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.”