Hundreds of Presbyterians gathered in New Wilmington, Pa., this past weekend to commission and honor 183 new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers and young adult volunteers commissioned for service in countries ranging from Guatemala and Turkey to Sudan and Pakistan.
According to the PC(USA), Sunday's gathering was the first time in almost 50 years that Presbyterian mission workers were commissioned at the New Wilmington Missionary Conference (NWMC), which is celebrating its 100th anniversary during the weeklong conference.
The conference and the commissioning are about renewal, said Brian Gilchrest, one of the missionaries, who has accepted a three-year assignment to Ethiopia.
They also are about understanding that it takes the whole church to make mission happen, he added.
Were committed; were excited, said John Ewers, a mission worker preparing for a four-year term in Colombia with his wife, Paula Ewers. We just are so excited about getting to Colombia as soon as we can.
In 2004, Ewers served as an accompanier in Colombia, helping to protect church officials caught up in violence and unrest. This time, he said, he and his wife will work as long-term pastoral accompaniers.
I just have to believe that God is giving us the momentum to improve some of the difficult problems that Colombia has, Ewers said, speaking of the PC(USA) as a whole.
During the open-air commissioning service on the campus of Westminster College, PC(USA) Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase challenged the mission workers and all of his listeners to help create a new revival in the Presbyterian Church, one that steps outside of affluence and privilege into the underside of the global economy.
We must move to the margins, he said, to have experiences that are so far outside our own.
Ufford-Chase pointed out that the church has changed from the days when a central body was needed to carry out mission work. That time has come to an end, he said, adding that technology such as email has made communicating overseas nearly instantaneous.
The responsibility is on you and your congregations, he said. Mission from here on out will be personal and up-close.
As several staff from PC(USA)s Worldwide Ministries Division (WMD) and National Ministries Division (NMD) looked on, Ufford-Chase cautioned that the church must do its mission work in a way that is coordinated, and that glorifies God.
God is calling us to do this smart, he said, highlighting efforts like the mission networks that link individuals and congregations throughout the church who are engaged in mission work.
We must walk this road and create this together, he said.
Also recognized at the commissioning service were four retiring mission workers and 16 representatives of partner churches around the globe now serving in the United States.
According to the PC(USA) the commissioning service would normally have been held during the General Assembly. However, because there is no Assembly this year, the New Wilmington conference was back in business.