Vision 2020 Team Story
During the 222nd (2016) General Assembly, the Way Forward Committee mandated that a team be appointed by the Co-Moderators and named as the Vision 2020 Team. The mandate was to develop a draft Guiding Statement for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a plan for its implementation. The team was formed in the fall of 2016, taking seriously a mandate for diversity and intentionally including three at-large non-ordained members of the Church.
The journey began with our first meeting in Dallas in February 2017. Most of us had never met before, and we weren’t sure what to expect. We made a quick discovery: Our mandate was as clear as mud. A majority of the meeting was spent trying to answer questions, such as why are we called the Vision Team, yet we were asked to create a Guiding Statement? What is a Guiding Statement? How long is our term? What is our timeline?
Foundational to our work of discernment was and has been listening. We opened ourselves first to Scripture in order to discern the voice of God and found Habakkuk 2:2 speaking prophetically: “Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.” We decided that before we could talk about the future of the PC(USA), we first needed to understand the present. Attempting to put aside our own biases, we vowed to listen. We listened to those in the PC(USA) and to those who work in partnership with the denomination. We listened to ecumenical and interreligious partners. Additionally, we wanted to listen to a group that rarely gets asked what they think of us: those who have no relation to the PC(USA) and those with no particular religious affiliation. The Guiding Statement, whatever it would look like, needed to reflect what we believe and tell others who we are. By the end of the first weekend, all we knew was that it was time to listen. With God’s voice in our ear, we departed and committed to hearing the voices of our Church and our communities.
For the next year, we held sessions to listen to the joys and the concerns of the Church body. As the year progressed, we saw certain themes emerge. We heard a desire for a clearer sense of denominational identity and direction. We heard a fear that we are dying. We heard pride in the mission that we do. We heard frustration in the way that we are structured and managed. We heard affirmation that even when it is hard, God continues to speak to us in these times and places guiding us forward. Holding both the comments we heard and the voice of God in Scripture, we began discussing what a Guiding Statement might look like. We tried to create a fun tagline. We tried to write a manifesto. We had no idea how to write what we were hearing.
Eventually we had another face-to-face meeting in Dallas, this time at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church. We read the Great Ends of the Church, selections of the Book of Confessions, When We Gather at the Table, and selections of the Book of Order. We literally wrote down what we were hearing (themes like compassion, justice, love and courage), taking time to consider each word, fleshing out what a Guiding Statement engaging these themes and words might look like. Consideration of different words, questions of what might be missing and frustrations of different thoughts (or even the desire for specific words!) were all part of the process. We were beginning our second year as a team and we were anxious, not knowing if God would ever reveal what we would offer the denomination.
During our next face-to face meeting, after a late dinner the writing sub-team worked and talked about these words that kept emerging. Late into the night, like a gift, God showed up in a way that surprised us all — the themes and words that God kept highlighting were prayer, courage, united, serve and alive. Once the final theme, “alive,” came into focus, something clicked. We noticed that the first letters of these words aligned with “PC(USA).” To say we were shocked would be an understatement. Perhaps it was too easy, too gimmicky; what if people thought that was what we tried to do the entire time? However, what had come spoke to us as a team, united us and made us excited about what God was up to with us — as individuals, as a team, as God’s church. We recognized how important, how vital, how necessary a re-orientation this was, that God calls us to be centered in Christ, to understand our identity as rooted in the triune God. To be Presbyterian is to be Prayerful, to be Courageous, to be United, to be Serving and to be Alive!
Being who we are, we needed more words. We needed to flesh out in some ways how God calls us to be prayerful, courageous, united, serving and alive. So we thought aloud, we wrote and edited, we spent time wordsmithing and we wrestled with each other and with God until there was a draft Guiding Statement we would present to the 223rd General Assembly — a document we felt honored and excited that God allowed us to participate in discerning!
During General Assembly, we heard from the Way Forward Committee both that the Guiding Statement was too long and that it wasn’t long enough. There were members of the committee looking for more explicit references to the Bible and our Confessions; while others voiced a desire to directly name social justice challenges and address issues within the denomination. After the summer of 2018, the team reconvened. Guided by the recommendations and mandates from the 223rd (2018) General Assembly, we experienced a greater clarity of the expectations of our work, and still felt that the Guiding Statement accurately represented the movement of the Spirit within our work. But we also felt we were now better equipped to explain what we created. For generations before the industrial era, people used the North Star to guide them to their destination. A vision statement describes the destination you are trying to reach. This Guiding Statement is the North Star that helps you navigate your way there.