The long and sometimes contentious work of three groups – the Way Forward Commission, the All-Agency Review Committee and the 2020 Vision Team – will shape much of the debate and discernment The Way Forward Committee will undertake during the 223rd General Assembly, which meets June 16–23 in St. Louis.
The first two groups recommend restructuring the denomination’s A Corporation, the corporate structure of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). They also seek to strengthen the role of the stated clerk, who they say “speaks to and for the church in matters of faith and practice except as the General Assembly directs otherwise.”
They want the 2018 General Assembly to form a “Moving Forward Implementation Commission” to, among other tasks, ensure that GA actions on their reports are implemented.
The All-Agency Review Committee wants the six PC(USA) agencies to study together the per capita model and its ability to fund the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and to explore “alternative and creative funding resources for both.”
The 2020 Vision Team spells out a vision for the entire denomination, calling on the PC(USA) to be prayerful, courageous, united, serving and alive. During listening sessions, the team said it heard “growing excitement about new ways of doing and being the church,” “frustration with systemic and structural barriers to adaptive change that will enable us to meet the challenges ahead” and “anxiety about finances at the congregational, mid-council and General Assembly level.”
Rather than restructuring the A Corporation, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board asks that the General Assembly divide the A Corporation into two corporate agencies: the General Assembly Corporation and the General Assembly Mission Corporation. The request for a “deliverance,” the permission to divide, is the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s response to the recommendations of the Way Forward Commission and the All-Agency Review Committee.
Other business items for The Way Forward Committee to consider include:
- Appointment of a team to review the current per capita system for funding councils higher than the session. The Presbytery of Newton says “dismantling, changing or supplementing the system of per capita apportionment is not a simple or linear process but one that will take time, conversation, experimentation and diverse recommendations.”
- A resolution from the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) that says all six agencies of the PC(USA) should be “intentional and proactive” in hiring and retaining employees with theological training and fluency in languages other than English. It seeks the creation of an Office of Translation and Interpretation and encourages all councils of the church to conduct meetings in languages “common to their constituencies” and offer American Sign Language interpretation.
- Another resolution from ACREC recommending that the six agencies use an external, professional race auditor “who can best expose systemic bias and prejudice” and “suggest actions toward becoming racially just and equitable employers.”
- Changes in the Organization for Mission (part of the Manual of the General Assembly) and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board Manual of Operations, proposed by the PMA board. Proposed changes include reducing the size of the board and altering its composition and term lengths.
Mike Ferguson is a Presbyterian elder and a reporter for the Billings Gazette in Billings, Montana. He is covering Assembly Committee 4 for the General Assembly News.