(By Leslie Scanlon, The Presbyterian Outlook). The Way Forward Commission has begun to discern next steps for its work – including considering some issues it may be able to act on quickly, and starting to figure out how to organize its longer-term work.
Part of the conversation is structural: for example, deciding what kind of subgroups to establish to work from now until the board’s next meeting (via conference call) on Feb. 7.
But the structural nuts and bolts all link back to deeper concerns about how the denomination functions – such as when commission member Eileen Lindner, a teaching elder from New Jersey, said the intent of considering a potential polity change would be to “take a look at access to the places that allow people to lead and participate fully in the life of the church.”
In several instances, while discussing what needs to change, commission members raised questions of how seriously the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is taking its work with people of color.
“The fact that Latinos and Hispanics are the largest minority and we have no funding to hire anybody … this just doesn’t make sense,” said Adan Mairena, a new church development pastor from Philadelphia.
Eliana Maxim, a mid council executive from Seattle, questioned the terminology of “racial ethnic ministries” in the PCUSA structure. “It’s this – pardon the language – little ghettoized area where they put all the black people and all the brown people and throw in a couple of people of color to lead them, and say ‘we’re doing good work.’ ”
The commission has a broad mandate, and a big job.
The 2016 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) created the 12-member Way Forward Commission to “study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly entities of the PCUSA.”
By creating a commission – rather than a committee or task force – the assembly gave the Way Forward the authority to act. And the commission’s first meeting, held Dec. 12-13 at Auburn Seminary in New York, gave the sense the commission is perfectly willing to do that, when the time and the issues seem right.