PORTLAND, Ore. – Following a Bible study on messy tables and gift versus grasp, the vice-moderator of the General Assembly’s Mission Coordination committee, Luis Ocasio-Torres, declared: “Now the fun part is about to begin.”
With that, the committee was off and running on June 20. Well, not always running. There were periods of process atrophy with parliamentary confusion as to what action was being asked for on which item, but even so, the Mission Coordination committee approved several significant actions, recommending them for approval to the assembly as a whole. These included:
- Changes and updates to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churchwide plan for equal employment opportunity and affirmative action;
- Approval of the 2017-2018 Presbyterian Mission Agency work plan;
- Approval of mission budgets for the PC(USA) – a revised 2016 budget, and the budgets for 2017-2018 as well.
Commissioners weren’t shy about speaking up and asking questions. In the midst of the discussion regarding the declining budget, Esta Jarret, a commissioner from the Presbytery of Western North Carolina, asked Tony De La Rosa, the interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA): “Where do you see the movement of the Holy Spirit?” De La Rosa responded that all of Christendom is going through a transition, and he sees the book of Acts as an “instructive operating manual.”
The tone was focused and serious with a tinge of levity when the committee’s moderator, Eileen Best, asked for a motion and somewhere in the room Siri chirped, “I am sorry, I didn’t get that.”
Advisory delegates and commissioners alike wanted to be sure they understood the business – from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly’s report “When We Gather at the Table” to the zero-based Presbyterian Mission Agency budget process presented by Earline Williams, the PMA’s chief financial officer.
The committee approved what (given its title) appeared an unremarkable business item, but one which carries major implications for how the PMA funds its work. In a unanimous vote, the Mission Coordination committee approved Item 10-05, “Rescind the 1990 ‘General Assembly Mission Program Budget Policy and Procedures.’”
Ken Godshall, a pastor from Kentucky who will take over as chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board when this assembly ends, explained the ramification of making the change. Noting “our reserve funds have been a topic of denominational discussion and concern for some time,” Godshall told the committee that in the past the PMA relied on unrestricted reserve funds to make up budget shortfalls – and those reserves had run so low they were expected to be depleted by 2017. In 2016, the budget was balanced in part by pulling $4.2 million from unrestricted reserves.
That continued depletion would soon violate the reserve policy the General Assembly established in 1990 – requiring the PC(USA) to keep in what is called the Presbyterian Mission Program Fund (PMPF) reserve a minimum of 30 percent of the unified portion of the General Assembly Mission Budget.
So Item 10-05 is asking the assembly to eliminate that reserve requirement – allowing the Presbyterian Mission Agency board to determine for itself how much to set aside in reserves.
The proposed mission budgets for 2017 and 2018 set aside at least three months of operating expenses as a reserve. For 2017, the unrestricted reserve would be set at a minimum of $3.04 million (25 percent of the $12.18 million in unrestricted expenses) and the minimum restricted reserve at $5.062 million (with restricted expenses of $51.34 million).
After asking several questions, the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the assembly rescind the 1990 policy.