What Hunter Farrell Has Meant for the Long-Term Mission Vision of the PC(USA)
On Tuesday, September 6th Hunter Farrell, Director of Presbyterian World Mission, announced that he would be leaving his position for the purpose of discerning his next call to ministry. We can well imagine that this was a difficult, and prayerful decision and the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA) wishes Hunter well as we lift up prayers for the next part of Hunter and Ruth’s journey in ministry.
Our network, however, cannot let him get away too easily… that is, without words of thanks and love, and without publicly proclaiming:
Well done, good and faithful servant!
Hunter began his tenure in a time when mission networks were becoming a major part of how the PC(USA) did mission. I remember well when I was ordained in 1981 by the UPCUSA how our churches sent their mission money to 475 Riverside Drive in New York City and basically trusted that the Mission Agency would take our money and do its work well. And lots of money went to New York. Funding for mission in our church was something to behold. Not only did we have missionaries, who soon became known as mission co-workers everywhere, but also, leadership at the General Assembly, Synod and Presbytery levels helped local congregations develop mission in their own backyards. Those were the days… so it seemed.
I do not need to rehearse everything that has happened in the church in 30+ years that changed all the equations. The net result is that church headquarters, now in Louisville, had to learn how to deal with scarcity rather than abundance. And yet, out of genuine concern for continuing to be the connectional church in mission, leadership at the Presbyterian Center helped develop and nurture a new idea: mission networks. What was lacking in financial resources gave rise to new creativity. These would be grassroots networks organized by interested and concerned Presbyterians throughout the denomination who would help make sure that the mission spotlight remained on global ministries that otherwise might not find the funding. Because the membership of the networks would help fund the work, this almost guaranteed a concentration of attention and resources on places that continued to have needs. One of the other realities, of course, is that the leadership in World Mission understood that if it asked such networks to come together and fund the work they did, there would be an expectation that decision-making and power would be more decentralized than it had ever been. Instead of seeing this as a threat to the bureaucracy, World Mission saw it as an even greater opportunity. The PC(USA) can be thankful to Hunter Farrell for this great vision!
Enter the Israel Palestine Mission Network, or IPMN as we call ourselves… There were already a number of networks in existence in 2004 when the General Assembly called for the creation of a mission network that would give voice and support to the Palestinian cry for justice. By 2006 the fledgling network held its organizational meeting and named itself the Israel Palestine Mission Network in recognition of the fact that our mission relationships included Palestinians living in both Israel and Palestine, as well as with Israelis who shared our concerns.
In pursuit of justice, we began as an energetic and rambunctious bunch that asked a lot of “why?” questions of our ecclesiastical bureaucracy. Victor Makari, the Middle East Coordinator who was our staff advisor, and Hunter Farrell, Director of World Mission, were both patient and instructive. It was absolutely clear to all of us that they wanted us to succeed in our vision to promote peace and justice in both Israel and Palestine. When Victor Makari retired, Hunter introduced us to his successor, Amgad Beblawi, with whom we also had a meaningful and productive relationship, and who also recently left that position to pursue a new call in ministry. With both Amgad and Hunter departing since the 222nd General Assembly in Portland, IPMN, as with other mission networks, is feeling somewhat orphaned at this point in time.
It is no secret that over the past decade, the IPMN has sparked controversy in our denomination. We have, however, faithfully carried out the vision that was given to us through our General Assembly mandate. Through all the twists and turns, Hunter has always been supportive of our work, offering us important advice when needed. Having a good understanding of our place in the ecclesiastical system and the polity that governs it, Hunter never forced us to be locked into rules for their own sake, but always let the Spirit lead us.
Hunter allowed not just IPMN, but the whole mission network system, to soar as free birds in the broad and vast sky of ongoing mission partnerships and common service in the name of Christ. At times when Hunter felt that we may have stepped over a line, he never hesitated to be honest about that, and our conversations were always positive encounters, allowing growth for all concerned. When we accomplished important goals for peace and justice, Hunter was always our best cheerleader.
We have always been grateful for Hunter and his World Mission colleagues who have made the effort to come to our annual IPMN conferences and meetings. Our membership has been able to get to know Hunter even better for this effort, which has made him a familiar friendly face at General Assembly.
The Israel Palestine Mission Network will miss Hunter greatly — the IPMN social media buzz has already made that loud and clear. Even as we begin to prepare for the next chapter in mission network life, we pause to give God thanks for Hunter’s leadership and witness in our midst. And so, with love, we appropriately extend this Gaelic blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again; may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
On Behalf of the Israel Palestine Mission Network,