An evaluation committee is recommending that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board not approve separate incorporation for Stony Point Conference Center outside New York, saying too many questions about finances and other matters remain unanswered. The board is expected to consider the issue when it meets in Louisville Feb. 5-7.
The evaluation committee, in recommending that the board not approve incorporation, concluded that reports of the Stony Point Task Force and the Transitional Task Team – two earlier groups which the board created to study the future and finances of Stony Point – did not resolve key budgetary and legal issues, including the question of financial viability for Stony Point and the capital needs of the property.
Those earlier study groups relied too heavily on a business plan that the Stony Point leadership team presented, and their reports “did not result from a full and robust analysis of the issues which would be crucial to determine whether an approved corporation would most likely succeed” if incorporation were recommended, the evaluation committee report states.
The committee’s report, while forceful, is a glimpse into the complexity of the discussions surrounding Stony Point – and the behind-the-scenes skirmishing among the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to get to this point. Among the points of tension:
- Were two groups that the board created to study the future of Stony Point and possible incorporation given the financial and other information they needed to make informed recommendations? Or did those groups ask some of the same questions the evaluation committee now is raising – but did not receive the information they sought?
- What role has the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board itself played in providing oversight to Stony Point in recent years? The Stony Point leadership team has regularly provided both detailed financial and programmatic reports to the board’s Finance Committee, as has Ghost Ranch Conference Center in New Mexico.
- Is the focus of the discussion still on whether incorporation a good idea? Or is the future of Stony Point Center itself as a PC(USA) ministry also on the line?
The evaluation committee report states that the board needs to consider a “fundamental strategic question” of whether it supports the emphasis on multi-faith peacemaking and justice that co-directors Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase have made a focus of their work at Stony Point – and lists selling the property and investing the proceeds for other ministry work as one possible outcome.
Asked for comment on the evaluation committee’s report, Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said by email that “I am grateful for the interest and concern of all who have worked on possible futures for ministry at Stony Point Conference Center, including the evaluation committee in raising important considerations for well informed decision making. I am committed to exploring options for the best way forward.”
Matt Schramm, the board’s chair and a teaching elder from Michigan, referred when asked for comment to Valentine’s response, saying he also wanted to express thanks to all who have worked on the issue. Melissa DeRosia, a member of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and a teaching elder from Rochester, N.Y., has led the board’s efforts over the last two years to study the possibility of incorporation for Stony Point – and tried unsuccessfully last September to bring a recommendation for incorporation to the floor of the board meeting for discussion.
In an interview, DeRosia – speaking for herself and not on behalf of the Stony Point Transitional Task Team, which she chaired – said she agrees that the questions the evaluation committee is raising in its report “are really great questions” about whether Stony Point could be financially viable if separately incorporated. “They’re important (questions). They’re huge,” DeRosia said.
The Transitional Task Team, and the Stony Point Task Force that preceded it – which she also chaired – had many of the same questions the evaluation committee is raising, DeRosia said. But in seeking answers from the Presbyterian Mission Agency staff, “information was either withheld or denied,” she said.
The evaluation committee “is asserting that that we didn’t ask the questions,” DeRosia said. “That’s what they are concluding – that we didn’t do our work. The bottom line is we did our work. We did ask those questions. We didn’t get any answers.”
Here’s some of the history:
- In September 2011, the board created a Stony Point Task Force to assess the financial viability and management performance of Stony Point.
- In September 2012, the board voted unanimously to “affirm and approve a path and process to establish Stony Point Center as a separate legal entity” – not an authorization for incorporation, but a move in that direction. The board also created the Transitional Task Team to guide that process.
- In September 2013, the Transitional Task Team recommended incorporation for Stony Point, although that recommendation never made it to the floor for a vote – with the matter being referred instead by a 17-14 vote to a new, three-person evaluation committee to consider whether the proposed incorporation would be both justified and viable. Proponents of doing that contended that standards the board adopted in 2007 regarding proposals to incorporate require such a separate independent evaluation.
- In November 2013, the board met by conference call, at the request of more than 20 of its members, to discuss a request that an independent investigative committee be appointed to determine if staff members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency “acted in any way to withhold or did not provide complete and necessary information” to the Stony Point Task Force, the Stony Point Transitional Task Team or to the board or its Finance Committee. That meeting was held in closed session and no action was taken – meaning that an investigative committee was not created.
- On Dec. 31, the evaluation committee issued its report, recommending that incorporation not be approved and stating that the Transitional Task Team “did not make the case” required by the incorporation criteria, and “a significant amount of further work would be required before an incorporation decision could be considered” by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.
- That recommendation is expected to be discussed at the board’s Feb. 5-7 meeting. According to Schramm, a webinar on the Stony Point issue will be scheduled before the February meeting.
Here is the text of DeRosia’s written statement regarding the evaluation committee’s report:
Members of the Transitional Task Team have not had an opportunity to meet yet and respond to the recommendations of the Evaluation Committee. Therefore, my comments and opinions do not reflect the views of the entire TTT.
When I began this work with Stony Point in 2011 it was under the assumption that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and staff were working together as partners to be faithful in our discernment of the future of the Stony Point Center and our denomination. When the PMAB unanimously supported the recommendation of the Task Force in 2012 to move toward incorporation, I continued my work as chair of the Transitional Task Team to carry out the board decision.
The recommendation of the Stony Point Incorporation Evaluation Committee raises a number of questions. Many of these same questions were raised throughout the process of the Task Force and Transitional Task Team. They are important and fundamental questions to the future of Stony Point Center and the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Evaluation committee determined that based on the lack of responses in the TTT’s report to those questions, we either did not consider or thoroughly analyze the questions. The Evaluation Committee conclusion fails to take into consideration that the unanswered questions are due to information that was withheld or denied to the Task Force and TTT during our process.
These fundamental questions raised by the TTT and the Evaluation Committee need to be addressed by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. The recommendation to not move forward with the incorporation of Stony Point Center and dismiss the TTT continues to defer the responsibility of addressing these fundamental questions. For me, it is a disappointment to participate in a bureaucratic ecclesiastical process that negates all the “unknown risks” without considering the possibilities God imagines for our life together.