LOUISVILLE – The newly-reconfigured board of the Presbyterian Church (U.SA.), A Corporation, is up and running – and the list of questions or issues it may need to take on in the months to come is considerable.
That new board is holding its first meeting Sept. 4-5 in Louisville, with the first day spent on introducing the people and some of the issues involved, and with the board expected to take its first votes Sept. 5, including electing its chair, considering its committee structure and electing at least some officers of the corporation.
The first day’s discussion, however, also demonstrated in broad strokes some of the issues the A Corporation board likely is to consider going forward – including questions of how better to explain to Presbyterians how the denomination spends its money, and how to fund the services the A Corporation will be expected to provide.
Several board members voiced concern about financial transparency – wanting clearer budget and cost allocation information that’s easier to understand and to explain.
“At some point, this board has to understand the budget” well enough to be able to explain it to a congregation or mid council, said Sam Bonner, a bank examiner from New Jersey who represents the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly on the board.
The 2018 General Assembly, after months of contention over this at the top levels of the denomination, voted to change the composition of the A Corporation board so that it now has 11 members and more expansive representation. The board previously consisted entirely of the voting members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (which has been 40 members but is in the process of dropping to 20). The Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee both contended that a smaller board with broader representation would better serve the denomination.
The reconfigured board consists of representatives of:
- Five of the six PC(USA) agencies (all but the Board of Pensions);
- Presbyterian Women, the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns and the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee; and
- Three at-large members, two of which currently are representatives of the Way Forward Committee and All Agency Review Committee.
Mark Hostetter, who served as chair of the Way Forward Commission, explained during his presentation to the A Corporation board that the General Assembly gave the new board both a mandate to take action and significant power.
Hostetter stressed two main ideas.
First, the importance of separating ecclesial work from administrative work in the PC(USA). Formerly, the Presbyterian Mission Agency had control of both, but “we need to have our ecclesial bodies freed up to dream, to fly, to think about what is needed,” he said.
Second, the new A Corporation board can be “modeling an approach that we are one body in Christ,” and that “our loyalty is to Jesus Christ first, and then to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) second,” he said. In other words: in a time of declining resources, collaboration is vital and compartmentalization doesn’t help.
Tom Hay, director of assembly operations for the Office of the General Assembly, convened the meeting – acting, he said, as a representative of stated clerk J. Herbert Nelson, and serving in that role only until the board elects its own chair.
Hay also said “there are a lot of people for whom you sitting around the table is a dream come true. I’ve got to admit I’m one of them. … Today is finally the day” when a new way of thinking about how the church might operate and collaborate might begin.
“Do not wait,” Hostetter told the board members, saying “our church can’t afford to spend more time contemplating,” that it’s time to move forward and “you are empowered to do things differently.”
Hostetter said that the A Corporation board can have help from other quarters. The leaders of the six PC(USA) agencies have offered their commitment to ongoing collaboration, he said. And Hostetter said the new Moving Forward Implementation Commission, whose members are expected to be named later this fall (four from the Way Forward Commission, four from All Agency Review and four from the 2018 General Assembly) will be a valuable partner in helping shepherd ongoing initiatives involving institutional culture, shared services and communications, among others, and to support administrative action the commission took in June regarding trust and transparency in the PC(USA).
“You’ve got a receptive audience and you’ve got the power,” Hostetter told the A Corporation board. “This is an opportunity to depolarize or decompartmentalize,” and “I do believe there’s an opportunity here for real significant change. Don’t underestimate the fact that you have power.”
Part of the first day was spent with board members introducing themselves – explaining their professional and church backgrounds, and why they said “yes” to serving on the board. They discussed some themes that emerged (a sense of feeling called to the work, a breadth of experience) as well as what was missing (board members skew older, don’t include all racial groups – for example, Native Americans and Korean Presbyterians – and all live in the eastern half of the country).
They heard as well from Martha Clark, general counsel for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly; Mike Miller, acting director of shared services for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and Ruth Gardner, the agency’s director of human resources.
Those presentations provided both details how things currently work and presented questions about the new structure. For example:
- What funding mechanism will the A Corporation use for services it provides (such as translation services or payroll)?
- What will happen with the PC(USA) national offices in downtown Louisville and the vacant space now in that building?
- Where will the money come from to pay A Corporation board expenses in 2018?
Cynthia Campbell, a pastor from Louisville and former president of McCormick Theological Seminary who represents the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation on the board, said she expects “one of the issues around the edges is some anxiety among staff members,” particularly of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
And several board members stressed the need for a better understanding of the denomination’s budgets. Campbell, for example, said the Committee on Theological Education “could almost never get a clear explanation” about the cost allocation for shared administrative services. “It could not be made clear to us as we were trying to manage money we were raising for theological education,” she said. “People who actually work here don’t understand this, and cannot explain it to their volunteer boards.”
Miller responded that “it’s complicated, but it’s explainable” – saying he is in “full agreement” with efforts to build better understanding.
Julie Cox, a mid council leader from South Carolina who represents the Way Forward Commission on the board, said the term “shared services” is sometimes used to describe cost allocation, and sometimes a specific department in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. There’s a lack of understanding of what per capita is and how it’s used, she said, insisting that “we’ve got to do better.”
Miller acknowledged that “there is tremendous amount of misunderstanding about where the money is and how it’s being used” – particularly regarding why per capita is needed. The 2018 General Assembly approved creating a review team to review the current per capita funding system and its financial sustainability over the next decade.
The A Corporation board will move into the action portion of its meeting when it reconvenes Sept. 5.