LOUISVILLE – It appears that a temporary détente of sorts may have been reached in the conflicted, ongoing debate over the future of Stony Point Conference Center – although exactly where that will lead has yet to unfold.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, at its Feb. 5-7 meeting in Louisville, had been prepared to consider a recommendation from an evaluation committee that separate incorporation for Stony Point not be approved – a report that also raised questions about whether the PC(USA)’s leadership agrees with the center’s current focus on interfaith peacemaking and nonviolence. That report suggested possibilities the board might want to consider could include:
- Financially supporting Stony Point or requiring it to become fiscally self-sufficient;
- Spinning it off to be operated by a mid-council or independent entity; or
- Closing Stony Point and selling the property, using the proceeds to support other mission work of the PC(USA).
Now, it appears that a different approach has emerged – a plan to pull back from voting now on the incorporation recommendation and to have top PC(USA) leaders work with Stony Point co-directors Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase to develop a new proposal to bring back to the board in April.
The new approach emerged in a Feb. 3 letter signed by Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency; Roger Dermody, the agency’s deputy executive director for mission; and Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase from Stony Point. The letter proposes that those four, along with other staff members, “will work collaboratively to develop a proposal” to bring to the board’s meeting April 23-25 in Louisville.
That proposal would affirm the mission of Stony Point and would clarify the roles, responsibilities and reporting relationships of the staff and governing boards responsible for Stony Point, including the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the Stony Point Governing Board. That working group would set forth a plan for Stony Point “that has the goal of attaining financial and operational sustainability of Stony Point within an agreed time (currently contemplated to be within 4 or 5 years),” the letter states.
The letter suggests that the board consider suspending action on the recommendations from either the evaluation committee or the transitional task team, “to allow time for the development of such a proposal for a way forward.”
The letter also acknowledged how conflicted this discussion has become in recent months. Last September, a Stony Point Transitional Task Team tried and failed to bring its recommendation for incorporation up for discussion by the board – with the board voting 17-14 instead to send the matter to the evaluation committee.
In November, the board met in a closed conference call to consider whether an independent investigative committee should be appointed to determine if staff members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency acted in a way to withhold or not provide complete information to the Transitional Task Team and its predecessor, the Stony Point Task Force (the investigative committee was not appointed).
“We acknowledge that there have been considerable misunderstandings, hurt feelings and perceived criticism related to plans and proposals for Stony Point Conference Center,” the Feb. 3 letter states. The writers voice gratitude for the groups that have worked for several years on discerning a future for Stony Point – including a task force; a transitional task team; and the evaluation committee.
“We also recognize the importance in reconciliation of having an opportunity for truth telling about hurt that has been caused and experienced by each party, an acknowledgement of responsibility by different parties for their responsibility in causing the conflict or inflicting harm, and transparency in the effort to rebuild trust,” the letter states. “We will do that as we work together.”
Some of that reconciliation work commenced at the board’s executive committee Feb. 5.
“We’re in a constructive place,” Valentine told the committee. “We don’t get to this place without all the work we’ve done.”
Rick Ufford-Chase told the committee that “it’s no secret” that in recent months, “the process has grown increasingly adversarial in a way that has hurt all of us. Certainly Kitty and I have felt hurt in this process,” and were pleased when Valentine and Dermody contacted them a few days before the letter was written to say “we really would like to find a different way to have this conversation.”
Kitty Ufford-Chase spoke of the need for a process of reconciliation. In a Christian context, “it is about going into a place of deep listening, and hearing some of the truths that people have to speak,” and to work to rebuild trust. She spoke of the “sacred and holy work” of reconciliation that’s also taking place in programs at Stony Point – and her wholehearted willingness to find a way to allow that work to continue.
Rick Ufford-Chase said that “Kitty and I have responsibility for some of the miscommunication and the hurt that has gone on. We are really open to examining our own actions,” and to acknowledging that Stony Point faces significant financial challenges.
“We have all screwed up,” said Bill Caple, chair of the board’s Finance Committee. “We could all have done better.” Caple also spoke of the need to come to “a common narrative” and set of facts about Stony Point’s finances and future.
“We’re on the way there,” board chair Matt Schramm told the Executive Committee. “We are trying to figure out . . . how do we create a space that’s a safe space to wrestle with real questions in a way that we don’t’ demonize one another and we don’t become adversarial?”
Schramm told the committee: “I wouldn’t draw conclusions that we’re there yet. It’s a hopeful thing.”