LOUISVILLE – Should the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) incorporate Stony Point Conference Center outside New York City as a separate legal entity? While that question may not send jolts of excitement up the spines of most folks, it became an important subject of debate at the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) Board meeting Sept. 26 for a number of reasons:
- The Stony Point leadership is trying to create an identity for the center as a space for multi-faith work in peace, justice and nonviolence. As an earlier report stated: “Increasingly, Stony Point Center’s identity is intertwined with what it means to nurture multi-faith partnerships in our pluralistic and global society.” Of what value is that for the PC(USA)? Should the denomination to be involved with that – or to let Stony Point’s leadership, led by co-directors Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase, pursue that multi-faith work independently?
- The Stony Point property about 40 miles outside New York City is potentially valuable to a financially-struggling denomination. While there have been no specific proposals, there was mention in the Sept. 26 discussion that one alternative could be to “monetize” the Stony Point property. The financial implications of trying to do that are tangled and have yet to be spelled out publicly – including the $1.5 million accumulated debt that Stony Point owes the denomination; Stony Point’s struggles to become self-sustaining; and restrictions on the property that may affect how the proceeds could be used if sold.
- Some board members want to make sure that “due diligence” is done if an incorporation proposal moves forth. “We need an independent, unbiased group of people to look at the proposal,” said board member Bill Capel, or “we may be incurring significant liabilities we may not realize.”
A transitional task team came to this September meeting with a recommendation that the board move forward with incorporation, to create a new entity called the Stony Point Center for Multi-faith Justice, Peace and Nonviolence. Instead of doing that, the board voted 17-14 to send the recommendation to an evaluation committee. That committee, applying standards the board adopted in 2007 for creating new corporations, would consider whether the proposed incorporation would be both justified and viable – in other words, would revisit the question of whether separate incorporation is a good idea.
Evaluation committee? Referring the proposal for incorporation to an evaluation committee is what the board’s Finance Committee voted 6-3 to do on Sept. 26. Before that, however, board member Chad Herring moved to amend the motion to referral – to provide a Dec. 31 deadline for the evaluation committee to complete its work. Among other changes Herring suggested – and which the committee adopted:
- The committee would consult with Melissa DeRosia, chair of the transition task team, before making its final recommendations.
- The evaluation committee would provide educational opportunities for the board regarding its findings before the board’s February board meeting.
In proposing these amendments, Herring said he wanted to be sure that the evaluation committee would complete its work in time for its report to be considered by the board at its Feb. 5-7 meeting. Doing that would mean there still would be time for an incorporation proposal – if that’s the way the board decided to go – to be sent to the 2014 General Assembly.
“Time is of the essence for Stony Point,” Herring said.
Incorporation discussions. The Stony Point incorporation proposal is complicated – and has been several years in the making. In September 2011, the Finance Committee created a task force to “study the missional alignment, viability, financial sustainability and management performance of Stony Point.”
That task force report stated that, “as the denomination’s financial resources continue to decrease, the PMA Board remains committed to focusing on ministries that can only be done at the national level. Given this new reality, the Stony Point Task Force anticipates the viability of Stony Point Center to be challenged by decreasing resources in the PC(USA). While the mission alignment between Stony Point Center and the PMA Board is strong, continuing to operate Stony Point from offices in Louisville, Kentucky, will not enhance the viability of resources we have to offer the world as a witness of Jesus Christ.”
In September 2012, the board passed a motion to “affirm and approve a path and process to establish Stony Point Center as a separate legal entity – a corporation related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – controlled by the PMA Board and subject to the lawful directions of the General Assembly. This is not the recommendation for incorporation, but rather a recommendation that the PMA Board move toward incorporation as a way forward for Stony Point Center.”
The board also created the transitional task team to shepherd that process. And one point of debate at this meeting has been whether that transitional task team already has essentially performed the required work of the evaluation committee – something DeRosia told the Finance Committee the task team thought it had done. “We believed that we were fulfilling that,” DeRosia said.
Herring, who made the recommendations for amendments to the Finance Committee, said he thought the task team had done the work of the evaluation committee as well – although he acknowledged that the language of the 2012 motion creating the task team was ambiguous.
The motion the board approved calls for an evaluation to be done by a committee consisting of three people who have not served on either the Stony Point task force or the transitional task team.