PORTLAND, Ore. – The Way Forward committee is recommending the creation of an administrative commission with the power to determine the structure and function of General Assembly agencies.
The committee voted 51-17 to recommend that a Way Forward Commission be created – a commission that would “take into account the ministries” of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) “but shall not be bound by the current configuration of those ministries.”
The commission also would engage or contract with a qualified examination team “to assess institutional performance” of the agencies, conducting “a comprehensive, detailed analysis” with measurable recommendations for improvement. And the committee instructed that the commission shall “describe and implement a General Assembly-level staffing pattern that will accomplish its vision.”
The commission would bring any recommendations for missional or structural changes to the 2018 General Assembly.
In the Presbyterian system, an administrative commission has considerable power – within its mandate, it is empowered to act without getting additional approval from the General Assembly.
And recommending that the commission be created is the way the committee chose to address a complicated matrix of business before it regarding PMA and OGA – including a report from the review committee for the PMA which raised significant concerns about difficulties within the agency, including what the review committee determined was a lack of strategic focus; an anxious and stressed work environment; and a dearth of both transparency and trust.
The committee labored to determine how to respond to those concerns – and to a recommendation from the review committee that a special committee be set up to discuss whether it’s time to consider a possible merger of PMA and OGA, or some other sort of reconfiguration or new approach involving the national offices of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Another option that’s been part of the mix: have the all-agency review committee take on these issues – a committee that’s due to be appointed soon (part of the regular cycle of reviews) to consider the interactions of the PC(USA)’s six agencies, to see if there might be possibilities for greater interaction or reduction of redundancies.
The Way Forward committee, however, chose to recommend the creation of an administrative commission. By a vote of 67-2, its action to do that became its formal answer to the PMA review committee recommendation (Item 04-11) and overtures from the presbyteries of Santa Fe (Item 04-07) and Saint Andrew (Item 04-08), which also addressed the OGA-PMA relationship, with Santa Fe calling for merger and Saint Andrew for hiring a consultant to assess the relationship.
The Way Forward committee voted separately on the review committee report for OGA (Item 04-12), voting 67-1 to thank the committee; recommending that the assembly adopt the review committee’s recommendations; and voting to refer the OGA review committee report to the All Agency Review Committee to inform its discussions.
Earlier in the evening, the committee voted 74-2 to recommend that the assembly disapprove a series of seven overtures from Foothills Presbytery, which would have dramatically changed the way the assembly conducted its business. The committee voted to disapprove those overtures with comment – along with two others (Items 04-10 and 04-13).
The comment thanked the presbyteries that submitted overtures and concurrences on those matters for opening the conversation, and called on future General Assemblies for continuing to engage the whole church in important decisions.
The 12-member administrative commission the committee voted to approve would be appointed by the co-moderators of the 2016 General Assembly, along with the moderator and vice-moderator of the 2014 General Assembly. Other requirements are that:
- At least two of its members are to be from The Way Forward committee, “with every effort made to include a young adult advisory delegate” (one limitation: the rules require that members of administrative commissions must be either ruling elders or teaching elders, a representative of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution told the committee).
- Both the PMA review committee and the OGA review committee would have a representative on the commission.
- Both the Presbyterian Mission Agency board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly would have a representative on the commission.
In doing its work, the commission is to explore best practices of other national church bodies, and of corporations and nonprofits. And it’s to consult with seminary faculty and presidents, and presbytery and synod leaders.
The discussion of how to respond to the PMA review committee revealed both the complexity of the issue and the difficulty of figuring out how to proceed.
Denise Pass, a teaching elder from the Presbytery of Southern Kansas, said it felt like PMA was being labeled as “the problem child,” and said she wanted to give Tony De La Rosa, the agency’s interim executive director, time and space to try to make needed changes from inside.
Dorothy LaPenta, a teaching elder from National Capital Presbytery, said the review committee report revealed serious concerns regarding PMA – including a lack of cultural humility and difficulties in interactions with other PC(USA) agencies.
“We don’t know what the issues are, what the problems are. There clearly are problems,” said Sam Bonner, a ruling elder from New Brunswick presbytery. “I don’t think anybody has the knowledge to make specific guidance to any of these agencies” – to tell them what to do – but the assembly does have a responsibility to establish a process “to discern what the problems are and to fix them,” because those problems have a “specific, dramatic impact” on the broader church.