The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) has invited members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) into a church-wide conversation on the identity and purpose of the denomination, and plans to share that information with the 222 General Assembly (2016) in June so it can “collectively discern God’s call for the church.”
In a news release from the OGA, Margaret Elliott, moderator of the COGA said that “In these changing times it’s imperative that the PCUSA dialogue in community about its identity and purpose … We’re inviting Presbyterians to dream big dreams, hope big hopes, and share them with their brothers and sisters.”
She continued that “The fruit of that dialogue will then be used by the General Assembly – an expression of the church’s core – when it gathers June 18–25, 2016, in Portland, Oregon. Together the body will discern a way forward for the church.”
The news release stated that there will be specific times docketed at the June General Assembly meeting for the commissioners to do this work, along with the usual General Assembly business.
Beginning Oct. 23, Presbyterians can share their comments online, but to be a part of the OGA process, they must first sign up in advance at this web site.
The PCUSA Church-wide consultation sign-up page reads:
“In a religious landscape that has been changing substantially in recent history, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its agencies have been wrestling with what these changes mean for the church, its identity, mission, and focus. The Office of the General Assembly seeks new ways to faithfully carry out the direction given by the General Assembly in the 21st century. In the midst of these changes and this collective discernment, the important question arises as to whether the purposes and mission of the agencies that have served the church in the past are right for our future as a church.
“Because the responsibility for such discernment belongs in our ecclesiology to the General Assembly, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly has called for a church-wide consultation that seeks to engage the whole denomination in a conversation about what the church is called to be and do, what it means to be a connectional church, and what is our shared identity, so that the 222nd General Assembly in 2016 will be substantively informed by the insights and wisdom of congregations, councils, and agencies when it gathers in Portland to ponder these things.
“The objective of this study is to provide a summary from this collective church-wide consultation for use by commissioners at the 222nd General Assembly to consider as they weigh matters of purpose, function, mission and ministry, and to provide opportunities for individuals and groups within the PCUSA to discern some consensus on what we are called to be and do as a denomination in the 21st century.
“Presbyterian Research Services will be collecting comments via an online form in late October. Sign up here if you would like to be added to the list of participants.”
COGA is also asking individuals, congregations, mid councils, seminaries, affiliated groups, and any other interested parties to conduct their own discussions about “the identity and purpose of the denomination.”
According to the COGA news release, a downloadable discussion guide will be made available on Oct. 23 to help facilitate the process, and GA Vice-Moderator Larissa Kwong Abazia will host several Twitter chats – dates and times also to be announced on Oct. 23.
Moderator’s ‘Call to the Church’
PCUSA Moderator Heath Rada highlighted COGA’s conversation in his “Call to the Church,” where he lamented the lack of the trust in the PCUSA and called for an urgent reform of the denomination.
Rada made his “Call to the Church” at the September meeting of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, saying that a major overhaul is not only being called for, “it is needed … We must take bold and immediate steps, and for us Presbyterians who love to discern and debate, it is essential that a resolution be found quickly.”
Rada said that the denomination can’t wait for the 2016 General Assembly to appoint a committee to study the issue for two years and bring the 2018 General Assembly a recommendation that would take two more years to implement.
“The people in the pews — as well as the ongoing health of our organization and our staff — says we cannot wait for four years to get this resolved. The need is immediate.”
Rada’s suggestion for COGA to take the lead on the issue, who he said was “already seeking to address this need. They see that they must address it in an organized but urgent way, with essential networking and information gathering from other agencies and bodies of the denomination.”
Layman accepts the call
In a recent article, Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee accepted the Moderator’s call to participate in such a process, she said “by raising up disenfranchised evangelical, conservative and theologically orthodox voices and concerns. We are initiating here ‘active engagement’ in the Moderator’s call with the hope of stimulating others to join in the conversation.”
“While The Layman sees the importance of hearing from people, this is the Church and hearing God’s authentic and authoritative voice through the Scriptures must come first,” said Fowler LaBerge. “Coming to one mind in the matters before the PCUSA is useless unless the one mind arrived at is the very mind of Christ.”
“Additionally, for those within the PCUSA who now see The Layman as ‘outside of our denomination,’ we welcome the Moderator’s inclusive call that the disenfranchised not be excluded from the conversation about the positive possible future for the PCUSA. We look forward to being invited to participate in the process on behalf of those in the PCUSA who feel disenfranchised by a myriad of changes in the denomination’s theology, practice and witness over the past 50 years.”