CINCINNATI – Conflict, disagreement, back and forth. And faithfulness.
Some key Presbyterian leaders gave their interpretations April 25 of the ongoing debates over the national structure of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – with Ken Godshall, a pastor from Kentucky who serves as the chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, describing it as “structural work that is done once in a generation.”
J. Herbert Nelson, offering greetings during the opening plenary of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s April 25-27 meeting in Cincinnati, said despite all the differences “it is time now for us to close ranks” – to remember that God is at work in the world. “The question is not what we will do, but what we will allow God to do with and to us.”
The differences persist regarding what should happen with the PC(USA), A Corporation, although so do the back-door discussions, seeking common ground.
Godshall, in his chair’s report, described the joint recommendations from the Way Forward Commission and the All Agency Review Committee regarding the PC(USA), A Corporation as “a major structural change that will alter the focus and work” of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA). He said the board’s Governance Task Force “has been right to take it seriously and to sweat the details.”
Among the points he made:
Shared services. Godshall said he agrees with Way Forward and All Agency Review that “PMA will work better if we can focus on mission alone.” And PMA has not done an effective job in recent years in being responsible for providing shared services, such as information technology and accounting, to other PC(USA) agencies, he said.
Currently, PMA provides shared services through the A Corporation; the voting members of the PMA board serve as the board of the A Corporation.
“The other agencies do not feel included or consulted in this work,” Godshall said. “Shared services will work better if participating agencies, including PMA, have a seat at the table.” But agencies that don’t use shared services – Godshall named the Presbyterian Foundation – should not have representation, he said.
Way Forward and All Agency are proposing an 11-member A Corporation board. The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is asking the assembly to divide the A Corporation into two corporations – one for the Office of the General Assembly and one for PMA.
Godshall’s comments may indicate that the board is open to some approach other than creating two corporations, if the concerns the board has can be addressed through a new or amended deliverance from the General Assembly that satisfies the board’s concerns.
Delegation of powers.The delegation of both responsibility and authority to PMA should come from the General Assembly, not through the A Corporation, Godshall said.
Having PMA’s authority delegated by the A Corporation is problematic “because it can be revoked at any time,” Godshall said. “It’s a formula for disruption and bad relationships.”
Clarity and costs. Godshall said “there is a lot that is not clear” in the Way Forward and All Agency Review recommendations, including the cost implications. “No costs have been provided,” Godshall said, and the General Assembly shouldn’t be asked to vote without that.
He raised concerns about the timetable, saying it would be difficult for the changes Way Forward and All Agency Review are recommending to be implemented in the month or so immediately following the General Assembly.
Godshall also said that the back and forth taking place in the A Corporation dispute is “the Presbyterian way. We are engaging in a respectful debate to assist the General Assembly. At the end of the day, the Holy Spirit will move, the General Assembly will vote, and we will offer obedience and support,” however it turns out.
And it honored Dave Crittenden, PMA’s acting executive director, for his service, which ends this week. Godshall described Crittenden as “a calm, nonjudgmental presence,” and said: “He didn’t try to accomplish everything in the eight months he was here. That was liberating.”
Crittenden thanked the board and PMA’s “fantastic staff,” saying: “I wish you Godspeed, but I’m not worried. … You are in my prayers.”