LOUISVILLE – Members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board on Sept. 27 laid on the table more questions about the future of the Stony Point Center – including asking what it would cost to separately incorporate the center (or not) and why there seems to be behind-the-scenes opposition to the idea. The proposal is to incorporate as the Stony Point Center for Multi-faith Justice, Peace and Nonviolence.
Among the questions board members raised:
- What are the reasons that incorporation might be good for Stony Point and for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?
- What are the financial implications of incorporating or not incorporating?
- What are the reasons for resistance to incorporation?
Stony Point’s co-directors, Kitty and Rick Ufford-Chase, have argued that separate incorporation would give them momentum towards trying to become financially self-sustaining and would allow them to try to raise money from a broader multi-faith base, beyond traditional Presbyterian sources of funding.
The Sept. 27 discussion came after two days of polite but strained wrangling over the Stony Point issue – and visible frustration from board members who have, at the board’s request, spent two years investigating the possibility of incorporation as part of a plan to try to improve Stony Point’s tenuous finances, but have had difficulty getting a forum to discuss openly the pros and cons of going forward with incorporation.
In September 2012, the board voted to “affirm and approve a path and process to establish Stony Point Center as a separate legal entity,” although it did not actually approve incorporation, and created a Stony Point transition task team to develop a plan to present to the board in September 2013. The transition task team built on the work of another board task force, which spent a year working with the leadership team of Stony Point to investigate the possibilities for Stony Point’s future.
The Stony Point transition task team came to this meeting with a recommendation for incorporation and a 131-page report. Instead, the board voted 17-14 on Sept. 26 to send the question to a new three-member evaluation committee after being told that standards the board adopted in 2007 regarding proposals to incorporate require a separate independent evaluation.
The next morning (Sept. 27), Melissa DeRosia, a pastor from Rochester, N.Y. who led the transition task team, asked for 15 minutes on the agenda. She argued that the 2007 standards state that “ideally,” the board “should be able to be able to consider a proposal at least twice before a vote is necessary to forward (or not) a proposal to the General Assembly.”
DeRosia and the task team want the board to consider any recommendations involving incorporation at its Feb. 5-7 meeting, so any recommendation for incorporation that might emerge would meet the deadlines for the 2014 General Assembly. By discussing the matter both in September and February, she said, “we know we have followed these criteria and standards to a T.”
Dottie Smith, the PC(USA)’s treasurer, responded to the question regarding financial implications by saying the estimated costs of incorporation would total about $4.7 million over five years – including nearly $1.5 million in accumulated debt, capital expenses and provision of about $1 million in a six-month operating fund to cover cash flow needs. “We do not believe that Stony Point is viable financially,” Smith said.
Asked what the costs to the PC(USA) would be of not incorporating Stony Point, Smith said she did not have projections for that.
DeRosia, a board member who has – at the board’s request – worked for the past two years to help develop a plan for Stony Point to move forward, told the board: “This is the first time the transitional task team has seen these numbers.”
Jack Hodges, a transition task team member, responded to Smith’s presentation by making a motion for more information – asking that the financial team provide details at the February meeting regarding the $1.5 million in accumulated debt it says Stony Point owes.
James McDonald, the president of San Francisco Theological Seminary, asked what he said might be viewed as an “impertinent question.” McDonald said he understands why some are arguing for incorporation and “I also see great resistance to that, and attempts to slow down or derail the process.” The impertinent question, McDonald said, is “what are the goals of those people who are opposing the incorporation of Stony Point?”
Matt Schramm, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, responded that the board has not yet voted on incorporation, “so no one has officially said they’re opposed to it.”
And “that is precisely the point,” McDonald responded. “There is no clear sense of what the problems are. There is a positive plan that is being proposed. People have worked very hard on this. Each time, it seems to be delayed or pushed aside,” without explanation. “Something needs to be said by those who are in fact opposing it. Get it out on the table so we can deal with it.”
Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said: “There is a perception that the staff has a position on this. The staff wants to be sure that the board has the facts so the board can make a decision.”
At that, Hodge made the motion for the finance team to provide more information about the report that Smith had made. “Transparency,” he said, “is what it’s about.”