LOUISVILLE — Acknowledging the need to adapt to new patterns of charitable giving in the United States, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly Council voted in September to separately incorporate Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA).
A “very limited, related and dependent” PDA corporation will be able to accept employer matching funds for employee gifts, as well as government and foundation grants, many of which are currently not available to church agencies.
The incorporation would also give PDA higher visibility, as it would be included on published lists of non-profit charities that exclude church groups.
“The way Americans support charities have changed,” said Eileen Lindner, chair of a task force that has been studying the pros and cons of a separate PDA corporation for the last 18 months. “We need to change to meet those new patterns.”
But with a host of questions remaining to be answered about the implications of the move, the Council adopted a go-slow approach that won’t bring the new corporation into existence before the denomination’s 2010 General Assembly at the earliest.
Lindner called the task force’s proposal “a careful, deliberate, long-range course.”
A move, led by former General Assembly Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase, to try and speed an incorporation proposal to the 2008 Assembly was defeated by a wide margin
PDA coordinator Susan Ryan predicted that a proposal to incorporate the relief and development agency in 2008 will still come to the next Assembly — via a presbytery overture. “Too many Presbyterians want to see this happen right away,” Ryan told the Presbyterian News Service, “particularly the employer-matching ability.”
The Council authorized creation of an eight-member committee to take the next steps and address a list of 19 “vital issues” that the task force said must be resolved before the final decision is made to go ahead with the incorporation. Both GAC and General Assembly approval are required to create the corporation.
Those issues center around how the corporation will relate to the denomination, to the denomination’s church partners overseas and to ecumenical organizations of which the PC(USA) is a part.
Particularly, Lindner said, “we must exercise extreme caution to be sure PDA doesn’t unintentionally undermine our international church and ecumenical partnerships. Our advantage as the church is our connectedness with our partners on the ground. Our concern is that nothing be done to disturb our relationships with those partners because we all serve one Lord, one faith, one Baptism.”
The task force, Lindner added, “is a tool, an administrative device of the church’s faithfulness to her Lord.
“We don’t foresee this as an entity that is at liberty to run its own operation at counter-purposes to the rest of the church,” Lindner said, “but which works integrally with the GAC itself and with the rest of the church and its partners everywhere.”
She said that, given the changing giving patterns of Americans, the move to a separately incorporated relief agency “is inevitable, so we believe doing this on a measured time-line rather than being swept into it by ensuing circumstances is preferable.”