Joan Grey, present Moderator of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) is winding down her term and fulfilling her role as Ambassador to the church. She spoke at a recent meeting of the Cherokee Presbytery and opened the floor to questions. My notes are incomplete and may not be direct quotes, but I tried to record the sense of things as I understood it.
What surprisingly positive experiences have you had while visiting congregations in the last two years?
The most surprising thing to me was to experience the vitality of some of our smaller congregations. These are congregations in communities where the population has shifted, and there is no hope of being the larger congregations they once were. What I found is a real honest attitude that said, "We know we can not be what we used to be. God, what can we do now?" I think these congregations are taking a very faithful approach to living and being the church.
Another gratifying experience was the chance to meet and talk to some of our missionaries. I found them all to be people of great character and deep spirituality, regardless of where they serve. I think they have much to offer our congregations, and I would encourage you to build relationships with some of them.
I also enjoyed meeting with various college ministry groups. I was surprised to find that young adults are actually exuberant about being Presbyterian. They want to get involved with the structures and be part of the decision making process. But let me tell you what they else want. They want an encounter with God. They want to make a difference in the world. And they don't care about your buildings and institutions. They don't want to be on an advisory committee or to be included because they could bring more young adults to you. They want authentic community. I don't think we are going to give them that. I believe that they are the ones who will reach out to themselves. I think we need to encourage them, get out of their way, and give them some money.
What is the long range plan for retaining membership in the PC(USA)?
We've lost 90,000 members since 2006. Some of that is congruent with other mainline denominations. Some of it is related to those congregations who recently joined the EPC or went some other way. This is a common question, and most of the time I get the sense that people are asking, "What's Louisville doing to stop this backslide?" The reality is that it's not their problem. It's yours. It's mine. The problem needs to be addressed in the hospitality of our congregations. What kind of barriers do we put in the way of new members? I can tell you that my husband and I were not spoken to in a number of congregations before I was introduced as the Moderator. Is there a fire in your church? I can tell you, and most of you could too, just by walking in whether or not there is a spirit of energy and enthusiasm or if you are just trying to keep the doors open. I think we Presbyterians need to learn how to invite people to church. How many of you have invited someone to church AND told them you would come by and give them a ride? (She was actually pleasantly surprised by the show of hands). I think every Christian needs an elevator speech. We need to be able to clearly say in 30 seconds or less why what we believe and why our faith communities are important to us.
I'll post answers to the following when I have some more time, later on:
What is "Missional", and how is it happening in the PC(USA)?
Are we going the way of Olde Europe (aging and dying)?
Where are we in terms of restructuring our denomination?
This country has become more and more multicultural. What is happening in PC(USA) congregations?