‘Over there’ is right here
PC(USA)’s ‘Living Missionally’ initiative seeks to inspire congregations to reach out to their communities
Roger Dermody closed the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) Board’s meeting Sept. 19 with a presentation, an invitation, and a charge. After summarizing the new churchwide initiative, Living Missionally—which was unanimously adopted by the 221st General Assembly (2014) — the PMA’s deputy executive director for mission called upon the board for its help and engagement. “The Living Missionally initiative seeks to inspire Presbyterian congregations to reach out to their communities through intentional acts of service in Christ’s name, which many of our churches are already naturally doing,” Dermody said. “This is an opportunity for you to get involved because — like Genesis [creation story] — this initiative is ‘formless and void.’” Because the board had just spent a full day on Sept. 18 exploring with Rebekah Basinger — a consultant in fundraising and board education — how to be the kind of board the PMA says the PC(USA) most needs, Dermody’s invitation to its members to contribute to the shaping and success of the initiative was both fitting and timely. Dermody said that because Presbyterians have sought to be mission-centered from their inception and have a strong, unwavering belief that there is no other way to truly be the church, “this initiative calls us to reaffirm our historic commitment and reclaim our identity to be ministers to the immediate needs and hurts of the people in our neighborhoods and communities.” “So how is your church — or the churches in your area — living missionally,” Dermody asked the board as he invited them into small group discussions following his presentation. “What can we, the Presbyterian Mission Agency, most strategically do to help move this initiative forward? We want to come away with great ideas.” One challenge Dermody identified in his small group was how to get congregations to see their neighborhood as the mission field. “We see mission as being ‘over there,’” he said. “But could there be commissioning services for people who choose to be members of their school board or in sports coaching? We could be more intentional about commissioning lay people who are involved in their communities and get them to see that as a significant part of serving Christ. What is our role in blessing these people?” Patsy Smith, a ruling elder from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City, described a health initiative at her church that is ecumenical in nature. “Twice a year we offer a health education event for older adults,” said Smith. “We talk about things like stroke prevention and cardiac health. At the next event we will talk about end-of-life planning and advance directives. We need to engage the community with these kinds of efforts. We need to encourage churches — large and small — to combine their efforts by joining together and by working ecumenically. The Presbyterian Mission Agency can help by supporting, encouraging, and communicating this.” Dermody identified the collecting and telling of “good news” stories as a recurring theme among board members in moving the new initiative forward. “What, if when people thought of Presbyterians, they thought about us being out in the community serving,” he asked. “That’s a role where we all have to be in it together. We all have a role of inspiring, equipping, and connecting the PC(USA) to serve Christ in the world.” Dermody told the board they will see markers of progress when they next meet in April 2015. “Knowing you have given us some ideas, it’s now on us,” he said. “We’ll have good things to report when we see you again.” Click here to view the Living Missionally PowerPoint presentation from the 221st General Assembly (2014).