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[PCUSANEWS] Changes and challenges

From News Service <newsservice@CTR.PCUSA.ORG>
Date Tue, 5 Sep 2006 09:51:19 -0400

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06453 September 5, 2006

Changes and challenges

by Linda Bryant Valentine GAC executive director

LOUISVILLE * "Congratulations * now WHAT is this job you're doing?"

That's the greeting I most often get when I attend my church, Fourth Presbyterian Church, in Chicago. I can't blame them.

In a survey taken last year, 84% of Presbyterians surveyed by General Assembly Council's Research Services reported that they are little informed or not informed about the range and scope of PC(USA) mission.

I recently spoke at all three morning services at Fourth Church (and now have even greater respect for the pastors that preach Sunday after Sunday). After I explained what the General Assembly Council does and our responsibility for our denomination's national and international programs, I shared what I believe are two important dynamics causing change within our denomination.

First, we are embroiled in debates that can distract from our mission and yet we have committed to stay together.

And second, individuals and congregations want to have more direct involvement in mission. There is less money for the national church and at the same time a flourishing of activity at the local level.

First, the debates. The Presbyterian Church has always reflected the larger cultural and political context of our country. The debates we are having now in the church are about many of the same issues that create conflicts in the public arena.

We in the Presbyterian Church conduct our debates openly and publicly. We believe that we come to better decisions and better discernment when we have healthy debate * even if it becomes heated.

Our arguments are often picked up in sound bites and scintillating stories of conflict. Groups form within the church on one side of an issue or another. But at the same time, we are unified in our fundamental beliefs and our call to serve the poor and the poor in spirit and to work for peace and justice and spread the Good News.

The second dynamic is one that we see in great measure at Fourth Church and many other churches. Gone are the days, for example, when a centralized national organization did most of the international mission work on behalf of the church. As past General Assembly moderator Rick Ufford-Chase said: "People want to get out of the pews and into the world * they don't want to do mission by proxy."

Fourth Church members get out in the world * 20 of our members recently went to Honduras to build homes with Habitat for Humanity. We send mission trips to Cuba, Cameroon, Ireland and other places. We want to meet our brothers and sisters in other countries and to experience and understand first hand the poverty and conflict and cultures in other places. We want to help and serve and give and receive the love of neighbor and the love of Christ.

Fourth Church isn't the only one; there are many more congregations across the country that are dedicated to mission work.

The national church, responding to this new interest and ability of churches to engage directly in mission has created networks to connect congregations as they do. And we are finding other ways to support congregations to enlarge the reach and impact of our collective efforts.

Whether you are a member at Fourth Church or one of our 11,000 other congregations across the country, you benefit from being part of the larger church. Our denomination trains and supports our ministers and leaders. It maintains long-term relationships with partner churches. It teaches us how to do mission in ways that are helpful, not harmful. It represents the voice of 2.5 million Presbyterians on issues of national and international importance.

I am blessed and grateful for this call to serve with my brothers and sisters during this time of great change that is creating both challenge and opportunity for us as a denomination.


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