statement (most likely smaller adjustments rather than wholesale changes), and how it could provide additional materials to help Presbyterians use the guiding statement as a tool for adaptive change.
The 2018 General Assembly approved that draft guiding statement, along with this comment: “We desire to hear explicit examples of what this would look like in different contexts and how to get there,” and “we would like to hear more inclusion of grace, joy and the Great Ends of the Church.” The comment also says “we encourage the 2020 Vision Team to make the guiding statement more succinct.”
Team members have some ideas they’ll try to perfect in work teams this weekend, along with work on developing additional materials – such as a Bible study, a sermon series or materials for a session retreat – that Presbyterians could use to interact with the guiding statement.
There was discussion of a pilot project – some way of testing out materials the Vision Team is developing.
The hope also is that the materials the team develops can connect to other initiatives underway in the church – such as the work of the Moving Forward Implementation Commission and the Matthew 25 Invitation that Diane Moffett, executive director and president of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, is developing for congregations to declare themselves to be Matthew 25 churches.
The vision team spent part of its first session discussing the feedback it’s received since the 2018 General Assembly approved the team’s draft guiding statement – which says that “God calls the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be Prayerful, Courageous, United, Serving, Alive” – with first letters of those words spelling out the PC(USA) acronym.
The team is considering whether it wants to make any adjustments to the wording of that guiding statement, now that folks have had some time to live with it. For example, the draft statement calls on the PC(USA) to be prayerful, that in “confessing our sin before God and to those we have wronged, we accept our responsibility for the brokenness in the world and in ourselves.”
Michael Fagans, a ruling elder from Mississippi, called for language that acknowledges more directly the sins involved in the treatment of Native Americans, in slavery, and now “punishing brown bodies at our border. … I love all of what we’re doing, but I think we need to talk about the sins we know exist.”
And Debbie Foster, a mid council executive from Foothills Presbytery, led the Vision Team in exercises to think about adaptive change – ways to think of questions that are transformative, not necessarily with clear, concise answers. For example: What are ways in which the guiding statement can be a first step –a way to provide space and opportunity for future discernment in the PC(USA)?
Feedback. The team members also discussed feedback they’ve received from across the church – including the question of whether the draft statement is “Presbyterian enough” or whether Scriptural references should be made more explicit.
Some, for example, have suggested that the statement include references to the Six Great Ends of the Church. But team members are cautious about that – wanting to avoid a statement that relies too much on what’s already been said in the PC(USA).
“That was a statement that came out of a particular period of history,” said Karen Sapio, a pastor from California. “It’s helpful. It has a place in the church. But to constantly be saying everything needs to be tied to the Great Ends is in my view a mistake.”
The intent of the guiding statement is to say not “this is who we are, but this is who we want to be,” said Becca Snedeker-Meier, an at-large task force member from Ohio.
Lisa Juica Perkins, a pastor from Texas, said at the assembly she heard “a lament there was not a lot of Presbyterian buzz words in this. … Last time I checked, it was Jesus Christ and our devotion to him that makes us Presbyterian.”
Sabrina Slater, a pastor from New York state who along with Salvador Gavaldá Corchado serves as the vision team’s co-moderator, said the idea of language that transcends denominationalism might resonate with those who did not grow up in the church – the idea that “God’s vision is always so much bigger than us.”
DèAnn Cunningham, a ruling elder from North Carolina, said: “I’m not a Presbyterian first. I’m a child of the most-high God. Then Presbyterian comes down the line. … This document speaks to me in that way.”
There’s also the question of how to communicate that to the church – and to the 2020 General Assembly, to which the vision team will report. To some extent, at General Assembly “people were expecting an answer, and they got a tool” that congregations and mid councils could use to explore adaptive questions about the PC(USA) and its future, said Josh Andrzejewski, a chaplain from Virginia.
And “we’ve given them a tool they don’t even recognize and don’t know how to use,” said Jerrod Lowry, general presbyter and stated clerk of the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina. That’s why the Vision Team is working hard on developing materials Presbyterians could use to engage with the guiding statement.
Co-moderator. Late in the afternoon, the Vision Team spent some devotional and discussion time with Cindy Kohlmann, co-moderator of the 2018 General Assembly, meeting by video conference call. They read together from I Samuel 3 and Matthew 25 – passages that “have an element of surprise in them,” Kohlmann said, and which challenge listeners to pay attention to the full text, not just the familiar parts.
Sometimes “there are hard messages too,” she said. While her focus tends to be on a God who calls us to love our neighbor, “we have to hear the words that come from God that are words of judgment,” calls for repentance and transformation. So, she asked the Vision Team members, “where are you being surprised by God?”
Team members responded with stories from their personal and professional lives – of loss, job changes, how God has led them to unexpected places.
Kohlmann spoke of “the way that God shows up and disrupts,” brings about things “you never thought were possible.”
During a recent visit to Florida, Kohlmann said, a Korean pastor asked her: “Is there anything from another denomination that we could incorporate that would make the Presbyterian Church deeper, richer, stronger?”
Her response: As Presbyterians, “we could maybe learn more than a little bit from our Pentecostal brothers and sisters about the surprising ways of the Spirit. We could learn to be a little more on fire with our faith. Maybe shed fully the description of frozen chosen – maybe some day. With God, all things are possible. And some of that is the capacity and willingness to be surprised, to not feel we have all the answers.”
Matthew 25. Kathy Francis, director of communications for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, told the Visions Team more about the Matthew 25 Invitation, which is still in development and is expected to be formally rolled out in April, if it receives approval from the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board at the board’s meeting March 27-29.
“We didn’t invent this,” Francis said, pointing out that the 2016 General Assembly called on the PC(USA) to become a Matthew 25 church –feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick. “We’re just trying to multiply it and help it grow.”
At least 10 congregations already say that they are Matthew 25 churches, Francis said. Congregations will be invited to declare themselves to be Matthew 25 congregations as well – “saved to serve,” Francis said.
What does that involve? “We just want you to be faithful,” Francis said. “We’re not asking you for money,” but to engage in mission in local communities.
Through videos, a website, Bible study and sermon illustrations, “the idea is that it will multiply.”
The Vision Team’s meeting will continue through Feb. 18. J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the PC(USA), plans to meet with the team Feb. 17. And the team is talking about pilot projects for demonstrating ways that Presbyterians can engage with the guiding statement – including possibly at Big Tent, which will be held Aug. 1-3 in Baltimore.