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GAC today approves 2008-09 budget, pursues talks on investing options

Moving briskly and with little discussion, the General Assembly Council dispensed with a plateful of business April 25 — including passing a budget for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for 2009 and 2010.

That budget, which will be submitted to the General Assembly for its consideration in June, calls for increasing the number of mission co-workers serving overseas from 196 this year to 215 in 2009 and 220 in 2010, and for restoring the Environmental Ministries office eliminated in a budget cut two years ago. The council approved the budget by a voice vote, with no discussion.

The council also voted to authorize its chair, Allison Seed, and council member Reg Kuhn, who serves as a liaison to the Presbyterian Foundation, to continue discussions in the next few days with the foundation regarding an overture submitted by the Synod of the Southwest. 

That overture asks the General Assembly to remove a restriction imposed in 1986 that requires the council to invest all of its mid-range and long-term investments solely with the foundation. The synod is asking that the council be given the same flexibility that the other five General Assembly entities already have — to invest elsewhere if they choose.

Synod executive Jan DeVries, in presenting the overture to council committees, contended that the council might gain a higher rate of return by investing through the private market — and by doing so, could produce more money to be used for mission by a denomination that has cut valued programs because of a shortage of funding.

But Robert Leech, chief executive officer of the foundation, told the council that to achieve a higher rate of return would involve incurring more risk of loss and that the foundation tries to produce consistent rates of return and to “minimize fluctuations.”

DeVries also told the committees that one option would be for the council and the foundation to work on a “collaborative response” — a way of suggesting to the assembly a plan of action that would respond to the overture and address the synod’s concerns without requiring an up-or-down vote on the overture.

After Seed and Kuhn discuss the matter further with foundation officials, they will recommend a course of action for the council, which Seed said will be discussed in a conference call with the entire council, probably within the next week.

The council also zipped through a lot of other business, including these matters.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. The council voted, with no discussion, not to move ahead with incorporating Presbyterian Disaster Assistance as a separate entity. A task force studying that issue had reported earlier in the week that it was not clear that incorporating PDA would produce enough benefits to warrant doing that, although PDA’s previous director, Susan Ryan, had argued strongly that incorporation was the way to go.

Immediately after the council voted, council member Carolyn McLarnan of Mississippi, a task force member who said she was speaking on behalf of absent task force co-chair Joseph Johnson of Alabama, made a motion that the task force be allowed to continue on, with a new name. The motion was changed to say the task force would continue through September 2009 — the time period for which it originally was created — to avoid incurring expenses for the task force indefinitely.

McLarnan’s motion stated that the task force would continue to address “communication and interpretation issues” and human resources concerns, including the quick and efficient hiring of staff and on-ground personnel in response to a disaster.

The motion also stated that the task force would “work with all those who feel passionately that incorporation is the best way to carry out the ministry of PDA . … ”

In presenting its recommendations to the council on April 23, the task force leaders said it was not clear that incorporation really would produce desired benefits such as companies providing matching funds, and that incorporation would involve additional expenses.

Explaining why the task force wanted to keep going, McLarnan told the council: “There were a lot of issues hanging in the air.”

Donating tax rebates. Following a suggestion of council member Linda Knieriemen of Michigan, the council voted to ask all council members to donate all or part of their federal tax rebate to support mission personnel funding for the PC(USA).

Council member Rick Ufford-Chase, a former General Assembly moderator, said he’d also like to “challenge the church to take that action with us.”

Racial-ethnic schools. The council heard an update on the financial health of several racial-ethnic schools, including Sheldon Jackson College in Alaska and the Cook School for Christian Leadership in Tempe, Arizona. Rhashell Hunter, the PC(USA)’s director of Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries, said the decision has been made to allow those schools to continue receiving funding from the Christmas Joy Offering for 2008-2009, and, at least for now, to “stick with them through the process” of trying to reach a more solid footing financially and to figure out their next steps.

“There are many questions and many discussions to be had down the road,” but the best course seems to be not to pull away funding in the short term, said council member John Bolt of West Virginia.

Ufford-Chase said he wanted to challenge the church to think hard about the contributions of Presbyterian-related racial ethnic schools, many of whom “are in some level of crisis.” As a General Assembly moderator, he had the chance to visit many of these schools, Ufford-Chase said, and found that all have brought “a critical value to the church, the broad church, and to our society historically” — and they still have much to offer.

He said he’s “gravely concerned” about the future of these schools, and sees them as having assets “far beyond the value of property” they may own.

Hunter said some of those schools, including the Menaul School in Albuquerque and the Presbyterian Pan American School in Texas are having some success, and “we intend to continue to monitor this.”

Advocacy and advisory committees. The council is seeking a review process for the work of permanent, advocacy and advisory committees in the denomination. The council is recommending that the General Assembly direct the council to create a review committee to examine the interaction and cooperation between such groups; to consider their scope and authority; and to look at the role each plays in the PC(USA)’s mission work.

That review committee, if the assembly approves it, would report back to the assembly in 2010.