The Way Forward Commission continues to plow through the work before it – including instructing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders to present a plan and timeline for consolidating publishing operations in the denomination by the commission’s meeting in Seattle January 17-19, 2018.
The commission’s vote to do that, in a conference call meeting Aug. 9, adds more urgency to an issue that’s already under discussion: the possible consolidation of Congregational Ministries Publishing (which produces curriculum for the denomination and is currently housed in the Presbyterian Mission Agency) into the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
That consolidation is already being considered – but the commission’s vote means “we are putting pressure on them to do this, not just encouraging,” said Mark Hostetter, a minister from New York who serves as the commission’s moderator.
On July 18, following a closed-door discussion of more than two hours, the executive committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted to authorize Tony De La Rosa, interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), to provide at the board’s September 21-23 meeting in Louisville a proposal for consolidating the publishing entities.
The executive committee also voted to ask that the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) “provide the financial analysis behind its rationale” for the consolidation to the management of PMA in preparation for De La Rosa’s proposal.
Commission member Sam Bonner, an elder and bank examiner from New Jersey who’s been involved in discussions of ways in which the six PC(USA) agencies might find additional ways of working together, said the consolidation is a “very, very good idea” that could bring efficiencies and cost savings “that could be substantial over time”; end confusion; and reduce redundancies.
“They’ve been thinking about this since 2009,” Bonner said. “The trigger for them to do something hasn’t been there.”
Hostetter said he’d checked with the Office of the Stated Clerk, and been told that if the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and Presbyterian Mission Agency reach agreement on a plan, with the Way Forward’s encouragement and “blessing of the process,” then “it could go ahead without General Assembly approval.”
The commission approved this statement: “The Commission commends the conversations between PPC and PMA that have taken place to date regarding the consolidation of publishing activities, encourages the active and prompt continuation of such conversations, and requests a report to the Commission by our January 2018 meeting, including a timeline for implementation.”
The commission met for about an hour in open session on Aug. 9, then for two more hours in closed session to discuss property and personnel issues.
Here’s more of what the commission discussed.
All Agency Review. Leadership of the Way Forward Commission and the All Agency Review Committee are talking regularly – about every two weeks – to identify areas of possible overlap and cooperation, Hostetter said. “That’s going strong,” he said of the coordination committee.
After the closed session, Hostetter said the commission had taken the following action: “The Commission empowers the Way Forward–All Agency Review coordination committee to create a joint WFC-AAR joint statement regarding a PMA-OGA matter.” No details were given.
And commission member Jo Stewart, an elder from Charlotte, said that a joint working group from the commission and the All Agency Review Committee has been working at full speed (with three meetings in July) to come up with a “fairly aggressive” work plan and a project scope for looking at how shared or common services (such as accounting and human resources) are handled by the denomination’s corporate entity for PMA and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). That corporate entity technically is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, but often is referred to as simply A Corporation.
Stewart said that work plan “is not intended to limit the scope of the work that Way Forward will do” – but will allow Way Forward and All Agency Review to develop a definition of what is meant by shared services, to gain an understanding of the current situation, and identify critical areas of concern where change might be possible.
The hope is to complete all (or at least most) of the work by the September Presbyterian Mission Agency Board meeting, Stewart said.
The commission voted to approve the following project scope plan:
Joint Working Group on Shared Services
The scope of this joint project will be limited to shared / common services delivered under the A Corporation. The group will look at services currently or historically provided by PMA for both PMA and OGA.
We will address the following:
- Are there services not currently being shared that would be less expensive or more efficiently delivered than each agency is currently paying for those services?
- If so, are there non-economic reasons for not sharing such services?
- What is the root cause of the current decisions not to share such services?
- Is the cost allocation for the services shared between PMA and OGA reasonable?
- If cost allocation is preventing the sharing of services, is there a better way to establish cost allocations going forward?
- What roles should PMA and OGA have in setting and monitoring service delivery?
- What roles should PMA and OGA have with regard to policy decisions impacting shared services?
The project will include the following action items:
- Compile existing information collected by both Way Forward and the All Agency Review to ensure a common starting point and eliminate duplication of informational requests.
- Working with PMA and OGA, develop standard definition of administrative, shared and common services
- Complete analysis of the A Corporation foundational documents with a focus on understanding the relationship of PMA and OGA, the decision-making process, and whether the current relationship and decision-making process is an impediment to sharing services
- Complete “as is” analysis to understand current situation, including critical points of conflict and overlap as well as areas that are working well. Through this process mapping, interview selected staff at all levels to gain balanced perspective of the current situation.
- Document current shared service arrangement – cost, services
- Identify critical areas of concern (as highlighted by OGA, PMA or our review as it relates to shared services between PMA and OGA
- Identify functions, if any, where immediate change is possible and areas where further analysis is needed.
- Develop recommendations regarding implementation of any changes recommended.
Loan programs. Bonner also raised another area he wants the commission to look into – a focus resulting from conversations with four PC(USA) agencies (the Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and the Presbyterian Foundation) that he described as “very helpful, open, collaborative in nature.”
Those conversations have identified a need to look more deeply at how the PC(USA) handles church loans – and specifically, areas of possible reconfiguration involving the work of the Mission Development Resources Committee (which the General Assembly elects) and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, which potentially could have a greater role in providing oversight for those loans.
“It became clear there was a feeling that this portfolio, these monies could be used more effectively for things that are needed by the denomination now,” Bonner said – for example, for church renovation projects.
It’s a complicated matter, Stewart said – as the Mission Development Resources Committee both approves loans from the Church Loan Fund, but also approves grants, including for the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program. “That’s an issue that needs to be discussed and determined – where that grant process would go,” she said.
“Let’s not get over our skis here,” by indicating that the commission wants a change in this area, said Eileen Lindner, a commission member and pastor from New Jersey. Maybe the best approach would be to ask those involved to review the current relationships and decide if they want to bring any recommendation for change to the commission’s January meeting, she said. “There are some reasons this hasn’t been done previously,” Lindner said, so the commission needs to learn more.
Following the closed session, Hostetter announced that the commission had taken this action: “The Commission requests that PILP and the Presbyterian Foundation update the Commission at our October or November meeting on issues and possibilities related to the Church Loan Program and the Mission Development Resources Committee, after soliciting comment from PMA and OGA.”
Other consultations. Commission members are in the process of having conversations with Presbyterians across the church – including with leaders of the six agencies; with presbytery and synod executives; with tall steeple pastors and young adults; and with leaders of groups including racial ethnic caucuses, Presbyterian Women, NEXT Church, the Fellowship Community and the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.
The idea is to listen to as many groups as possible about the needs and concerns of the PC(USA) – “to be sure that we don’t act in a sort of ivory tower (way) or in isolation,” Hostetter said.
Mathew Eardley, an elder from Idaho, reported back the results of a survey of mid council leaders, which drew 204 responses. Among the key concerns expressed, he said, were:
- A longing for transformative leadership and finding ways to support that in congregations;
- A desire for clarity about identity. What is distinctive about being Presbyterian?
- The need for better communication in the PC(USA);
- A need for validation of the work presbyteries and synods do.
The commission’s next meeting will be Sept. 17-19 at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.