"I think it has moved us to a new place as a presbytery,” says the Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble, mission catalyst at Presbytery of the Pacific, referring to the presbytery’s approach to engaging in the three critical global initiatives of Presbyterian World Mission. These initiatives are reconciliation in cultures of violence, addressing root causes of poverty and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.
In 2013 Pacific Presbytery devoted its September stated presbytery meeting to mission and introduced the initiatives to its 52 congregations. The introductory year gave a snapshot overview, laying the foundation for a three-year plan to bring clarity to each initiative. In 2014 they focused on reconciliation and peacemaking in cultures of violence, including our own, with a focus on gun violence. In 2015 they are addressing the root causes of poverty. And in 2016 congregations will focus on training pastors and lay leaders to share the gospel.
“We are evolving into a presbytery that is less concerned about politics and polity and more concerned about the integrity of the church’s mission witness today.” Worthen Gamble says. “These annual presbytery events have helped us have the conversations we need to have.”
This is a step toward missional formation, joining God in mission locally and globally. “It is a movement of the Spirit that is renewing our sense of call as disciples of Jesus,” she says.
“This framework has produced so much rich conversation for church mission teams in our presbytery,” Worthen Gamble says. “Now we ask, ‘Is this mission work witnessing the deep peace of Christ in places of violence?’ ‘Is it addressing root causes of poverty and changing systems that make people poor?’ ‘Is it building up the church today?’”
She says gun violence, for example, is a tender issue politically and a difficult subject to talk about as a church. To address this topic in 2014, the presbytery partnered with the National Black Presbyterian Caucus of Southern California. Together they organized a panel to speak to congregations about gun violence. The panel included mothers who have lost children to gun violence and men who used to be in gangs or prison. These men now have hope through nonprofits that provide training and support.
“Gun violence is real here in L.A.,” Worthen Gamble says. “The panel helped us see that kids are dying here in L.A., in certain neighborhoods and not in others.”
Pacific Presbytery currently is working to move past paradigms of “power relationships” and “charity only” models for addressing the root causes of poverty.
“For the presbytery meeting on addressing root causes of poverty, we will ask our churches to bring their lists of mission projects, while hearing from speakers who will be challenging us to think ‘big, big picture.’” This year’s focus on root causes of poverty will be facilitated by Tracey King-Ortega, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker and regional liaison for Central America. Worthen Gamble is excited about the future. “We’re going to keep working on these issues, to be bold and go deeper together, and to keep moving forward.”
This article is reprinted from Mission Crossroads, a publication of Presbyterian World Mission, winter 2015. To subscribe and receive three issues of the magazine each year at no cost, visit pcusa.org/missioncrossroads.