The Way Forward Commission voted Feb. 15 to approve six recommendations to the 2018 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Three of those are being made jointly with the All Agency Review Committee – an effort to show the assembly unity on what’s being proposed.
There is, however, ongoing conversation involving Way Forward, All Agency Review and the Governance Task Force of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board regarding a proposed reconfiguration of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, which is the corporate entity for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). The discussions involve proposed changes in the Organization for Mission, which is the manual of the General Assembly.
The problem: these groups haven’t reached agreement, yet all face a deadline of midnight Feb. 16 for submitting their reports to the 2018 General Assembly.
A possible solution: these groups have gone to J. Herbert Nelson, the PC(USA)’s stated clerk, to ask for permission to submit their reports by the deadline – then amend them later. Nelson has agreed to allow the amendments, said Mark Hostetter, a minister from New York who serves as moderator of the Way Forward Commission.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is meeting by phone on Feb. 16 to consider whether to ask the General Assembly for a deliverance, or permission for the agency to form its own corporation, in response to recommendations proposing a reconfiguration of the A Corporation.
The hope, Hostetter said, is that Way Forward, All Agency Review and the board might agree on one common proposal to the General Assembly; that any competing proposals would be withdrawn; and that the assembly might deal with one “collaborative, common proposal” regarding the A Corporation.
Both Hostetter and Deborah Block, a pastor from Wisconsin who serves as moderator of All Agency Review, expressed concern about the difficulty of assembly commissioners having to sort through complicated, competing proposals. “Our aspiration, our goal, would be to have a unified message when we go to the assembly,” Block said.
Whether that can happen remains to be seen. The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board meets at 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Feb. 16 (possibly in closed session). All Agency Review met Feb. 15, but postponed a vote on its report – scheduling another meeting for 5 p.m. Eastern on Feb. 16.
This follows a flurry of behind-the-scenes conversations this week– after the board’s Governance Task Force presented language it wants included in the recommendations and Way Forward and All Agency Review countered with their own suggestions. Block said those involved had been working “very intensely,” and Hostetter described “a lot of late-night drafting of documents.”
Eliana Maxim, a minister from Seattle who serves as one of two vice moderators of Way Forward, proposed and won support from the commission for a March 9 deadline for the conversations – saying she wants a “hard stop” date for the negotiations, in part because Way Forward needs to work on administrative actions it has the authority to take between now and the start of the assembly.
While the commission’s recommendations to the assembly are due by Feb. 16 – or 120 days before the General Assembly opens for business June 16 in St. Louis – the commission has the power to take administrative action on its own, and has scheduled a series of conference call meetings through the spring.
The commission’s report has sections describing that ongoing work, including discussions involving mid council ministries and efforts to create a strategic communications plan for the PC(USA).
How substantive the differences of opinion are regarding the A Corporation proposal is not totally clear. Jo Stewart, an elder and Way Forward member from North Carolina who has served on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, said they involve questions of authority and are “not details.”
Other questions raised in the discussion involved how the A Corporation budget would be set and who would be responsible for and participate in shared services.
Some members of All Agency Review, meeting separately on Feb. 15, raised concerns about some of the changes the board’s Governance Task Force is proposing – in part because they didn’t receive the proposal until earlier this week.
“I have a lot of questions,” said Debra Avery, a minister from California. With some of them, “it feels like we are putting PMAB in a really strong power position,” when All Agency has been viewing the six PC(USA) agencies as essentially equal.
Kelly Shriver, a minister from Oregon, asked: “Is there a first among equals?”
Eric Beene, a minister from Georgia, said some of the proposed language “looks a little bit like … an attempt at some kind of power-grabbing. That’s what I would want to make sure doesn’t get into a final draft – (rather) that we see PMA as one agency among six, all of whom are accountable to the General Assembly.”
To give its members a little more time to review the proposal, All Agency Review put off voting on its recommendations and scheduled another meeting for Feb. 16. And despite the differing views, Hostetter described the tenor of the conversations as positive.
The 2016 General Assembly created the Way Forward Commission, instructing it to “study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly entities of the PC(USA).”
The commission voted Feb. 15 to approve its report, including six recommendations.
The commission’s 49- page report also includes sections describing the values the commission leaned on in doing its work; historical and theological context; and themes of change the commission has identified in the PC(USA). It also offers a “frequently asked questions” section regarding the proposed A Corporation changes.
PC(USA), A Corporation. Along with All Agency Review, Way Forward is recommending a series of changes in the structure of the A Corporation and the composition of its board.
The proposed revisions would change the size and configuration of the A Corporation board, and “the implications of it are very complex,” Eileen Lindner, a minister from New Jersey who serves as one of two of the commission’s vice moderators, has said. What’s now a 40-member board whose members all serve on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board would become a nine-member board with representation from each of the six PC(USA) agencies, plus three at-large members.
Mark Hostetter, a minister from New York who serves as moderator of Way Forward, has said the reconfigured A Corporation would function as a “utility,” but that decisions about policy would rest with the agencies.
Exactly what’s being proposed, however, is what’s still being hammered out.
Inclusion and equity. This recommendation asks the assembly to:
- Require that all six PC(USA) agencies participate in a Diverse Voices Table and, similar to what’s been undertaken by PMA’s Office on Diversity and Reconciliation, to create a process to examine issues of equity and inclusion particular to their own agencies.
- Require each PC(USA) agency to complete by Jan. 1, 2019 an organizational review of its practices and policies as they impact people of color and racial diversity (commonly referred to as a “race audit”). Such audits would be repeated every four years.
- Move all translation services in the PC(USA) to the A Corporation and require that such services be “staffed appropriately in order to provide translation services to all six agencies for translation of all materials going forward” from English into other languages (typically Spanish and Korean); with historical or existing records to be translated on request; and with prioritization of the work done by the Diverse Voices Table that’s being convened. The recommendation also states that “the total cost of of these services shall be allocated to and paid for by each agency as a percentage of work completed.
Role of the stated clerk. Way Forward wants the stated clerk to be the chief ecumenical officer of the PC(USA), and the person who speaks “to and for the church” unless the General Assembly directs otherwise. This recommendation seeks changes in the Organization for Mission (the manual of the assembly) to make that happen. The stated clerk would also serve as an ex officio member (with voice but not vote) on the boards of all six PC(USA) agencies, and would be consulted before a candidate was nominated to serve as the chief officer or interim officer of one of the agencies.
Financial sustainability. The commission is asking the assembly to appoint a 12-person committee to provide a comprehensive resource projection analysis and a summary assessment projection of national church assets and income for a financial sustainability review, with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2019.
Denomination-wide financial questions are rising in other areas too.
The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted last week to ask the General Assembly for a significant increase in per capita – from $7.73 per member in 2018 to $10.71 in 2019 and to $11.45 in 2020. That would be 39 percent increase from 2018 to 2019 and a 7 percent increase from 2019 to 2020, and may well become one of the hottest issues coming to the 2018 assembly.
The Presbytery of Newton in New Jersey has sent an overture asking the 2018 General Assembly to create a team to review the financial sustainability of the PC(USA)’s current per capita funding system.
And All Agency Review is recommending a denomination-wide self-study of the per capita funding system.
Moving Forward Implementation Commission. Way Forward and All Agency Review are jointly recommending that the 2018 General Assembly create a Moving Forward Implementation Commission, with limited powers. That commission would have 12 members – four from Way Forward, four from All Agency Review and four others from the 2018 assembly.
That commission would work to track compliance and implementation of recommendations from Way Forward and All Agency Review that the assembly approves; to encourage continued collaboration in areas Way Forward and All Agency Review have identified; and to coordinate with the 2020 Vision Team, which will make a preliminary report to the 2018 assembly but is expected to continue working through 2020.
Agency review process. Way Forward also voted to support a recommendation from All Agency Review regarding proposed changes in the process for reviewing the PC(USA)’s six agencies.
ONGOING ADMINISTRATIVE ACTION
The commission’s report also discusses areas of continuing work – places where it will remain active after submitting its report to the assembly.
Shared services. This is likely to include a review of policies and procedures; discussion of possible cost savings and efficiencies; and exploration regarding possible sharing or outsourcing of particular tasks.
Property. Discussions continue about the use of the national PC(USA) office building in downtown Louisville, including everything from deferred maintenance to how the building might be used for mission.
Institutional culture. What changes need to happen to make the institutional culture within PMA healthier?
Communications. Conversations continue in a range of areas, including developing a comprehensive communications strategy for the PC(USA); how data is shared or ought to be shared; and frustration with the denomination’s websites.
Inclusion and equity. Work continues with OGA and PMA to develop a Diverse Voices Table with representation from all six agencies to work on issues involving inclusion and equity.
Mid council ministries. Way Forward would continue working to establish a position in OGA of associate clerk for Mid Council Ministries, and to create a Mid Council Visioning Team.
Seminary relations. The commission wants to continue discernment and conversation about theological education in the PC(USA).
Financial development analysis. The commission has discussed convening a working group of people involved in stewardship and fundraising in the six agencies, to identify areas of possible collaboration or duplication.
Logistics of the A Corporation transition. Both All Agency Review and Way Forward will continue conversations with representatives of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.
This report still must go through the Office of the General Assembly editing process before it is posted on PC-Biz, the online system the General Assembly uses.