LOUISVILLE – The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted Feb. 8 to authorize its Governance Task Force “to pursue each of the available options” for responding to the recommendations of the All Agency Review Committee and Way Forward Commission, and to bring a recommendation to the board’s conference call meeting on Feb. 16.
What that means is the board is keeping alive what Melinda Sanders, co-chair of the Governance Task Force, described earlier this week as the “nuclear” option: asking the 2018 General Assembly for a deliverance to permit the Presbyterian Mission Agency to form its own corporation, responsible for mission but not for shared services.
That’s one of a series of possible actions the board could take and an option the board might exercise if the Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review fail to produce by Feb. 16 documents outlining the details of their plan for reconfiguring the board and structure of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation – the corporate entity for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). The A Corporation board has more than $500 million in assets reflected on its balance sheet.
Mark Hostetter, a minister from New York who serves as moderator of Way Forward, has presented the idea that the revised A Corporation would serve as a “utility” – freeing PMA from the responsibility of oversight for shared services, but telling the board that PMA would make mission decisions for the denomination and “you still control the assets related to mission.”
Sanders and her Governance Task Force colleagues have contended those documents are necessary – both for legal reasons and because the details matter – and that the documents must be in hand by Feb. 16, the 120-day deadline before the General Assembly. That is the date by which the board would need to inform the Office of the General Assembly if it wanted to ask the General Assembly for a deliverance.
Board member Nancy Ramsay, who is leading the committee searching for a new executive director for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, proposed an amendment that the board voted down – to take the option of seeking a deliverance off the table, and instead authorize the Governance Task Force to “pursue strategies to collaborate” with Way Forward and All Agency Review to improve the A Corporation recommendations.
Ramsay described some difficulties in finding a candidate to serve as executive director. The search was temporarily suspended in December, although the original timetable called for naming a candidate by then.
One of the problems was “significant ambiguities about what the job is going to be” – ambiguity that has been clarified, Ramsay said, now that Way Forward and All Agency Review have taken the option of merging the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly off the table.
Ramsay said a second challenge had to do with “an impression that the PMAB is unable to work cooperatively and is contentious, hard to work with,” she said. A decision to vote for the nuclear option would “strengthen negative impressions” and reintroduce ambiguity about what the role of the executive director might be, Ramsay said.
But the board didn’t buy it.
“We owe it to ourselves to get this right” and do what’s best for the denomination, said Joe Morrow, a Governance Task Force member.
“We have every intention of working collaboratively,” said Molly Baskin, another task force member. “We have eight days . . . We need those tools in case things fall apart in the next eight days,” in case “Way Forward and All Agency Review have not done all the due diligence required.”
Also, between Feb. 16 and the General Assembly in June, “things could fall apart,” Baskin said. “We need the ability to have options. Because if it falls apart, we have no options” if the board has not said it may request a deliverance.
Heath Rada, moderator of the 2014 General Assembly, said the tone of the discussion is “we’d better get ready to defend ourselves.” The Way Forward Commission has some power to act on its own, and if the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board seems argumentative “we will lose as the PMA,” Rada said. “There is a bigger picture.”
The board also voted to extend the term of the Governance Task Force through the 2018 General Assembly in June, and to authorize the task force to write comments, for board approval, in response to recommendations from Way Forward and All Agency Review. It also voted to authorize the task force “to continue negotiations and advocacy for the Boards of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation with interested parties through the General Assembly meeting.”
Mission Work Plan. During that meeting, the board also voted to approve a Mission Work Plan for 2019-2020 – a document with a theological foundation that will guide the development of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s operating budget for those two years.
That plan (P.002 Mission Work Plan 2019 2020) lists directional goals and emphases including congregational vitality; addressing poverty, “where the denomination fights unjust economic systems perpetuating destitution and need; and confronting structural racism and white supremacy.”
It’s a two-year plan – a recognition that the board is searching for a new PMA executive director, and that person would want to be involved in setting longer-term budget priorities.
Ministerial teams. The board also heard reports and approved the recommendations from two of its ministerial teams, and heard a progress report from a third.
One outlined the response the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is making to roughly 40 referrals for action from the 2016 General Assembly (about half of the Presbyterian Mission Agency referrals).
Another ministerial team had the focus of “addressing power and privilege” (I.002 Addressing Power and Privilege Report). It recommends that the board allot time at each board meeting for anti-racism and cultural competency training, and that a report be provided at each meeting in implementing General Assembly mandates regarding anti-racism efforts, power and privilege.
The ministerial team also recommends forming an ongoing Power and Privilege Working Group to raise awareness about the “institutional systems that perpetuate structural racism” in the work of the PMA and the board. The recommendation states that the working group, in collaboration with others, “will develop a set of criteria or benchmarks for evaluating progress in breaking down these systems, that includes assessing mission budget allocations; efficacy of responses to General Assembly mandates and racial ethnic leadership in the church.”
Rada agreed that “it is the time. We are being called into action.” But he said “I don’t want to limit ourselves” – he wants the board to bear the #MeToo movement in mind as well.
Flo Watkins, a board member from North Carolina, cautioned the board not to fail to do the right thing because of cost. As someone marginalized in multiple ways – as a black, lesbian woman – “I think it’s time for our integrity to rise and for us to put our money where our mouth is,” Watkins said.
Morrow, who leads a ministerial team on how to do ministry prophetically and compassionately in a divided nation, said that group has conducted dozens of interviews. That work has included questions about community organizing; biblical references that seem relevant; what populations feel particularly vulnerable; and what resources the Presbyterian Mission Agency might provide. Morrow said the ministerial team will bring a report to the board’s next meeting, April 27-29.