The General Assembly Way Forward Commission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has begun to chart its own way forward as it thinks about the ministries and structure of the national denomination.
The body completed its first meeting in mid-December at Auburn Seminary in New York City, where it worked through the multitude of information made available from the General Assembly. Among the materials were the most recent reviews of each of the six agencies of the PC(USA); the 2016 Moderator’s Report on Conversations with the Denomination; the results of the 2016 Committee on the Office of the General Assembly survey of the church; summaries of the history of the structure of the PC(USA) and its constituent denominations; and the actions of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) in establishing the Way Forward Commission and the 2020 Vision Committee.
The commission also committed to modeling shared values of humility, openness, and innovation as Reformed and ever-reforming Presbyterians, believing in the power of the Holy Spirit to provide courage to nimbly move in new directions.
“The commission wants all to feel free to speak their truth in love, to listen for God’s inspiration in the voices of others, and not to be tied to a loyalty to a particular agency or program, but rather to our shared loyalty to Jesus Christ to always discern and act—with the guiding hand of the Spirit—in service to others,” said Teaching Elder Mark Hostetter, the commission’s moderator.
“That being said, we are not interested in making changes just for change sake.”
Regular, two-way communication among commission members and with the church about the commission’s agendas, observations, emerging discernment, and recommendations is being established to ensure transparency and effective communication. In development is an initial process for receiving communications and suggestions prior to the end of February from any interested PC(USA) groups or individuals. The process, designed to assist the commission in identifying areas for continued discernment, will be available in the next weeks.
The commission, which has Teaching Elders Eileen Lindner of Palisades Presbytery and Eliana Maxim of Seattle Presbytery as vice moderators, also assigned tasks to three working groups. The first group will consider, with leadership of the six General Assembly agencies, any issues that have already been identified in the most recent reports by the Agency Review Committees and develop together plans to address these quickly.
The second working group will consider, with agency staff and board leadership, more exploratory conversations about other pressing issues, some more broad than those in the first group, that have been raised throughout the denomination as being relevant.
The third group will be map out a detailed proposed strategy for addressing the larger tasks of the commission in developing a vision for the structure and staffing of the national church. All three working groups will report back at the commission’s next meeting.
The Way Forward Commission’s tentatively scheduled meetings for 2017 are: March 5–7 at Johnson C. Smith and Columbia Theological seminaries in Atlanta; May 15–17 in Chicago; and September 17–19 at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Kentucky. The commission also plans to hold conference call meetings February 7, April 18, and August 9.
The commission is one of three bodies established by the 222nd General Assembly (2016) last June in Portland, Oregon. The other two are the 2020 Vision Committee and the All Agency Review Committee. Leadership of all three bodies has jointly committed to open communication and close collaboration of activity as they move through their individual initiatives.