The planning team for the Polity, Benefits, and Mission Conference (PBMC) has announced that the conference will not convene this fall, giving team members and connected groups a chance to “discern the shape, format, and vision of the event for future years.”
Other reasons cited in the team email announcing the decision include “continued uncertainty about the pandemic and reduced budgets in 2022.” The team will use “the pause for deeper reflection and imagination” about future gatherings and new ways to assist mid councils.
Comprising the planning team is staff from three sponsoring agencies of PBMC in October 2021—the Board of Pensions (BOP), Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) — and leaders from the Association of Stated Clerks and the Association of Mid Council Leaders. For several years prior to 2021 the PBMC was known as the Mid Council Leaders Gathering; before that, OGA sponsored the Fall Polity Conference and BOP, separately, provided Regional Benefits Consultations.
The Rev. Jihyun Oh, Director of Mid Council Ministries in OGA, is a planning team member. She looks forward to having time to discern the future of the conference with other team members and conference constituents.
“We are going to keep meeting to figure out what future opportunities will look like,” Oh said. “The team can do that more in-depth without the pressure of meeting this year.”
Echoing the email announcement, Oh said that the busy church calendar in 2022 was a factor in the decision. The upcoming 225th General Assembly “is likely to take actions that will impact mid councils in the future,” she said.
Oh highlighted denominational finances and the PC(USA)’s commitment to greater equity and inclusion as two topics OGA is likely to discuss with mid council leaders in the summer and fall.
She shared a list of questions the PBMC planning team is focusing on, including assessing the conference’s value to mid council leaders and adding to that value; increasing resources and overall denominational assistance to mid councils; scheduling future conferences to best support the PC(USA)’s goals of equity and inclusion; and ensuring that the PBMC relates well to other church gatherings, including the events sponsored by the Association for Mid Council Leaders & the Association of Stated Clerks.
Another planning team focus is the conference’s financial sustainability. Both denominational agencies and mid councils have shifted their budgets because of pandemic realities, Oh explained.
The planning team’s discussions relate to “stewardship and value creation,” she said. “We want to host meaningful and impactful events for mid council leaders and other constituents.” What works after 2022 may be different from what worked before.
Feedback from past PBMC participants is helping the planning team. Oh said the team “is also asking questions about what kind of knowledge we are capturing and sharing in this moment.”
The Rev. Rosemary Mitchell, Senior Director of Mission Engagement and Support in PMA and a planning team member, spoke about achieving a balance of online and in-person meetings.
“We know that gatherings with mid council leaders are more about relationships than any content that we can provide,” Mitchell said.
“Under COVID over the past two years, we’ve been able to move the content online, but we haven’t been able to nurture relationships in the same way. Rather than plan another online event, we decided to think how we might better nurture relationship in future years.”
Oh said that survey responses the team is reviewing show “wide agreement that what we do most effectively in-person is networking and sharing conversations and wisdoms … There is a nature and rhythm to in-person meetings that’s very different from the online world.”
She added that many survey respondents find the sharing of information online to be effective.
Oh said it is important to understand the different experiences and priorities of presbyteries. “Each mid council’s reality is different.”
“There are 166 ways of being presbytery,” she said, noting that each region has a unique context.
Whatever the outcome of the planning team’s discussions, future PBMCs will be remembered for how much they help mid council leaders and other Polity, Benefits, and Mission Conference stakeholders.
The Rev. Dr. Edward J. Thompson, Senior Church Consultant & Director of Inter-Agency Relations in BOP and a planning team member, said, “The Board of Pensions continues to seek opportunities to nurture relationships and conversation.
“While we ‘pause’ in 2022 from holding a national three-agency conference, we will endeavor to engage with mid council leaders regionally and, where appropriate, we shall do so in partnership with OGA and PMA.”
As noted in the announcement email, the BOP, PMA and OGA will host some conversations with mid councils as single agencies.
OGA is hosting Mid Council Leader Orientations twice a year, as well as shorter webinars in between. “There is turnover in mid councils all the time,” Oh said. “Our orientation work continues as we’re planning for the General Assembly.”
She also mentioned an upcoming Leadership Formation webinar for deacons and ruling elders, hosted by Martha Miller.
“Investing in Ruling Elders and Deacons: Good Stewards of God’s Grace,” is scheduled for Wednesday, March 30, from 7:00–8:30 pm Eastern Time. The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, Associate for Worship in the Office of Theology and Worship in PMA, will lead a conversation about the roles of Ruling Elders and Deacons in worship and ministries of compassion and care.