How will the Presbyterian Mission Agency board respond to a report of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Review Committee – a report that praises the work of the agency’s staff, but also cites “significant weaknesses” in strategic direction and work culture?
Marilyn Gamm, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency board, said she plans to set up a task force to provide written comments in April to the review committee’s recommendations.
Members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency board offered thanks to the review committee for its work and to members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) staff for their service during trying times.
Beyond that, board members didn’t say much of what they thought of the report during a Jan. 21 meeting held via conference call, at least during the open part of the meeting. The board held a 45-minute closed session before that to discuss personnel matters – so it’s not publicly known what was discussed there.
Gamm did say that the response, expected to be presented at the board’s April 27-29 meeting, will focus primarily on the three recommendations the review committee is making to the General Assembly – not on the rest of the report.
The committee’s report is part of the regular review cycle of the six agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The committee’s report goes directly to the 2016 General Assembly and includes recommendations that the assembly:
- Create a committee to consider a possible merger of the PMA and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA);
- Set up another committee to consider a possible restructuring of the Presbyterian Mission Agency board; and
- Instruct the PMA, the OGA, the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program and the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation to set up a staff committee to look at ways to coordinate shared services, such as accounting, finance, legal services and human resources.
The review committee report, however, went significantly beyond those specific recommendations – raising concerns about a lack of clear strategic direction within the PMA, poor coordination with other General Assembly Agencies, and a work culture and environment “characterized by anxiety, distrust, and a clear lack in the areas of spiritual leadership, transparency, and cultural humility.”
The Presbyterian Mission Agency board, in its conference call convened for the purpose of discussing the report prior to the board’s Feb. 3-5 meeting in Louisville, didn’t delve much into those broader considerations. Gamm said she would create a task force to write comments on the recommendations to present in April (and which, if approved, would be sent to the General Assembly). Beyond that, Gamm said she’d look into what might be done to consider any other questions or concerns board members might have about the whole of the report.
Board member Molly Baskin of Illinois, for example, said she’d like more discussion of the idea raised in the report that the PMA is structured along a “secular corporate model.” While the PMA is a mission agency, it may need a corporate structure too, Baskin said – adding that, “I don’t quite get why that is a problem for an $80 million company and for a governing board.”
Board member Joe Morrow of Chicago thanked the review committee for “diligently listening to the PMA and listening to the board and providing a mirror” of what it’s seen. He also thanked the PMA staff “for work that’s been done in a very challenging environment.”
Morrow also said he hopes the work of reviewing the PMA and considering what should come next is done in conjunction with broader restructuring conversations being held around the denomination, including five “listening sessions” that Heath Rada, moderator of the 2014 General Assembly, is holding in March.
Board member Chad Herring of Kansas City said he heard both praise and a “loving critique” from the review committee, and said the issue of whether the PMA should be structured more as a ministry or a corporate model has been a matter of ongoing conversation.
Nancy Ramsay, a board member from Fort Worth, said morale at the denomination’s national offices has taken a hit from recent controversies – including an ethics investigation involving some employees associated with the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program – and thanked the review committee for raising difficult questions.
The 2001 General Assembly required that each of the PC(USA)’s six agencies be periodically reviewed. PMA was last reviewed in 2008. A committee reviewing the OGA is expected to release its report in the next few weeks.