SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Outlook) – Both the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly are meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico this week – accepting an invitation from the Presbytery of San Juan.
Over the past year, Presbyterian leadership has been highlighting justice concerns in Puerto Rico – with J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), along with Tony De La Rosa, interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, co-moderators of the 2016 General Assembly, sending a letter to President Donald Trump and congressional leaders in February regarding the Puerto Rican economic crisis.
That was done in response to an action of the 2016 General Assembly. The letter states in part:
“Puerto Rico’s unsustainable debt, which is more than two-thirds the amount of its GDP, cannot possibly be repaid simply by using spending cuts and tax increases, since those measures will inevitably accelerate the exodus of capital and labor and shrink the economy further. More importantly, this would result in even greater distress on people who are already in dire straits—more than half of the children now live below the poverty line and many families and individuals already struggle to survive.”
The two meetings in San Juan will overlap a bit – with one joint plenary session to discuss the “way forward” and a shared worship service – but for the most part the two groups have separate agendas.
Presbyterian Mission Agency Board
The board will meet March 22-24 at the Intercontinental San Juan Hotel, with its executive committee meeting March 21. Among the matters the board will take up are these:
Governance: The board’s Governance Task Force also will meet March 21, and is presenting a proposal (H.211 Governance Task Force White Paper) to reduce the size of the board by more than half. That proposal also would mean that advocacy and advisory committees in the denomination would lose non-voting slots on the board, as the board would scale back from its current size of 40 voting members and 17 non-voting members (with voice but not vote) to a board with 16 voting members and 8 non-voting members.
That proposal has proved controversial – with the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns and the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns issuing a letter calling the proposed change a “grave error.” The Governance Task Force has said it’s trying to make the board more nimble and responsive – and to respond to concerns raised in 2016 by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board Review Committee.
Changing the board’s size would require approval from the General Assembly – or, potentially, the Way Forward Commission.
The Governance Task Force has also prepared some documents explaining how the board arrived at its current structure since the reunion of the northern and southern branches of the Presbyterian church in 1983 – and addressing questions that may be emerging about the structure of the PC(USA)’s corporate identity, known as the PC(USA) A Corporation.
Those documents include:
- A document explaining the role and purpose of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (H.207 Role of PMAB) .
- A theological approach to understanding corporate governance (H.208 PCUSA A Corp Rationale Intro).
- A history of the governance structures from 1983 to the present (H.208 PCUSA A Corp Rationale Intro).
- A chronology of changes made in the corporate and mission structures during that same time (H.210 Chronology).
Way Forward Commission. On March 23, the board will hear from Mark Hostetter, a teaching elder from New York who is moderator of the Way Forward Commission. The commission’s next in-person meeting will be at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago on May 15-17. At its most recent meeting at Columbia Theological Seminary earlier this month, the commission approved an Affirmation of Approach, inviting collaboration and prayer from Presbyterians around the church.
Ministerial teams. Five of the eight short-term ministerial teams the board created in 2016 to address particular questions or issues will report at this meeting. Three will continue their work, and the board is expected to create two new ministerial teams. On March 23, the current ministerial teams will meet in locations around or near San Juan, including local congregations and at the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico.
Administrative committees. The board’s standing administrative committees – including the Finance committee and the Mission Impact committee – will meet March 22.
Worship. On the evening of March 22, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly will gather together for worship at Iglesia Presbiteriana de Puerto Nuevo.
Committee on the Office of the General Assembly
The committee will meet March 21-23 at the Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel. Among the work it will consider:
- A report from the General Assembly co-moderators.
- A report from the stated clerk.
- A planning report for Big Tent, which will be held in St. Louis July 6-8.
- Discussions regarding collaboration with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
- A progress report on the Bible Content Examinations.