SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Outlook) – The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board spent the final morning of its March 22-24 meeting hearing reports from its eight ministerial teams – addressing everything from power and privilege on the board itself to the future of the Young Adult Volunteer program and 1001 New Worshipping Communities.
The board created the short-term ministerial teams last fall to consider specific questions or issues. Five of the eight teams presented final written reports; three are continuing their work. Here’s more of the conversation.
POWER AND PRIVILEGE
This team is continuing its work, and will bring a report to the board in September. Susan Osoinach, a board member from Texas who leads that team, said the team has had a hard time narrowing their scope down to three top issues regarding power and privilege to address – particularly “at this moment in our culture where the abuse of power is front and center.”
Osoinach also said that “the board needs to address its own power and privilege, seen and unseen,” including access to power and the costs associated with the board’s meetings (this one held at a resort).
“Do we understand that structural sin does exist within the board itself?” she asked. “Why does it seem to so may of us that so much is left unaddressed?”
She also referred to the white paper that the board’s Governance Task Force has presented – proposing cutting the board’s size by more than half, which would include removing the non-voting slots on the board for representatives of the denomination’s advocacy and advisory committees, while making them part of a new liaison committee.
The team thinks the role of the advocacy and advisory committees “possibly needs to be expanded and not reduced,” she said, and senses that eliminating the non-voting board slots for advisory and advocacy committees “lessens their connection to it at a time when we need it most. This is a fundamental issue around power and privilege.”
Osoinach suggested a power analysis of the board, including “how decisions are made, who is driving these decisions.”
The team will report in September, but “we are not convinced that our work will be completed” by then, Osoinach said. The suggestion is that the team not be disbanded then, but “be continued in our board structure. These issues are at the core of our discipleship in Jesus Christ.”
This team also has not completed its work, but Wendy Tajima, a board member from California, said the evaluation so far has included looking at how nonprofit groups and other denominations handle overhead costs for shared services such as accounting, human resources and more.
That review found that the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s overhead costs are within an accepted range. “We are quite confident that our financial efficiency is within the norm,” Tajima said.
Also the agency’s method for calculating those overhead costs, while “extremely complex,” is accurate. The difficulty is that the way the agency calculates overhead “is rather difficult to communicate.”
YOUNG ADULT VOLUNTEER PROGRAM.
The board voted to approve this team’s report (I.001 Next Steps for the YAV Program), which includes recommending further study on these topics:
- Ways to involve retired Presbyterians in some sort of “volunteers in mission” program;
- Ways to broaden the goals of the Young Adult Volunteer program to emphasize more completely formation through service for young adults.
Marci Auld Glass, the team leader and a pastor from Idaho, said the program is housed in World Mission, so some mistakenly see it as essentially a “mission co-worker deployment of young people. That’s not at all what it is,” but rather a formation program.
Most volunteers raise about a fifth of their costs, about $4,000 each for U.S. volunteers, said Richard Williams, who leads the program.
Jason Chavez, a board member from Virginia, raised some concerns about access to the program to young adults of color or those from lower income families, and about the need for support and mental health services for volunteers who might feel isolated or be struggling.
Chavez said he grew up on a reservation, where “$4,000 to raise is a lot of money. Nor could they afford to take a year off” in order to volunteer.
Chavez also raised a concern about stereotypes. “I had a lot of bad experiences with mission trips coming out and saying ‘Oh, you poor little Indian kid.’ That wasn’t who we were. We had HBO. … I have a hard time when people come to a certain area to play poor for a year, and then leave. That’s damaging to community.”
Williams told Chavez those are not “marginal questions,” but significant concerns the program tries to address head-on. Because young adult volunteers serve for a year, they have a “deep experience,” not just visiting a community for a weekend or a week, he said. “It does change people’s lives.”
Williams said the program also tries to communicate that it will work with applicants who can’t afford to raise the funds to support their work. “We don’t want the cost of service to keep anyone from applying.”
INTERCULTURAL COMPETENCIES FOR DOMESTIC MISSION
This ministerial team considered how intercultural competencies developed by PC(USA) World Mission might be applied to the denomination’s mission work in the U.S. “The answer is: a lot,” said Nancy Ramsay, a board member and seminary professor from Texas who led the team.
In its report (I.002 World Mission Competencies in Domestic Mission), the ministerial team suggested a range of approaches – including implementing training, “because self-awareness regarding one’s own privilege and marginalization is essential for effective change.” It also suggests developing resource “to deepen understanding and skills for resisting: classism, sexism and heterosexism.”
The team also recommends investing in training of facilitators (or identifying those who already have been trained), who could provide a geographically accessible and affordable network for intercultural training which congregations and mid councils could use.
Board members also discussed the ways in which mid council leaders can play a role in developing intercultural competencies – even though Shannan Vance-Ocampo, a board member who is the transitional presbyter of Albany Presbytery, said there is sometimes strong resistance based in structural racism to doing that kind of work.
Beverly Brewster, the corresponding member from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, said ACSWP has done a lot of work in this area, “particularly with regard to class. We are at your service.”
NEXT STEPS FOR 1001 NEW WORSHIPPING COMMUNITIES
The report (I.003 Next Steps 1001 New Worshiping Communities) refers to the possibility of additional funds being freed up for use by 1001 through legal actions in which a court is asked to make a determination regarding the use of endowment funds whose donors had imposed restrictions. According to Tom Taylor of the Presbyterian Foundation, those cy pres legal documents are likely to be filed within the next three weeks.
Other board actions this week also mean that about $225,000 has been added to the budget to hire two additional regional associates for the 1001 program – hires which will be made in 2017, said Chip Hardwick, director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Theology, Formation, and Evangelism ministry area.
Jeffrey Joe, a ruling elder from Idaho who lead the team, told of a visit his team made March 23 to the Mission Presbyteriana Rio Grande new worshipping community in Puerto Rico. While resources are few, “they have direction and purpose,” Joe said. “They found that through their mission. That prompts us to ask the question ‘what can we learn here?’ ”
IMPLEMENTING THE BELHAR CONFESSION
Patsy Smith, a board member from Oklahoma, led a team looking for ways to encourage Presbyterians to live out the commitments to racial justice and reconciliation of the Belhar Confession from South Africa, which the 2016 General Assembly voted to add to the PC(USA) Book of Confessions.
“It’s a really big deal” for the PC(USA) “to really embrace and celebrate Belhar as a living document,” Smith said.
She also expressed concern about Presbyterians who don’t seem to know what Belhar says or to share a sense of urgency about its commitments.
Among the concerns respondents raised in a survey:
- Belhar doesn’t seem relevant here as we’re almost all-white;
- We’re struggling to stay afloat here, so can’t devote time and energy to this;
- Why is it more important or urgent to implement Belhar than any other confession?
The team’s report recommends contacting mid councils who didn’t respond to the survey, and to encourage the use of Belhar in ecumenical conversations with full-partner churches of the PC(USA).
The team’s report (I.004 Implementing Belhar) can be found here.
COORDINATION WITH THE OFFICE OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
This team is continuing its work, and issued an interim report (H.206 Increased Coordination with OGA Progress Report). But Conrad Rocha, a board member from New Mexico who leads that team, reported on a joint meeting held March 23 between that team and representatives of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, which also was meeting this week in San Juan.
Rocha described that meeting as a “time of frank and open discussion about the underlying issues,” a conversation that “was at times difficult for both sides of the issue to listen and to hear. However, I think it was a good conversation that we were able to lay enough on the table” that the next time a joint group gathers to discuss the matter, probably by video conference, specific issues can be taken up.
ROLE OF PRINT
This team had earlier submitted a report recommending that the Presbyterian Mission Agency consolidate five PC(USA) publications – including Presbyterians Today – into a single bimonthly publication. After meeting again in Puerto Rico, however, the team changed that recommendation – stating in a new report (I.005 Role of Print Report) that “our previous recommendation is premature.”
The new recommendation: that Tony De La Rosa, interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, form “a collaborative, interorganizational team to continue the conversation.”
For more information on the recommendations in these reports, see this earlier Presbyterian Outlook story.
The board also created two new ministerial teams at this meeting, to consider these questions:
- How shall the Presbyterian Mission Agency respond to each of the 91 referrals which the 2016 General Assembly sent to the agency?
- “What are the three most important strategic responses the Presbyterian Mission Agency can offer to advance Christ’s prophetic and compassionate mission in a divided nation?”