ST. PAUL, MINN. (Outlook) – The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s executive committee spent some time at its July meeting preparing for what lies ahead – including a closed-door session to discuss a potential consolidation of Congregational Ministries Publishing, which produces curriculum materials for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
Another issue on the horizon: consideration of the future and sustainability of the Stony Point Center, outside New York City.
On the first day of its July 17-19 meeting, held at Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, the committee met with the moderators of the Way Forward Commission (Mark Hostetter, a minister from New York) and the All Agency Review Committee (Deborah Block, a pastor from Milwaukee). Hostetter reviewed for the committee some of the areas of focus listed in the commission’s mid-term report, and Block described the work her committee is doing to try to write an ethos statement for the PC(USA).
An issue of ongoing concern for the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is what possible structural changes for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) the Way Forward Commission or All Agency Review Committee might suggest.
With that in mind, the executive committee on July 19 discussed the results of a PMA employee satisfaction survey conducted in February 2017– with board chair Ken Godshall, a pastor from Kentucky, saying he wants the commission to know the results from that survey were generally positive, as the commission considers how things are functioning within the agency.
Here’s a bit more detail.
Following a closed-door discussion of more than two hours on July 18, the executive committee voted to authorize Tony De La Rosa, PMA’s interim executive director, to provide at the board’s September 21-23 meeting in Louisville a proposal for consolidating Congregational Ministries Publishing within the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
The executive committee also voted to ask that the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation “provide the financial analysis behind its rationale” for the consolidation to the management of PMA in preparation for De La Rosa’s proposal.
Another issue that’s been part of ongoing discussions: whether and how to create a consolidated online store for the PC(USA). Those discussions are continuing as well.
The idea of consolidating Congregational Ministries Publishing with the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) has been bubbling up periodically in recent months. At the All Agency Review Committee’s meeting in May in Denver, for example – where representatives of all six PC(USA) agencies participated – Marc Lewis, PPC’s president and publisher, told the committee that “I think that was a mistake” to separate the two entities within the PC(USA)’s structure in 1996, and that “our church would be better served” if they were connected.
The denominational publishing houses that are doing better economically tend to have publishing and curriculum housed together, Lewis said. The idea of connecting them again in the PC(USA) “has been talked about over the years, over and over,” he said.
The idea of a possible consolidation seems to be gaining momentum now because both Way Forward and All Agency Review are looking in detail at how the PC(USA)’s six agencies currently collaborate and cooperate, and what new ways can explored for doing that better.
There also was conversation at All Agency Review about market realities – with committee member Kelly Shriver, a minister from Portland, Oregon, pointing out that that some Presbyterian congregations buy curriculum materials from non-PC(USA) publishers, such as Sparkhouse, and that some Presbyterian ministers write for them.
Other parts of that May conversation:
- The Presbyterian Mission Agency currently supports curriculum publishing financially as a denominational mission program – it’s not financially self-sufficient. The consolidation discussion would include questions of financing, staffing and whether a consolidation would produce cost efficiencies.
- The PC(USA) produces curriculum materials in Korean and Spanish – and that needs to continue.
- Congregational Ministries Publishing gets PMA funding from both restricted and unrestricted sources. The restricted funds likely could follow the work if it moved over to the publishing corporation, but “unrestricted is a little more challenging,” with PMA likely being unwilling to let that money go, said Barry Creech, PMA’s director of policy, administration and board support.
Molly Baskin, an elder from Chicago who leads the Stony Point Sustainability Task Force, provided an update July 17 on that work. Stony Point Center is a PC(USA) facility about an hour outside of New York, run by co-directors Kitty and Rick Ufford-Chase, with a multifaith residential community and with facilities to hold retreats and meetings.
Some of the questions on the table are whether Stony Point can become financially self-sustaining; how much money the PMA has spent to support it; and what the possibilities might be if the PC(USA) decides to move in another direction with Stony Point.
In 2016, the PC(USA) completed transfer of operational responsibility for the Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in New Mexico to the National Ghost Ranch Foundation, a nonprofit board. That leaves Stony Point as the only remaining conference center in the PC(USA) portfolio.
Baskin told the executive committee that PMA has spent “north of two million” on Stony Point in the last several years, all from unrestricted funds, and providing that money “has squeezed other things out” from the work PMA can afford to do.
Over the past five or so years, the board has had extended conversations about Stony Point’s finances and future – deciding in April 2014 to establish a series of milestones to move Stony Point on a path of full financial sustainability over a period of three years, ending on December 31, 2017.
Baskin told the executive committee the sustainability task force is considering the question of “is this something the church wants to do” – a mission it wants to continue to finance and support – or whether some other option (such as spinning off the ministry for others to do, or selling assets) might be a better path.
“We’re going to do this in a business-like fashion,” meaning dispassionately, and “we are going to define what sustainable means, and go from there,” Baskin said.
The Stony Point property itself has “some odd restrictions on it,” she said.
“We don’t own Stony Point” outright, Godshall said of the PMA.
The board created the Stony Point Sustainability Task Force at its March 2017 meeting in Puerto Rico. The action to do that states, “Stony Point Conference Center was successful in meeting the 2016 milestones, established in 2014, for viability. The milestone process will continue each year in an effort to align revenue and expenses. Not part of the milestone process, however, is the funding for capital expenses for years of
deferred maintenance. Stony Point Conference Center may not be sustainable without multiple infusions of capital to address these needs.”
The report states that the four-person task force “will focus on answering the question: ‘What strategies, if any, can be developed to make Stony Point a sustainable ministry within the Presbyterian Mission Agency?’ Attention should be given both to the sustainability of Stony Point Conference Center as a place, and the important multi-faith ministry that occurs at that place. The goal will be to produce a strategy for sustainability at the Stony Point Conference Center, or if that cannot be found, to propose solutions for making the ministry of Stony Point sustainable at some other location.”
The executive committee discussed the results of a PMA staff survey that Research Services conducted in February 2017 – one in a series of such surveys that have been done through the years.
Responses were received from 86 percent of the PMA employees (221 workers out of 258). And most indicated they feel valued – particularly by their immediate supervisors and colleagues, although less so by Presbyterians across the U.S. or particularly by elected members of the board.
The survey found:
- 70 percent said they felt valued “a lot” by their immediate supervisors, and 23 percent said they felt “somewhat valued.”
- 56 percent said they felt valued “a lot” by staff colleagues and 37 percent “somewhat valued.”
- 22 percent said they felt valued “a lot” by PMA staff leadership and 44 percent “somewhat valued.”
- 21 percent said they felt valued “a lot” by Presbyterians across the country, and 42 percent “somewhat valued.” But 28 percent said they weren’t sure – and 10 percent said they did not feel valued.
- A majority did not feel valued by the elected board members. Just 14 percent said they felt valued “a lot” and 24 percent “somewhat valued.” A quarter (25 percent) said they did not feel valued by board members, and 37 percent said they weren’t sure.
“In responses to open-ended questions, some staff champion the enhanced level of communication between Mission Agency leadership and other staff, whereas others believe the leadership is distant and aloof and Board members are sometimes disrespectful to staff,” the report states.
Trust in agency leadership “appears to be holding steady.”
And employees gave as their top reason for working for PMA “opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives.”