Commissioners to the 223rd General Assembly learned Sunday just how difficult their task will be later this week when they will vote on two significant proposals for changing the way the denomination is governed.
The Way Forward Commission, the All-Agency Review Committee and the less controversial 2020 Vision Team – all created by the 222nd General Assembly (2016) presented highlights of their proposals during a plenary session Sunday afternoon in which the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II, stated clerk of the General Assembly, said the status quo is no longer viable.
“I want to contend today that we cannot serve God by building up until we tear down the bridling paradigm of the current state of our faith,” Nelson told commissioners. “The world has changed around us and we have been slow, and in some instances, reluctant to adjust, transition and engage in transformative change.”
Presenting together, the Way Forward and All Agency Review groups laid out their tasks in stark terms: “What does it mean to say yes to some opportunities and no to others?” asked the Rev. Debra Avery of the All Agency group. “What do we need to celebrate and release, and celebrate and support?”
The Way Forward Commission developed four top-level goals, said the Rev. Mark Hostetter, the group’s moderator. He introduced other members of the commission, who spoke to those goals:
- Strengthen congregations and mid councils to do the work they’ve been called to do, making the national church more nimble and responsive. “Remember the reason we are all here,” said the commission’s Mathew Eardley. “It’s congregations and grassroots ministry.”
- Affirm greater denominational equity and inclusion, living into the diversity that “is at the core of who we are and what we believe.” The commission calls for formation of a “diverse voices table” said commission member Julie Cox, designed to “ensure a united effort that permeates agencies and the whole church. It’s a first step to creating trust and practicing collegiality.”
- “Long-desired and desperately-needed changes” that will allow the “critical ministries of our agencies the freedom to dream and grow.” Samuel Bonner said it’s “not an extensive reorganization effort. We propose a more modest, streamlined approach. It’s good stewardship that will reduce our reliance on per capita.”
- Nurture “collaborative, cooperative interagency work,” while being grounded “in our Presbyterian identity, so we can demonstrate that we are indeed the body of Christ.” The Rev. Eliana Maxim, co-vice moderator of the commission, suggested two initiatives: Taking a “deep dive into our financial stability” and “amplifying to make clear our voice.”
The Rev. Deborah Block, the All Agency moderator, said the two groups “early on formed joint working groups to address areas of common concerns. We issued separate reports with some distinct recommendations and some unanimous joint recommendations … We did our work with deep commitment to the future of the PC(USA) and an acute awareness of present realities.”
“We were interested in the Great Ends of the Church,” she said with a smile, “because, hey – they’re great.”