The Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee have approved revisions to their recommendations to the 2018 General Assembly involving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, the corporate entity for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly.
Way Forward met March 1 and All Agency Review Feb. 28, and as a result of those meetings:
- They are now in full agreement on submitting a joint A Corporation recommendation to the assembly.
- The revisions include expanding the proposed A Corporation board from 9 to 11 members, to add representation from the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns and the Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns. Those committees had sent an open letter Feb. 16 insisting that “justice at the table is vital.”
- Some details (for example, involving the budgeting process and shared services) are in appendices to the report, and are still under discussion and may be revised.
The report also offers, in a rationale section, some explanation for why the A Corporation proposals are being made – in part to give the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) more ability to focus on mission work, and less on corporate affairs. That section states in part that:
“It has become clear that the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of General Assembly need to be freed from administrative burdens to fully define the role of the church in ecclesial and missional work. In strengthening the missional aspect of that call, innovative models of mission delivery, not corporate or administrative responsibilities, should be the central, critical role of the national agencies. We believe that the Presbyterian Mission Agency, especially, has been saddled for far too long with corporate responsibilities that create barriers for gifted staff and hinder their full focus on mission and coordination with congregations, mid councils, and global ecumenical partners. Recognizing the importance of these requirements as well as the stewardship obligations inherent in the funding and work of the national church, we are striving for the most transformative methods of mission engagement.”
The proposed changes are designed to “make it clearer that the purpose of PMA, for example, is to make and carry out the mission decisions of the church, and that the role of ‘A Corp.’ is to assist and support those decisions,” the report states.
Both committees had submitted their original reports on Feb. 16 – meeting the deadline of 120 days before the start of the assembly. But J. Herbert Nelson, the PC(USA)’s stated clerk, had granted some leeway for revision of the A Corporation recommendations as negotiations continued involving Way Forward, All Agency Review and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.
Way Forward’s revised report can be read here: WFC Final Report – 030118 as approved
The revised All Agency Review report is here: ALL AGENCY REVIEW COMMITTEE-Mar 1 revised report
Both will be posted to PC-Biz.org once the Office of the General Assembly has finished copyediting the reports.
Another development: An uncomfortable rift has opened between Way Forward and All Agency Review on one side, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board on the other. The board voted Feb. 28 to send its own A Corporation recommendation to the General Assembly, which calls for asking the assembly to split the A Corporation into two entities (one corporation to serve PMA and a second to serve the Office of the General Assembly).
That means the assembly will have two competing and complicated recommendations to weigh regarding the A Corporation, unless a compromise is worked out.
The board’s discussion Feb. 28 included references to a lack of trust and what leaders of the board’s Governance Task Force described as unwillingness by Way Forward and All Agency Review to truly collaborate. The moderators of All Agency Review, Deborah Block, and Way Forward, Mark Hostetter, insist they have tried to work cooperatively and will continue to do so.
Both sides say they want to continue discussions in the hopes of bringing a joint recommendation to the assembly. At issue in the conversations are questions about finances, personnel, control and more.
Another party to the conversation: the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, as the possibility of splitting the A Corporation in two and that PMA might cease providing shared services outside PMA would potentially have ramifications for the Office of the General Assembly as well.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted Feb. 16 to direct Dave Crittenden, acting executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, “to begin conversations with other agencies and organizations we currently serve, regarding ending the practice of providing shared services outside the Mission Agency.” Those shared services include functions such as information technology, finance and accounting, legal services and more.
Way Forward touched on the disagreement during the March 1 call.
Hostetter said Way Forward and All Agency tried to be responsive to the Governance Task Force concerns while still complying with Pennsylvania corporate law (Pennsylvania law applies because that’s where the corporation in its earliest incarnation was formed).
Hostetter disagreed with some of the Governance Task Force’s assertions (he used the phrase “misunderstanding and perhaps misrepresentation”), but said “fundamentally, I don’t believe that we are that far apart.”
Way Forward also discussed next steps for the work it is continuing to do between now and when the General Assembly convenes in St. Louis on June 16. Way Forward is a commission, which means the General Assembly gave it the power to take some action on its own.
Among the “next steps” Way Forward is pursuing:
- As a starting point, asking work teams to look deeply at two areas of shared services – information technology and payroll services – to learn more about current costs involving these areas at the six PC(USA) agencies and to explore possibilities for outsourcing, collective purchasing or other areas of collaboration.
- Gather information about what’s currently being spent on translation services in the denomination and to begin doing an assessment of what it would cost to expand efforts to translate all denominational documents going forth from English into Spanish and Korean (which is something Way Forward is recommending).
- Look more closely at legal services. That would including learning more about policies and procedures; looking at how other denominations handle legal services; considering outsourcing possibilities; and asking whether in recent years “legal services have served the purpose of responding nimbly,” as commission member Eileen Lindner put it.
Way Forward’s next conference call is scheduled for April 5.