Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, has announced that she intends to resign her position, effective July 10, after serving since 2006. Valentine said in a statement that “my decision has little to do with recent events. It is much more about my sense of call.”
Marilyn Gamm, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, said in a statement that “the Executive Committee is now beginning the process of taking all steps necessary to ensure there is appropriate temporary leadership in place on July 11, 2015. As quickly as possible we will establish a position description and seek an Interim Executive Director. We ask for your prayers as we discern the person or persons God is already calling to serve during this interim time.”
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s leadership has been rocked by a series of difficulties in recent months – including an ethics inquiry involving the 1001 New Worshipping Communities program, overspending by the 2013 Youth Triennium and a Special Offerings advertising campaign that some have denounced as racist.
Roger Dermody, the denomination’s former deputy executive director for mission – serving directly under Valentine – has sued the PC(USA) for defamation, alleging that PC(USA) officials defamed him by accusing him of “unethical” behavior for his role in the 1001 New Worshipping Communities inquiry.
He and three others involved in the 1001 inquiry lost their jobs following the controversy, which involved the creation of an unauthorized corporation in California to which $100,000 in PC(USA) grant money was sent – money which has since been fully recovered. In recent weeks there have been calls for the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board to release an investigative report regarding the incident, and public questioning of whether the board is spending too much on lawyers’ fees tied to it – more than $850,000 so far.
In 2014, the General Assembly confirmed Valentine – a lawyer and Presbyterian ruling elder – for an unprecedented third four-year term as executive director.
In an interview June 16, Valentine acknowledged this has been a difficult season for the mission agency, but stressed that she is leaving not because of the controversies but because the time is right. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
Valentine said “there have been other occasions in my life when God has called me to either leave something or go to something. This is very much a call to finish this season of leadership and be open to where God continues to call me.”
Valentine said her immediate plan is to “spend time with family and friends, community involvement, a bit of sabbatical perhaps.”
Valentine acknowledged “this has been a very difficult time for the mission agency and everybody. And at the same time, ministry goes on.” She cited a series of accomplishments during her tenure – including the establishment of new worshipping communities, relief work of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and the development of young adult leaders in the denomination. “We have fewer resources and fewer people” than when she took the job in 2006, Valentine said, yet the Book of Order states that “Christ calls the church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world.”
What responsibility does Valentine bear for the recent difficulties? “I have not stepped away from responsibility for leading this agency, for facing up to situations, correcting situations, and taking measures to assure mistakes don’t happen again,” she said.
Asked if the controversies really have nothing to do with her departure, Valentine said: “My work is done. My call is complete, is ending. It has been a difficult season for the agency. Everyone wishes that mistakes hadn’t been made and that we could focus solely on the mission and ministry. And I think we continue to do so.”
What kind of systemic problems do the recent controversies reveal? “As a society, we’re living in a time of criticism,” Valentine said. “We see that all over on all sorts of issues. We manage scores of programs and thousands of funds and do so as good stewards and effectively day in and day out. When something slips, all the attention goes there . . . So much goes right. Why does all the attention go to things that don’t? . . . The important thing is the lessons learned and the correction made, so it doesn’t happen again.”
Kathy Francis, the PC(USA)’s director of communications, said “to me, social media at times takes on a real mob mentality. I don’t think it’s a place that’s conducive to healthy discourse . . . The sort of piling on that you see is inappropriate and unfair and not very Christian.”
Valentine said she would hope “that we would all greet each other with `I wish you well, and I’m assuming the best intentions, and I’m assuming that you are a person of faith and generosity too.’ While I think in our hearts we do, it gets back to that sort of hypercritical (behavior). How do we quell that instinct without giving up being constructively critical and thoughtful? That’s one of the great strengths of Presbyterians – that things are done thoughtfully, carefully. Not on social media, necessarily.”
While some call for the PC(USA) leadership to be more transparent, “there is so much information we put out,” Valentine said. “And there are circumstances where information can’t be divulged – if it involves litigation or personnel issues, for example.” Should the board release the investigative report the law firm Alston & Bird produced regarding the 1001 controversy? “I’m not going to comment on that,” Valentine said. “Right now the board chair is the spokesperson on that. There are legal and personnel issues behind that.”
What’s needed going forward?
What does the next director need to succeed? “We are still doing many, many things and there are constituents for all of it,” Valentine said. The PC(USA) needs to focus on “what does the church most need that we can do best.” That’s difficult, she said, in an environment where most of the mission agency’s funding is restricted – making it difficult to align the spending with what the top priorities need to be.
Qualifications needed for new director
Valentine declined to comment on specifics (age, race, expertise and more), saying “that’ll be up to the board. People often ask if it’s a corporation or a church. It’s both” – and she came with experience in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds. “I look forward to seeing who God calls. Nobody expected me to be here.”
“I’m not one to have a lot of regrets,” Valentine said. “I always try to make the most prayerful and wise decision with whatever facts and circumstances are known at the time. Can you look back at particular things and wish you had said something different, said something and done something different? Yes. In the big picture, we have done well.”
Words to describe her emotions?
“Joyful anticipation and calm. And also gratitude. This has been an amazing place to be in the church, in my life, in this time . . . seeing God at work in so many amazing ways and through so many amazing people has been a joy.”
Valentine and her husband, Chris, have three young adult children and plan to stay in Louisville. “We have found this a wonderful place to live,” Valentine said, having made close friends and becoming involved in the community. “We love the arts the parks and have a good strong church,” Highland Presbyterian.
Will she look for a new job? Valentine, who turned 65 in March, quipped: “I didn’t look for this job. Who knows what’s in store? Really, who knows?”
Here is the text of Valentine’s statement announcing her resignation.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Since 2006, I have had a strong sense of call to serve as Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Recently, through prayer and discernment, I have determined that God is calling me to conclude my season of leadership and to move on in my life. Thus, I am resigning as Executive Director effective July 10. I am doing this on my own initiative, and with trust and faith in God.
Serving the Mission Agency and the church has been a great privilege. I have witnessed God at work through faithful Presbyterians and partners in a myriad of ways: transforming lives, raising up faithful leaders, giving voice to the voiceless, hope to the despairing, opportunity to the disadvantaged, justice to the oppressed and the love of Christ to the lost and lonely. I am exceedingly grateful to have ministered with talented, faithful and committed colleagues in the Mission Agency and the other agencies and parts of the church. My colleagues have been, and continue to be, a blessing to the church and all whom we serve. I am proud of what we have accomplished together in these nine years.
My decision has little to do with recent events. It is much more about my sense of call. The past few months have been difficult for the Agency, our staff and board, and it was important that I continue in leadership during that time. Throughout, our commitment to mission and ministry has been unwavering. I am so very grateful for my colleagues who have continued to be fully dedicated to our ministries, serving the church and Christ in the world.
I continue to have a passion for the work of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Mission Agency have tremendous resources of relationships, talent, experience and funds. The needs of the world are great, and we cannot do all that we feel called to do or that many constituents want us to do. And yet we can do much. Planning is already beginning on a Mission World Plan that will guide the Agency through 2020. It’s time for the organization to have a leader with new enthusiasm and imagination to lead and for me to go where God calls me.
In Christ’s service,