I want to take this opportunity to speak clearly and directly regarding the GAC’s intent.
The GAC, like the Foundation, is accountable to God, donors, and the General Assembly. There are times, in the fulfillment of our similar responsibilities, when we disagree over the best way to proceed on an issue. Fortunately, these occasions are rare, and reflect only a small part of the working relationship between the GAC and the Foundation. Disagreements do happen, and when they do, neither the intention of donors, who expect their gifts to be employed, nor the mission of the church, is advanced.
In 1986, the General Assembly created two separate corporations, a church corporation [Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, with the GAC as its board of directors] and a foundation corporation [the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation], both under the authority and oversight of the General Assembly. (From 1799 until 1986, the General Assembly used various corporate structures, often operating with a single corporation for all purposes and sometimes operating with various specialized incorporated boards.)
The Foundation receives funds for the work of the Church, invests those funds, and distributes them. The GAC develops and proposes mission directions and priorities for the General Assembly, and implements mission programs and GA directives. Each is accountable to donors and the General Assembly, and subject to applicable secular law.
Typically, our disagreements come in areas where the Foundation feels the GAC is not interpreting donor instructions appropriately, while the GAC feels the Foundation has gone beyond the donor’s instruction on how the money is to be used. Persons acting in good faith can and do disagree on these concerns. Sometimes we even have respected, competent legal counsel who give differing advice on these matters.
The Advisory Committee on the Constitution has recommended final responsibility on these issues be vested with the General Assembly, and between assemblies, with the GAC. The ACC makes an analogy to a congregation’s session and board of trustees (in those churches where the trustees manage the funds for the Session), suggesting that it is the obligation of the board of trustees to manage the church’s money, but the session has the authority to determine the mission of the congregation and to direct how the money of the church shall be spent in support of that mission.
While the ACC’s recommendation is one approach, we have proposed to the Foundation that we jointly develop a mechanism to resolve differences so we can continue to do God’s work in keeping with the intention of donors, law and the Church’s mission. I’ve asked Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation President Bob Leech to work with me, and with our respective elected representatives, to make this happen and bring a proposal for such a body to the General Assembly.
While the circumstances in which we have disagreements are small in comparison to the many, many funds involving millions of dollars on which there is no disagreement, the disagreements have real consequences. When funds are frozen, partner churches must go without funds on which they depend, and ministries that have been relied upon for years are placed in jeopardy. So, while this is a small part of the mission of the church, it is important that we find a workable, collaborative way through this. With a spirit of cooperation, integrity and responsibility to the Church, I believe we can find a common solution that is faithful to donors and the church and Christ-like integrity.
We do have examples of collaboration that show us how this can be achieved. The Church Extension Fund was created decades ago by the Board of National Missions from unrestricted sources, to help congregations pay for “bricks and mortar” as an incentive for church growth. By the 1970s, however, the need for new buildings (“build it and they will come”) was replaced with the imperative to build thriving congregations.
Within the past two years, Foundation staff became concerned that this use of funds was not in keeping with the original intent of the Board of National Missions. Together, the Foundation and GAC asked for an advisory opinion from the Stated Clerk, as to how this restriction might be changed. The advisory opinion says the GAC can, on behalf of the General Assembly, change the restriction on this fund, since the restriction was not made by donors but rather by the General Assembly. The GAC has voted to conform the purpose of this fund to contemporary mission imperatives, and presents this change to the Assembly for final approval.
This fund is particularly important as it provides around $3 million in grants each year for new church development and congregational renewal. Over 900 mission program grants have been made to congregations and presbyteries in the past 18 years; under the direction of the GA-elected Mission Development Resources Committee. This action is simply to confirm that as the intention of the General Assembly.
Donors expect their gifts to be used for the work of the church — for Christ’s mission in Christ’s church — spent responsibly, with integrity, and in a timely way. We are committed to working together with the Foundation to find mutually beneficial solutions that demonstrate the best that we have to offer God.
I welcome your comments – you can reach me at 502-569-5040, or [email protected].
Linda Bryant Valentine is executive director of the General Assembly Council, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).