The Way Forward Commission will meet by conference call June 27 – and is expected to soon release a mid-term report regarding its work, midway to the 2018 General Assembly.
In the days leading up to that, there’s been some building tension – particularly regarding what the commission might say or recommend regarding the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
Tony De La Rosa, interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, on June 15 released a seven-page “open letter” to the commission, saying he was doing so “in my own individual capacity.” In that letter, De La Rosa raised several issues he wants the commission to consider, asked the commission to meet with leadership of the agency in September and asked for “deeper, intentional conversation.”
Now, the leadership of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board has written a letter to the full board and to the leadership cabinet of the Presbyterian Mission Agency – voicing concerns about De La Rosa’s letter. Ken Godshall, the board’s chair, declined to release a copy of that letter, saying by email, “I was asked by the Board to limit distribution of the letter to Board members, senior PMA staff, and Tony De La Rosa. I would like to honor that request.”
That letter from the board raises questions about some of the conclusions De La Rosa reached in his letter, and indicates that some board members did not agree with what he had done.
The board’s response states that, although De La Rosa said he was writing to the commission as an individual, he in effect does represent the agency and its board, because “he was hired to be the face and the spokesperson for the PMA.”
The board’s letter says both De La Rosa and the board’s leadership have had opportunities to provide feedback and comments to the commission, even though De La Rosa indicated there hasn’t been sufficient communication. It states that De La Rosa distributed his letter without consulting the board, and is not authorized to “unilaterally redirect PMA’s relationship with the Way Forward Commission” without discussing that with the board.
And the letter takes issue with some of De La Rosa’s conclusions about what the Way Forward Commission might do, including that the Presbyterian Mission Agency might be dismantled, stating that it’s too soon to say what the commission might do and that the timing of his letter indicates a lack of trust in the process.
In an interview with the Outlook on June 16, De La Rosa said he released the open letter because he knew the commission was close to releasing its mid-term report, and “I felt that before they started launching off into a particular substantive direction that they should have the benefit of input from me and other PMA staff and leadership.” He also said, “I’m shining a light on this particular proposal because of its wide-ranging potential impact.”
De La Rosa intentionally made his statements publicly; he sent the open letter to reporters, and answered questions about it at a meeting of the Presbyterian Mission Agency staff on June 15. In the interview, he also said his term as interim executive director is set to end at the end of November, and said: “It would be irresponsible for me as an interim to sort of foist this onto my successor. One of the things an interim does is take care of the hard stuff so that the permanent (executive director) can have the best shot they can have at having a successful tenure here. … I didn’t feel I could wait much later.”
Mark Hostetter, a teaching elder from New York who serves as moderator of the Way Forward Commission, has not commented on De La Rosa’s letter except to say, via email on June 15, “the commission has received the letter today, is grateful for Tony’s perspective, and will take his comments into consideration.”
De La Rosa sent the letter just days before representatives of the Way Forward Commission were to meet with leaders of the Presbyterian Mission Agency to discuss the commission’s impending mid-term report. Godshall said via email, “Way Forward met with PMA to share the major themes that may be included in their Mid-Term report. The meeting consisted of a presentation with room for discussion and questions at the end. I thought the meeting was productive and helpful.”
At its last meeting, held May 15-16 at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, the commission indicated that it may release its mid-term report by the end of June.
That report likely will include some themes the commission has begun to identify; its responses to work the six agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) already have begun to do; and a request of feedback.
The 2016 General Assembly created the commission, instructing it to “study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly entities of the PC(USA).”