Three new “Along the Road” podcasts look at managing different calls and moving toward full representation at all levels of the church.
Nancy Taylor, Executive Director of the Presbyterian Historical Society, talks with “Nourish” host Martha Miller about being PHS executive director and a church deacon.
Other leaders from the Office of the General Assembly (“Encounter” guest host valerie izumi and Jihyun Oh) talk with General Assembly Committee on Representation (GACOR) co-moderators Anna Kendig Flores and Eric A. Thomas about the ongoing importance of representation work in the PC(USA) and the need for a sustained approach to full participation. Oh is the featured guest in the first Encounter episode and joins Kendig Flores and Thomas as a guest in the second.
Listen to the episodes directly from the Mid Council Ministries section of pcusa.org or from podcast providers.
Nourish: Looking Back at the Movement of the Spirit (18 minutes)
Taylor shares with Miller what she’s learned about serving multiple ministry roles at one time, including leading PHS.
After describing the work of the national archives of the PC(USA) dating back to 1852 and its recently expanded collection efforts, Taylor describes her six years as a deacon at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church outside Philadelphia. “In the beginning I had this weird notion I needed to keep the two things separate.”
She hadn’t imagined becoming a deacon, but said yes to the role because she had such trust in the person who nominated her. Diaconal service during the pandemic, including visits to elderly members of the community, helped her see the impact outreach ministry has beyond the immediate congregation. As food scarcity became another nationwide problem, she joined the church’s hunger committee, helping the congregation share gathered and prepared food (including over a hundred casseroles each month) with groups and individuals in the Philadelphia area.
Taylor’s years as a deacon changed her from someone at her church who “leads from the back.” It also helped her realize she didn’t need to keep her congregation life separate from her work at PHS.
“We don’t always see the connection between all of our roles in life,” Miller said. “We are always being formed as leaders in the church.”
Encounter: Participation and Representation | Belonging Together in a Covenantal Community of Faith (20 minutes)
In the first of two Encounter episodes focusing on representation, Jihyun Oh, Director of Mid Council Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly, joins Encounter guest host valerie izumi to “delve deep into the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity F-1.0304 and challenge us to deepen our understanding of our call to live together in a covenantal community of faith.”
izumi, a ruling elder and Assistant Stated Clerk and Manager of General Assembly Nominations, says the goal of the paired conversations is to “complexify the story of full participation and dispel some common misperceptions.”
Oh, who joined Miller in October for the Leadership Formation webinar “Practicing Inclusion,” differentiates between diversity (“the who of a group”) and inclusion (“the experience of the who”) and explains how intercultural competence is essential to promoting full participation. She describes the Intercultural Development Inventory, a tool being used by the national church and mid councils to increase individual and group cultural understanding and effectiveness.
Oh stresses the importance of mindset in growing representation, not just the demographics of gatherings. She references scripture from Romans encouraging a sense of curiosity about others, and being open to surprise about yourself and those who are different from you.
Oh and izumi discuss how groups and individuals exist amid the biases of others. izumi talks about the importance of self-assessment and shares her own experiences introducing herself in groups, including what aspects of her identity she finds most difficult to discuss.
Oh says being vulnerable helps us see ourselves and each other more clearly. After mentioning “Ted Lasso,” she says being accountable as individuals and groups is crucial to achieving full participation.
Encounter: The Theology of Representation and the Distinctiveness of Representation Work (51 minutes)
The follow-on Encounter episode lives up to its billing as “not your ordinary conversation about representation!”
izumi, Kendig Flores, Oh and Thomas talk about being drawn to committees on representation (COMs), the difficulties of growing representation in 2023 and how the church can move past “a checking boxes approach” into a Spirit-led regard for the long-term benefits of diversity and multiplicity. They also discuss the unique nature of representation work in comparison to advocacy and anti-racism work.
Thomas, pastor at Siloam Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York, talks about the importance of considering representation contextually — not just who people are in a space but who speaks the most, for example.
Kendig Flores, antiracism coordinator for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, says that the short-term “build it and they will come” approach to encouraging new voices isn’t enough to achieve meaningful and sustained participation. Thomas encourages focusing on more than building out structures and groups in the next five years, but thinking about what will happen in the short and long term to encourage expressions of multiplicity in those groups. “How do we look at all among us and make sure the biggest, richest representation of us can be present?”
Oh says full participation should inform every aspect of church life, including committee work at each level of council: “We need to play the long game here.” When izumi asks how to develop capacities to play that long game, Thomas encourages working with others, with an emphasis on "with." “Prepositions can be helpful destabilizers of a certain kind of patriarchal Western white supremist power.” Kendig Flores agrees, and encourages listeners to think of terms like white supremacy in relation to systems rather than individuals.
Thomas stresses the importance of being accountable to our neighbors and not just formalized processes — even ones as important to Presbyterians as Robert’s Rules of Order or the Book of Order.
“We have to listen to where the Holy Spirit is moving,” says Kendig Flores. “But if we are not preparing the ground of our spirits to yield than it is going to be hard for the holy spirit to engage us.”
Oh returns to the idea of accountability, saying greater representation in church leadership should be followed with actions that engage larger underrepresented groups.
“I get passionate about this work because it links back to the chaplaincy work I did earlier in ministry,” Kendig Flores says. “I see committees on representation helping us do liberation and healing in our church spaces.” She questions whether committees on representation are widely thought of in that way.
“CORs are places where conversations can happen,” she says by way of encouraging the work of GACOR and other CORs, and Presbyterian support for their ministries. “COR is about how we do the work together. “
izumi signs off for the group by encouraging listeners to explore “Theology of Representation,” a resource Thomas and Raj Nadella prepared for GACOR. She asks listeners to put the resource into practice “by studying and praying together with its scriptural references and sharing your testimonies with us.”
Upcoming episodes from Along the Road:
Next Nourish on March 29: “Reflection on 1 Peter 5,” with Ellen Crawford True.
Next Encounter on April 5: “The Presbytery: Innovations in Church Polity with Wilfredo Garcia and Warren McNeill.”
Access available “Along the Road” episodes here.