From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Moderator's Forum Participants Discuss Theology,
04 May 1996 15:23:16
96058 Moderator's Forum Participants Discuss Theology,
Styles And Funding of Mission
by Jerry L. Van Marter
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--New church developments in an abandoned pool hall in
Alaska and a bankrupt beachfront restaurant in southern California.
Earthquake relief in Japan, flood relief in Pennsylvania and famine relief
in Sudan. Educational institutions in Brazil, health clinics in India and
economic development programs in Northern Ireland.
More than 90 Presbyterians filled the second-floor conference room of
the Presbyterian Center Jan. 29-30 for General Assembly moderator Marj
Carpenter's Moderator's Forum on Mission.
Punctuated by powerful sermons by former moderators and current
General Assembly leaders, the conference celebrated the far-flung mission
enterprise of the Presbyterian Church -- and frankly addressed how to keep
it going in times of declining denominational financial resources.
"I'm going to start by giving you my definition of mission," Carpenter
said as she convened the first moderator's forum since 1987, when then
moderator the Rev. Benjamin Weir convened one on the Middle East. "What I
mean by mission is the Great Commission from Matthew and the story of the
The first two speakers -- former missionary to Brazil the Rev. Sherron
George and missionary-in-residence from Ghana the Rev. Isaac Fukuo --
described their experiences of being givers and receivers of Presbyterian
"The best thing about being a missionary was being received, welcomed,
loved, nurtured and taught by the people of Brazil," said George, who spent
23 years in that country. She said her missionary experience gave her "a
global vision," which she described as "a gift that the church needs right
now to call a new generation of Presbyterians to faith."
Fukuo said his contacts with missionaries in Ghana "convinced me that
I have something to contribute to world Christianity." Also emphasizing
the global nature of mission, he reminded the group that "we are all
products of overseas mission -- none of us was present when the angels
delivered the message to the shepherds."
Fukuo also sounded the theme of partnership. "The mission field has
stopped being a geographical location -- there are no more Christian
lands' and pagan lands,'" he explained. "Others are no longer targets'
of our mission," he continued. "They are our partners -- we need them as
much as they need us, to share with us how they go about mission."
Describing the rapid growth of Christian churches in numerous parts of
the world, Fukuo said, "God is moving and I don't want to be left behind."
Several speakers outlined mission enterprises that operate under the
aegis of General Assembly agencies. Carlos Gutierrez, a former staff
member of Grand Canyon Presbytery and former president of the Presbyterian
Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA), described the
40-year-old association as "one of the best-kept secrets in the church."
He outlined the work of the 11 networks that make up the association in
such areas as child advocacy, health care, alcohol and other addictions,
community and neighborhood organizations and mental illness ministries.
"I support PHEWA because it encourages Presbyterians to be there with
the least of these,'" Gutierrez said. "It teaches me what I need to do as
a follower of Jesus Christ to keep in touch with those forgotten by the
In candid terms, the Rev. George Pike, a former staff member of The
Bicentennial Fund, described the successes and failures of the campaign.
"Some have said we failed and we did make some mistakes," Pike admitted.
"We didn't make the goal [$150 million], but we raised $110 million in
pledges and served as a catalyst for countless dollars raised for local
needs," he said.
"More importantly," Pike continued, "The Bicentennial Fund gave the
church the opportunity to tell the mission story of the Presbyterian Church
in new and dramatic ways."
Echoing Fukuo, the Rev. Sandy Peirce of Placerville, Calif., chair of
the Worldwide Ministries Division Committee, described partnership
ministries as "the way in which we are changing and the way the world is
changing." Using her congregation as an example, she said Presbyterians
"want to be more personally involved in mission rather than just sending
dollars to some other agency."
That theme -- of "personalizing" mission -- was emphasized by
representatives of three "validated mission groups" that cooperate with
denominational offices though they are independent of the church's
William Bryant, executive director of the Outreach Foundation, said
that group supports what he called "evangelistic missions." Bryant said,
"We take the mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and personalize
Harold Kurtz, executive director of the Presbyterian Frontier
Fellowship, likened his group to a "modern-day religious order." He cited
church history in which various groups "sprang up that heard the call to
specific missions." Presbyterian Women is the best known, Kurtz added, and
such groups "enable the church to be more flexible in responding to needs
around the world." The Frontier Fellowship dedicates itself to evangelism
to "the unreached."
The Medical Benevolence Foundation is one such group, said its
executive director, Edward Stein. Noting that his group was started by the
denomination, Stein briefly described the work of the foundation, which
supports 118 medical missions throughout the world.
Several forum participants stressed that theological and funding
changes in the church are interrelated with changes in the way mission is
done. "We need to take a serious look at how we have come to understand
who Jesus Christ is," said the Rev. Walter Ungerer of Kokomo, Ind., a
member of the General Assembly Council.
"As that foundation is reaffirmed," Ungerer continued, "we will be
able to celebrate these new styles of partnerships that are developing all
over the world, to look beyond traditional styles and traditional
Presbyterians are increasingly supporting such nontraditional missions
carried out by parachurch organizations, Ungerer noted. "And many of these
organizations are led by Presbyterians."
The Rev. Joe Rightmyer, executive director of Presbyterians For
Renewal, said dissatisfaction with denominational pronouncements and styles
of doing mission "affects mission funding." Citing the Re-Imagining
Conference controversy and the continuing debate in the church over
ordination of gay and lesbian persons, Rightmyer said that "if these
patterns continue, funding for denominational mission will decrease
Noting the growing support for parachurch mission groups, Rightmyer
concluded, "It's clear that mission will go on -- it will just be done in
other ways than through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)."
Former General Assembly moderator the Rev. Herbert D. Valentine
disagreed. "It is true in particular cases, but not generally, that giving
is down because of the church's direction," he countered. Noting that money
is not a problem in Baltimore Presbytery, where he serves as executive
presbyter, Valentine said that finding ways to connect people and money
directly with mission programs is the key to successful mission funding.
Peirce agreed. "I really believe renewal of the Presbyterian Church
may come in a wide variety of ways."
The Rev. David McGown, a retired minister who has served as a
missionary to China, a campus minister in Chicago and an evangelist in West
Virginia coalfields, echoed Peirce. "It pains me when people want to
divide up the church and its mission and then kick each other -- we should
be able to mutually support each other."
Returning to Carpenter's main theme -- the Great Commission -- Kathy
Luedke of Bloomingtion, Ill., said, "We really need to keep the main thing
the main thing -- to carry the gospel to everyone. We have the resources
to get the job done if we just get on with the gospel task."
The moderator concurred. Reciting a lyric from her favorite hymn,
"Onward, Christian Soldiers," Carpenter concluded, "We are not divided, All
one body we ..."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
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