A task force that has been studying the finances and future of the Stony Point Center in New York has recommended taking steps toward possibly incorporating Stony Point as a separate legal entity — and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted Sept. 14 to approve that plan. That move to incorporate the conference center could give it more autonomy to determine its future and manage its programs and finances.
The recommendations are the work of a task force the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board set up in September 2011 to assess financial viability and management performance of the center, which is owned by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Melissa DeRosia, a teaching elder from Rochester, N.Y., and chair of the task force, called them “bold” recommendations with implications for whether the denomination will continue to provide Stony Point with financial and other support and oversight.
The board’s Finance Committee approved the recommendations Sept. 13.
Another question on the table is what the denomination should do about the debt Stony Point owes it. The task force is recommending that, if it is later decided not to separately incorporate Stony Point, the center’s accumulated debt be capped at the level owed in December 2012 — an amount estimated at around $1.5 million. DeRosia also told the board Sept. 13 that “discussions should be held regarding forgiveness” of those debts, or that some other strategy should be pursued to keep Stony Point’s viable.
The task force recommends that any separate legal entity for Stony Point created by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board should be a corporation related to the PC(USA) and subject to the General Assembly’s direction. The recommendation does not prescribe a timeline but does create a “transitional task team” to work on the project.
A report supporting the proposal recommends a timeline of about 18 months, so the documents required to set up Stony Point as a nonprofit corporation could be submitted in time for action by the 2014 General Assembly, if that’s what the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board wants.
One model for the kind of legal entity that might be established is the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, DeRosia said.
Under the leadership of Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase, Stony Point — located in the Hudson River Valley about 40 miles from New York City — has been trying to position itself as a retreat setting for religious groups, a center for faith-based peace and justice work, and a home for a multicultural faith community of Christians, Muslims and Jews who study the practice of nonviolence.
The task force’s report, while not glossing over the financial difficulties, did commend Stony Point’s fiscal progress and its creative ministry.
There’s also some good fiscal news. Rick Ufford-Chase told the board that, for the first time in years, Stony Point expects to finish this year in the black — with higher revenues than expenses.
DeRosia said the task force “sees a future that is much improved,” and said Kitty and Rick Ufford-Chase have brought “creativity, innovation and good business sense.”
She also said that “self-sufficiency will take time” and that “providing that time is at the core of our report.” The transitional task team would monitor a specific set of benchmarks towards possible incorporation over the next 18 months — including meeting particular occupancy rates and financial goals.
The task force report says that, “as the denomination’s financial resources continue to decrease, the PMA (Presbyterian Mission Agency) Board remains committed to focusing on ministries that can only be done at the national level. Given this new reality, the Stony Point Task Force anticipates the viability of Stony Point Center to be challenged by decreasing resources in the PC(USA). While the mission alignment between Stony Point Center and the PMA Board is strong, continuing to operate Stony Point from offices in Louisville, Kentucky, will not enhance the viability of resources we have to offer the world as a witness of Jesus Christ.”
Among the points raised in the Stony Point discussion:
In previous years, the Stony Point management team did not do independent fundraising. There was a sense, DeRosia said, that to attempt to raise funds would put Stony Point in competition with the PC(USA)’s own efforts to raise money. Stony Point now is conducting fundraising campaigns for operating funds, capital projects and endowments.
While the denomination has historically provided some financial support to Stony Point, in recent years that has not included capital improvements. The Stony Point leadership team now is working to make improvements to modernize the facility and make it more comfortable, including purchasing new mattresses and installing air conditioning on parts of the campus. Other improvements are intended to make the facility more energy-efficient, such as replacing wasteful old boilers with on-demand water heaters.
There’s an effort at Stony Point to “walk the talk,” as Kitty Ufford-Chase put it — to run the center in accordance with its commitment to peace and justice. That includes conversation about where food comes from and about sustainable agriculture — and means Stony Point grows some of its own food; is committed to recycling and composting; and uses fair trade coffee and chocolate and environmentally friendly cleaning products. “We are not a hotel,” Kitty Ufford-Chase said. “We are a religious retreat center.”
During the debate, several board members commended Stony Point for its work in peace, justice and multifaith relations.
Neal Presa, moderator of the 2012 General Assembly, described Stony Point as “a distinctive gift for the church” — and said its environment of multicultural hospitality is especially significant in times of religiously fueled violence, such as the recent attacks on the U.S. embassies in Libya and Yemen. Presa also challenged the transitional task team to figure out what it would take for the PC(USA) to give Stony Point “a durable lifeline, not a thin-thread lifeline.”