(By Gregg Brekke, Presbyterian News Service). The Way Forward Commission (WFC) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) met last night (Oct. 24) via a three-hour conference call to review progress on recommendations it plans to make to the 223rd General Assembly meeting next summer in St. Louis. Though still in process, and with input needed from more than a half-dozen task forces, some major themes are developing for the group’s work.
Before delving into working group updates, the Rev. Mark Hostetter, WFC moderator, provided a status report on the biweekly All Agency Review Committee (AARC) and Way Forward Commission conference calls. The regular attention to sharing information between the groups, he said, has allowed each to fine-tune its work.
Upon receiving feedback from the Committee on the General Assembly (COGA) and Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) meetings, in addition to hearing from mid council leaders, the joint working group is in the planning stages of setting up a joint workgroup with AARC and COGA to provide creative ways — written materials, videos, TED Talk introductions, etc. — to help General Assembly commissioners receive information on the groups’ work prior to June.
A communications roundtable was held last week with leadership of the denomination’s six agencies and heads of each agency’s communications group. Hostetter said the objective was to “collaboratively shed some light and discern how we can make our denomination’s communications more effective.”
To that end, four communications working groups have been established to provide the following information:
- Online presence — Review websites, ease of navigation, social media utilization, search ease and common branding.
- Recipients of data — How the denomination shares lists of individuals, mid councils and churches. Balance the inundation of information with its relevance.
- Translation services — Examine resources, both personnel and funding, needed to accomplish the desired translation services. Review timeliness, who decides what materials to translate, and the bi-directional flow of non-English materials.
- Content and coordination — An acknowledgment of the different functions within communications, which include marketing, fundraising, news, informational broadcasts and promotional materials. Address structural issues and the authority of who speaks, and on what they speak, for the denomination.
Commission member Julie Cox said, “There’s a hope to have an integrated database by 2020,” to address the issue of distributed information across the agencies, and sometimes fragmentation of data within the agencies. The Presbyterian Mission Agency and Office of the General Assembly are to submit a strategic workplan by the middle of November for review by the WFC during its November conference call.
“This is not a two-agency issue,” said Cox. “It’s all the agencies being dedicated to those tasks and collaborating strategically.”
Mid Council relations
The concern of how to better engage mid councils in their work was raised during the recent Mid Council Leaders Gathering in St. Louis. Staff liaison Tom Hay cautioned the group that changing the focus of the agencies to serve mid councils would be a “cultural shift.”
“Perhaps more than any other agency, OGA employees understand they serve at the discretion of the clerk,” he said. “I would hope it is the clerk who drives this transformation in any way you can make that happen.”
Commission member Eliana Maxim said the group recognized “the relationship with the agency and mid council leaders changed a while ago and they are playing catch-up. And we need to be more focused about that.”
Calling the shift in culture “high-hanging fruit,” commission member Sara Dingman, presbyter of Missouri River Valley, said the “low-hanging fruit” of this workgroup would be the creation of a mid council database for effective communications.
Voice of the Church/Stated Clerk
Addressing the leadership, public witness and representation of the PCUSA in the broader culture and among ecumenical and interreligious partners, the Voice of the Church/Stated Clerk is currently considering four central issues:
- Strengthening the wording of the job description and role of the Stated Clerk as head of communion
- Defining the Clerk’s relationship to other agencies — to make more explicit the Clerk serving in a mediating or leadership role in times of conflict in the other agencies
- Strengthening the public voice of the PCUSA — making a stronger voice by bringing the Stated Clerk into closer relationship with the public witness office, ACSWP and the part of legal services that deals with first amendment rights and the free expression of religion
- Determine the context for a missional use of the property at 100 Witherspoon in Louisville.
“Another thought Cliff [Lyda] and I picked up out of our deliberations is the potential role of the Stated Clerk in what must surely become a more vigorous role in leadership development,” said commission member Eileen Lindner.