From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Moderator's Forum Participants Discuss Theology,

Date 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 
Good Samaritan." 
     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 
ecumenical organizations." 
     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 ..." 

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