One of our local elders, Elder Sam Bonner of Covenant Presbyterian Church has been serving the larger denomination as a member of the “Way Forward Commission.” I asked Sam to tell us about the work he and the commission are doing:
Beth: Sam, tell me about the commission.
Sam: Thank you Pastor for this opportunity to discuss The Way Forward Commission and its work. My involvement began with selection by our Presbytery to participate as a Commissioner, in the 222nd General Assembly being held in Portland Oregon, in June of 2016. I was assigned to The Way Forward Committee of the Assembly.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meets biennially in even-numbered years. It consists of commissioners elected by each of its 172 presbyteries. The assembly acts on hundreds of issues (the denominations’ business). The issues are brought to the assembly through reports and recommendations of various assembly entities, and through overtures from synods and presbyteries. Of historic note, The 222nd General Assembly (2016) approved and enacted the Confession of Belhar, to be included in the Book of Confessions, starting with the 2016 printing. The 222nd General Assembly also created the Way Forward Commission “to study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly agencies of the PC (USA). That vision shall take into account the ministries of Presbytery Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly, but shall not be bound by the current configuration of those ministries, except where mandated by the church’s Constitution.” The commission was/is broad, and we have taken on this mission with much prayer and reflection. The commission has twelve members from around the country, from Seattle to Upstate New York, and most regions in between. The membership consists of twelve members, consisting of Ruling Elders, Teaching Elders and Youth. There men and women, old and young.
Beth: What was it like to serve on the committee?
Sam: It is a formidable task, taken on with much prayer and the appreciation of mutual support among the commissioners. We have not yet completed the assignment; in fact, we are about half way through.
Beth: How long did the committee meet?
Sam: The commission has been meeting since the fall of 2016. We will continue this work through February 2018 when all actions/recommendations are complete and ready for conveyance to the 223 General Assembly, which is meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, next year.
Beth: How many were on the committee with you?
Sam: Twelve commissioners were assigned (commissions differ from committees in that, commissions have the authority of the General Assembly to enact change as needed to address the GA missions assigned.)
Beth: What were you most surprised by in the data you were discussing?
Sam: The people of PCUSA are very interested in what the commission is doing. You have supplied important suggestions and recommendations. We read them, and they have instructed and guided our work! Members from across the country have participated in the surveys in significant numbers. The surveys show, that our denomination is actively looking to demonstrate and share an abundant faith. We are not speaking of shortage but of opportunity and hope! People are not giving up on the unique and powerful polity of our denomination.
Beth: Was anything particularly exciting for you as an Elder?
Sam: Working with the six, great Agencies of the Presbyterian Church (The Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, The Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, The Presbyterian Mission Agency and Office of the General Assembly) have encouraged us. The agencies are working hard to be more helpful and available to the Mid-Councils and the Presbyteries…we are helping them when we can.
Beth: Was anything particularly discouraging for you as an Elder?
Sam: The age-old astonishment at how fast time flies! Try to remember your days and cherish what God has provided.
Beth: What would you want folks from our Presbytery here in central NJ to take away from the report?
Sam: Know that the central mission is to make the institutions more available and helpful to you! We are a denomination of abundant hope, love and blessing, it must be evident and waiting for you.
Beth: Anything else you want to highlight?
Sam: We have issued a “Mid-Term Report,” it shares the commission’s plans for the rest of the year. We meet frequently by video conference and we will meet again, in person, in September. Please let The Way Forward commissioners know your thoughts and dreams for our denominations. We are at such an opportune time for change; make sure you are a part of it!