LOUISVILLE (Outlook) – The Presbyterian Mission Agency board will be asked to vote at its upcoming meeting Sept. 13-16 on a plan to transfer responsibility for operating the Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in northern New Mexico to the National Ghost Ranch Foundation, with the transition taking effect around Jan. 1, 2017.
A proposal the board will consider at its Louisville meeting states that the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) would end its programmatic work at Ghost Ranch effective Dec. 31. That change would come “with the knowledge there are others ready and willing to provide similar programs missionally aligned” with the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s mission work plan, the document states.
It also states, “the PMA is not the agency of the General Assembly or the denomination best resourced to provide this important work, especially in view of the enormous capital needs of Ghost Ranch which exceed available and trended funding of the PMA.”
Ghost Ranch is a 21,000-acre property donated to the church in the 1950s and is one of three national conference centers affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), along with Stony Point Center in New York and Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina.
In an interview, Tony De La Rosa, PMA’s interim executive director, described the spirit of the conversations regarding the future of Ghost Ranch as positive, and said: “I’m very hopeful going forward.”
The changes being considered are the result of conversations initiated in November 2015 by the National Ghost Ranch Foundation, a nonprofit entity established in 1972 for the purpose of raising funds for and supporting the work of Ghost Ranch. De La Rosa said the National Ghost Ranch Foundation is “situated and prepared” to take on the fundraising challenges needed to support capital projects at Ghost Ranch.
De La Rosa said the model being considered for Ghost Ranch is similar to the relationship that the PC(USA) currently has with Montreat in North Carolina, where the Mountain Retreat Association manages the conference center.
The property at Ghost Ranch is actually owned by the Presbyterian Foundation.
That’s because in 1955, Arthur and Phoebe Pack gave the Ghost Ranch property to the Board of Christian Education of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. – the former northern stream of the Presbyterian Church. With the reunion of the northern and southern branches of the church, the legal assets of the Board of Christian Education reverted to the Foundation in 1986, and the Board of Christian Education is now considered a constituent corporation of the Foundation.
De La Rosa said that even though PMA has needed to financially support Ghost Ranch in recent years, Ghost Ranch is now close to breaking even, and may do so by the end of 2016.
He said Stony Point Center also is “well on its way to becoming a break-even operation” – as a three-year plan was instituted in 2014 to try to achieve that.
According to figures provided by Earline Williams, the PC(USA)’s chief operating officer, Ghost Ranch posted an operating loss in 2014 of $336,256; posted an operating profit in 2015 of $16,953; and shows an unaudited operating profit through July 31, 2016 of $97,992.
Ghost Ranch also has accumulated an “interfund balance” of about $3.6 million, Williams reported – with that amount being the accumulated funds the PC(USA) has advanced over time to cover Ghost Ranch capital and operating expenses. That fund balance has not been forgiven, Williams said.
She also said by email that trends and projections in the denomination for unrestricted giving “do not provide funds that can be allocated or designated for the Ghost Ranch capital projects.”
Details of exactly how the arrangement would be structured are still being worked out – so the approval being sought this week is for the idea and direction, not the particulars. The proposal the PMA board will consider states that the corporate entity of the Presbyterian Church would transfer the operations of Ghost Ranch conditioned upon definitive agreements being negotiated and signed. The board’s executive committee would have the authority to approve the final arrangement, the proposal states.
Under the proposal being considered, oversight for Ghost Ranch would shift to the Board of Christian Education, the constituent corporation of the Foundation. The Ghost Ranch Governing Board would be dismissed, as its members have all been appointed to the National Ghost Ranch Foundation.
The measure the board will consider states that the proposal which the National Ghost Ranch Foundation presented offered “a new vision for a way forward” for Ghost Ranch “in a manner that would require very little in the way of reorganization but would strengthen Ghost Ranch while freeing the PMA to focus on work it was better resourced to provide.”
In the interview, De La Rosa said Ghost Ranch has strong support on the PMA board, and that he envisions a good working relationship going forward under the new arrangement.
“We share that goal with members of the board of the National Ghost Ranch Foundation,” he said. “They themselves of their own initiative have communicated insistently that they want to be programmatically aligned with the mission goals of the PC(USA). … I can comfortably say Ghost Ranch has ardent supporters on our board. And they are loathe to take any action that would in any way imperil the sustainable future for Ghost Ranch going forward.”