Conversations continue about ideas for reconfiguring the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board – with no consensus yet, but some potential points of attention beginning to come into focus, including questions of how diversity will be reflected and how the corporate board of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should be structured.
Questions involving the structure and governance of the Presbyterian Mission Agency are likely to be part of the discussion as the Way Forward Commission meets in Atlanta March 6-7 – the second face-to-face meeting of the 12-member group.
Meanwhile, the Governance Task Force of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is hard at work on a proposal of its own to reduce the size of the board by more than half and reconfigure its committees. That proposal is on the agenda for discussion at the board’s next meeting, March 21-24 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Here’s some of the history so far.
Governance Task Force “white paper”
In January, the Governance Task Force released a “white paper” outlining its proposal to reduce the size of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board from its current size of 40 voting members and 17 nonvoting members to a board with 16 voting members and 8 nonvoting members – contending the change would make the board more cost-effective, nimble and responsive. Changing the board’s size would need approval from the General Assembly – or potentially from the Way Forward Commission, which has the power not just to recommend but to act. The Governance Task Force proposal also would cut formal representation on the board from advocacy and advisory committees.
Reaction to proposed change in representation
Two groups – the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns and the Advocacy for Racial Ethnic Concerns – issued a letter Feb. 6 expressing their concerns about the proposal outlined in the white paper, calling it a “grave error” and expressing the need for both prophetic witness and accountability in the PC(USA).
Way Forward Commission’s response
Following The Way Forward Commission’s conference call on Feb. 7, Mark Hostetter, a teaching elder from New York who’s the commission’s moderator, sent a letter on Feb. 15 responding to the Governance Task Force’s white paper. That letter refers to the commission’s commitment to a “collaborative approach” to discernment. And it says the commission’s “very brief consideration” of the proposal so far has focused on two areas for further thought:
- How the strength of the diversity of the denomination is best included (“a point also raised by the Advocacy Committees”), and
- The “broader question of the unique role a national church agency should play in our changed and changing times” – a matter the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) also has been giving thought, Hostetter noted – and how that agency might best be structured.
The response also states:
“The PMA proposal answers many of the points raised in the past regarding efficiency and nimbleness, and together with diverse voices we can work through the important issues raised by the Advocacy Committees. That process could result in implementation of a similar but revised proposal or a recommendation to the 2018 General Assembly – either way, such changes could potentially happen within the relatively short timeframe of 16 months from now, or possibly sooner if a consensus emerges. It should be noted that those changes, however, basically leave unaltered the current configuration of the functions and roles of the PMA within our current agency structure. Even if such changes are made or recommended, the Commission does not lose sight of its broader assigned task in looking at the overall function and structure of the national church, how we work together as one body in Christ.”
Role and purpose of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s executive committee, in a conference call March 2, considered a new white paper – written by Melinda Sanders and others from the Governance Task Force – describing the “role and purpose” of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.
Among other issues, that white paper addresses the ways in which the board addresses corporate, legal and fiduciary responsibilities. That hints at an issue that may be emerging: the composition and placement of the board that acts on behalf of the PC(USA)’s corporate identity, but does not currently have on it representatives from all the six General Assembly agencies.
The white paper states that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is responsible for both developing strategy and policy, and for paying attention to corporate, legal and fiduciary concerns. It states that the current system “prevents one board, which has corporate responsibilities, from trumping another board, which concentrates solely on mission.” It also states:
“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a large, complex organization. Very small organizations can escape dealing with corporate issues over the short-term, but denominations cannot. Therefore, it is vitally important for the mission of the church, that we handle our corporate affairs wisely. A return to the model of separating the functions runs the risk of increasing conflict and distancing us from mission. Finding ways to balance the Board’s fiduciary responsibilities with its passion for mission is one of the goals for the Board’s Governance Task Force. Having a single forum where these issues are resolved allows all voices to be heard and prayerful discernment to occur, so that we balance those interests in the pursuit of God’s mission.”
In a March 3 conference call meeting of the Governance Task Force, Sanders said the task force also intends to provide the Way Forward Commission with a summary of the corporate governance model currently used by the PC(USA) and information on how corporate governance was handled in the past, through an entity once known as the Central Treasury Corporation.
The issue of the balance between the board’s corporate work and its mission work “is of great interest” to the Way Forward Commission, said Ken Godshall, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.
Godshall, a teaching elder from Kentucky, said he’s praying for the commission, the board and for two other groups also considering matters involving the structure, mission and future of the denomination – the All Agency Review Committee and the 2020 Vision Team. All are working in a time of change, Godshall said, and he hopes that “when the dust settles and the spirit moves, we’ll be in a better place.”