LOUISVILLE – The board of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation moved swiftly through a series of actions Dec. 14, heard positive a third-quarter financial update and spoke by conference call with the leadership of the Moving Forward Implementation Commission.
The Moving Forward Implementation Commission – which the 2018 General Assembly created in approving the recommendations of the Way Forward Commission – will hold its first meeting via conference call Dec. 17.
On the final day of its Dec. 13-14 meeting, the A Corporation board also heard a plea from Mike Miller, chief financial officer for the PC(USA), that it move quickly with strategic planning – to give a sense of direction of what the board wants the A Corporation to accomplish in 2019.
That could include, for example, a clearer sense of the A Corporation operating budget; its structure, such as which employees work for the A Corporation and which for other agencies; and scope of services, including how shared services will be provided. Tension over those questions was part of that dispute last spring about whether there should be more diverse representation on the A Corporation board (the General Assembly answered yes) and what the role of the A Corporation should be.
“There’s still a level of anxiety,” Miller said, about “what does this new day mean?”
That’s felt particularly, he said, at the senior levels of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly — more so than with the staff. Some on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board wonder “if they need to hire somebody because I’m now assigned to A Corp. Well, that’s not the case. That was never the intention,” Miller said.
Miller urged the A Corporation board members to “over-communicate” on these issues with leaders of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly, saying, “it doesn’t matter how many times I say it. It has no legs.”
Miller told the board: “We need you please to over-communicate with these folks and establish some ground rules, if you will, for how we’re all going to play together and get along together. … We need clarity. We need direction.”
Earlier, Bridget-Anne Hampden and Chris Mason, co-chairs of the A Corporation board, told of efforts they’ve been making to stay in communication with leaders of other PC(USA) groups, including the Moving Forward Implementation Commission and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.
Hampden described conversations she and Mason have had with Joseph Morrow, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, and Warren Lesane, the vice chair, as being “substantive conversations about matters we feel we probably will need to address. … These are not touchy-touchy, feely-feely conversations.”
The hope, however, is that the conversations provide a foundation for good communication, and that if they have to confront difficult issues down the road, “we’ll do it in the spirit of being one in faith,” she said.
Hampden responded to Miller’s request for clarity and direction by saying: “You are in a role where you can lay out strategy. Because quite frankly, we would like to know what your strategy is. … We are here to serve the agencies of the denomination.”
She spoke of the need to survey the clients of the A Corporation – the agencies and entities to which it provides administrative services – to see what their needs are and what services they would like the A Corporation to provide in an environment that’s nimble and mission-focused, as PC(USA) stated clerk J. Herbert Nelson has challenged the denomination to be. Strategic direction “starts there,” she said.
Board member Cynthia Campbell, a minister from the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky, told Miller that “you have a really lovely spirit about your vision,” and encouraged him to articulate publicly his sense of what the A Corporation could be – such as when he described an effort he’s involved with to see if he can negotiate a coordinated approach to banking for PC(USA) agencies that might save the denomination money.
Miller told Campbell that in order to do that – to speak about direction – he needs a better sense of where the board wants to go.
Mason said the signs ahead are good — that “overall, financially we’re doing well. … We have a good staff that are performing well,” and he expects the board will begin to shift its focus soon from tactical matters to more strategic needs.
Among the strategic questions to consider, Campbell said, are areas of possible economies. “Are we spending money where maybe we don’t need to be spending?” she asked. And might there be areas willing to purchase administrative services that are not currently customers?
The co-chairs of the Moving Forward Implementation Commission – Marco Grimaldo, a ruling elder from National Capital Presbytery, and Larryetta Ellis, a minister from the Presbytery of West Virginia – joined the A Corporation board via conference call for a brief discussion.
Campbell asked them what they hope the commission will accomplish.
“I don’t know that answer yet,” Grimaldo said — it’s too soon. But he did describe some areas of common interest between the commission and the A Corporation board — including the importance of translating PC(USA) materials into languages other than English and looking at the structure and function of shared services.
Some of what the A Corporation board took on at this meeting was nuts-and-bolts — approval of an employee handbook and a board records management policy, for example, as well as an ethics policy for the A Corporation board and staff. It approved charters for each of the board’s three committees — the blueprint for how those committees will operate and what their powers will be.
Miller presented a third-quarter financial summary. So far, the numbers are positive — with revenue higher than budgeted through October by nearly $4.3 million and expenses lower than budgeted by more than $4.7 million.
“We have a history of being very conservative with respect to forecasting revenues,” Miller told the board’s Finance, Operations and Budget Committee Dec. 13. And he predicted “we’ll be better than the budget for the full year, at the bottom line.”
The board also scheduled its meetings for 2019. They are:
- Jan. 16: via conference call at noon Eastern.
- March 28-29 in Louisville, to overlap with the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board meeting.
- July 18-19 in Louisville.
- Oct. 24-25 in Philadelphia.