Presbyterian Mission Agency Board Chair Marilyn Gamm told attendees at the national 1001 New Worshiping Communities Conference last night that support for the church’s new worshiping communities remains “strong and unshaken” by events of the past year.
“I know it has been especially painful to you,” she said via Skype. “You are grieving the loss of national leaders in the movement that you liked and trusted, who inspired you to risk trying new ways of being church. This is all very painful to me as well.”
Gamm was speaking about the board’s independent investigation of the incorporation and funding of a California nonprofit corporation involving four former PMA staff members.
“It’s no secret that we’ve spent over a million dollars of unrestricted mission funds on an investigation,” she said, “and are now defending ourselves in two lawsuits. With you, I wish it were not so. I take full responsibility and stand by that decision.”
Gamm declined to discuss the investigation, citing attorney/client privilege. Likewise, she declined to discuss the denomination’s legal strategy, but did say the 1001 movement is “the life and energy of the PC(USA) in the present, as the church looks to the future.”
During a question-and-answer session after her opening remarks, Gamm said the board wants new worshiping communities to have a strong connection to their presbyteries. “Sometimes, in some places, presbyteries felt left out,” she said. “We don’t want that.”
Both 1001 Coordinator Vera White and Theology, Formation, and Evangelism Ministry Director Chip Hardwick said great lessons have been learned in the past year.
“This is God’s work, not ours,” said White. “We realized after the rush of excitement of starting NWCs that we needed to take a step back. What we are seeing over and over again are stories of transformed lives. Far from being about us, this is a grassroots, Holy Spirit-led movement that has caught the imagination of the denomination. People who have been on the edges of the church are becoming very committed again.”
“You are the ones doing the ministry,” added Hardwick, whose ministry area encompasses the 1001 initiative. “Our struggles and challenges shouldn’t prevent you and God from raising up new disciples around the country. You are where the action is. You are where the Holy Spirit is blowing. We want to support you in that.”