McCormick Theological Seminary recently hosted this year’s gathering of Theological Educators for Presbyterian Social Witness (TEPSW) at its South Side Chicago campus for lively discussion about church leadership in a time of great concern over the future of the Presbyterian Church (USA). TEPSW is a group of Presbyterian ethics professors who primarily teach in PCUSA-affiliated seminaries colleges and those who have had involvement in the development of the church's social witness policy.
The centerpiece of this year’s meeting was a preview of Dr. Cynthia Holder Rich’s (Class of 1984) response to Dr. William Weston’s Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment, published in 2008. A professor of sociology at Centre College, Weston identifies in his paper a crisis in leadership dating back to the 1960s as the root cause of the PCUSA’s decades-long decline in membership and financial health. Weston suggests that the denomination has neglected the leadership resources available in its affluent, tall-steeple churches.
“Weston sees our denomination having lost societal impact, members and financial support at the same time that we have increased diversity in leadership,” Holder-Rich says. “He leans toward a causal relationship between the two.
“For me, the key question facing us is not, ‘With what structure do we need to lead ourselves,’ but, ‘Are we being faithful? What is God calling us to?’
Holder-Rich’s paper is part of a collection of responses to Weston commissioned by the PCUSA’s Office of Theology and Worship. The office launched a program called Re-forming Ministry, of which Weston is a member, to gather scholars, pastors and denominational officials together to wrestle with the most pressing theological questions facing the Church. The volume is scheduled for publication by year’s end.
In her presentation to TEPSW, Holder-Rich underscored the need for diversity in the PCUSA’s leadership, insisting on its biblical foundation. “It’s hard to read the Apostle Paul or the Gospel of Jesus and miss how diversity is not only cast in a positively light but also emerges as that to which we are called.”
The debate itself, it would seem, bears witness to a kind of diversity. “What’s interesting about this particular project,” she observes, “is that it clearly demonstrates the divisions in how Presbyterians understand the Church and its role.”
McCormick Theological Seminary was represented well in this year’s TEPSW gathering. Attendees included Dr. Jennifer Ayres, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Rev. Nile Harper (Class of 1956), Dr. Jose Irizarry (Class of 1993), Dr. Bruce Rigdon, former member of the faculty.
For more information on Theological Educators for Presbyterian Social Witness, visit www.pcusa.org/acswp/eco.htm.