Commission calls for national racial ethnic ministries task force

Eliminating synods ― bastions of advocacy ― is ‘last straw’ for some

February 7, 2012


The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Mid-Council Commission is recommending to the upcoming 220th General Assembly that a National Racial Ethnic Ministries Task Force be created “to exclusively review, assess and explore the call to, responsibility in and vision for racial ethnic ministry within the PC(USA).”

The recommendation calls for the task force to report its findings “for implementation” to the 221st General Assembly in 2014.

“This task force must address the question ‘How will the priority of racial ethnic ministry within the PC(USA) be preserved in the face of transition to a structure that does not include synods?’” said commission member Warren Cooper of Philadelphia Presbytery, who chaired a task force of the commission that looked at the denomination’s racial ethnic ministries.

In another recommendation, the commission is recommending that synods be eliminated as ecclesiastical units of the church, though some may continue on in a different form as programmatic entities.

“This is a significant conversation because of the history of racial ethnic advocacy in the synods,” said Cooper.

“The notion of life without synods for many racial ethnic congregations is the ‘last straw’ in what has developed into a perceived tradition of tacit exclusion,” the task force’s report states.

Referring to the commission’s extensive research during the two years since it was created by the 219th General Assembly to address the PC(USA)’s crumbling governing body system, Cooper said that among racial ethnic Presbyterians “the feeling of disconnect is significant ― it’s a double disconnect, from the society and from the church.”

That deep-seated disenfranchisement “found its voice in the synods,” Cooper said, adding, “A larger conversation needs to happen regardless of what happens to synods.”

The commission’s unanimous recommendation ― developed by its task force in partnership with the PC(USA)’s Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) ― calls for the task force to be comprised of racial ethnic church leaders, racial ethnic caucus leaders, ACREC members, presbytery leaders and members of the General Assembly’s Committee on Representation. 

While some commission members wondered if the recommendation was within their purview ― to look at mid-councils of the church ― commission chair Tod Bolsinger of Los Ranchos Presbytery said, “We have to say to the Assembly: ‘We’re hearing this and SOMEONE has to address this.’”

Commission member Roger Lee of Seattle Presbytery agreed. “We need a national strategy for how mid-councils are going to nurture and sustain racial ethnic ministries,” he said.

Cooper said the report accompanying the recommendation “provides an historical overview of how racial ethnic ministries found a home in the synods and includes the Book of Order context so racial ethnic policies will be consistent.”

Cooper said there’s “a great distance between aspirations and reality” around racial ethnic ministry in the PC(USA). The goal of the proposed task force “is to connect the two,” he said.

Jose Olagues of Grand Canyon Presbytery said he hopes the proposed task force’s work will take the denomination beyond racial ethnic ministry to “cultural proficiency.”

"Cultural proficiency is beyond affirmative action and EEO (Equal Opportunity Employment),” he said. “Cultural proficiency is a process, a continuum whereby we all are aware of differences between cultures and learn to understand and appreciate them.”

  1. 1972 When the Native American Consulting committe was estsblished. We purposely designed the committee to include reps from eight synod which had native congregations. There was no direct line of authority from the G.A. to Synods to Presbyteries. The synods were then programmatic and we could develop mutual goals. Since all of our churches are located on reservations we needed advocy both from the national church and synods because of federal laws, policies and governance. First the Board of National Mission, the the Program Agency permitted and encourged Self Determination. This worked extremely well. Paternalism was removed permitting NA's to plan and fulfill God's mission. After reunion, paternlism and benign neglect returned. There must be diversity in the Church. Mt 28 "Go into all the world(Greek for world is ethne, the root for ethnic which was to include all peoples) In our native communities we certianly have felt the disconnect that the committee identifies. A reason we can not show growth or develop ten new churches is that 67-72% are now living off reservation.

    by Rev Cecil Corbett

    June 22, 2012

  2. It seems to me the dissolution of government is to avoid inclusion of any of the less advantaged of society of which Racial-Ethnic concerns are but a tip of a many fingered iceberg.

    by Chase Davies

    February 15, 2012

  3. I was apprehensive about all the talk of synods going away because that was the place where I say racial ethnic ministries find a voice and support. I wondered what would happen to that voice if the structural carpet was pulled out from under us. This recommendation indicates that the task force is paying attention to the issue and I deeply appreciate it. What happens at G.A. as a result of this recommendation remains to be seen. Interesting that cultural proficiency was mentioned in the article becuase the Office of Culteral Proficiency was just eliminated a couple of years ago. I felt that office was not given a chance to make an impact on the whole church.

    by Judith Wellington

    February 7, 2012