LOUISVILLE – The board of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation voted Dec. 13 to form a search committee for an A Corporation president — a position the board is legally required to have, but for which a precise job description is still being developed.
The board is also getting started on a range of other initiatives – including figuring out how to live into the mandate from the 2018 General Assembly to design “a systematic approach” to providing translation services for the denomination, staffed appropriately and housed in Shared Services.
At this second meeting of the restructured A Corporation board, being held Dec. 13-14 in Louisville, the board is trying to sort through a number of issues of authority, responsibility and its relation to the PC(USA) national staff.
“We’re building the plane while we’re flying it” is how board co-chair Chris Mason, a ruling elder from New York, puts it.
The 2018 General Assembly changed the composition of the A Corporation board last June, to give the A Corporation board broader representation from across the church, since previously all the board members were members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. Now five of the six PC(USA) agencies have representation on the 11-member board, along with the Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns, the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee, Presbyterian Women and three at-large members.
The A Corporation serves as the corporate entity for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly. Here’s some of what came up on the first day of the board’s December meeting.
A Corporation president. The board voted to create a search committee for an A Corporation president, while making it clear that the committee’s first task is to bring back a recommendation for a job description and a process for conducting the search.
Board member Carol Winkler, a ruling elder from the Presbytery of Cincinnati, asked about the financial implications of the search. Another question that’s surfaced: whether the president and the chief financial officer might be the same person, or whether there will be two separate positions.
The board also approved creating a search committee for a new general counsel, needed because lawyer Martha Clark is retiring from that role after serving in that position for a decade.
Translation services. The board also created a Translation Task Force, led by Julie Cox, a mid council executive from New Harmony Presbytery. That task force held a conference call with co-chairs of the Moving Forward Implementation Commission, Larryetta Ellis and Marco Grimaldo. Both the A Corporation board and the Moving Forward Implementation Commission are involved in trying to bring to life recommendations regarding translation from the Way Forward Commission that the 2018 General Assembly approved.
The Translation Task Force is in the infancy stages of deciding how translation services will be managed and organized, and what the needs are, said Thomas Priest Jr., a teaching elder from New Hope Presbytery.
“How do we provide these services under our umbrella, making sure we are taking care of everyone who needs services, without breaking the bank?” asked JoAnne Sharp, a ruling elder from National Capital Presbytery. “We’re still trying to figure out where we’re going to get the money from. … This is a big chunk of pie that we’re chewing on.”
The PC(USA) currently has two translators in the communications office working to translate materials into Spanish and Korean, with another in curriculum. After Spanish and Korean, the greatest language needs in the denomination are for translation into Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese and Arabic, according to a 2018 report from PC(USA) Research Services.
Other points raised in the discussion:
- The PC(USA) might be able to tap into resources beyond hiring its own translation staff — such as seeking grant money for translation or using outside vendors. Also, what can be learned from other denominations or organizations already involved in doing translation work in a theological context?
- There’s a need not just to translate written materials, but for interpretation services at Presbyterian meetings and events for those for whom English is not their primary language. “I think both things should happen,” Sharp said.
- “Translation is a two-way street,” Priest said – with there also being a need to translate theological resources developed in other languages into English.
- A Diverse Voices Table also approved by the assembly will begin meeting in January, with representation from each of the agencies. That table likely will be a forum for discussing translation needs as well.
Oversight. The board’s three standing committees all are considering the charters under which they will operate.
Discussion of the charter for the Finance, Operations and Budget committee centered in part around how much the board should involve itself in specific decisions before the staff – for example, a decision to select financial advisors or hire other outside consultants.
Board member Sam Bonner, a ruling elder from New Jersey and a bank examiner, argued that the board should have a voice in such matters.
“The underlying truth is that we are responsible, no matter what the staff does,” Bonner said.
The A Corporation currently does not have a president, so “there is no check and balance at the moment,” said Bridget-Anne Hampden, a ruling elder from the Presbytery of Charlotte and co-chair of the A Corporation board. “We have to build in the appropriate controls to assure us that things are running smoothly.”
There also was acknowledgment that the role of the board is to review and set policy — not necessarily to make specific decisions. The wording of the committee’s charter regarding oversight of outside advisors was changed — from saying “provide advice and consent” to “provide advice and counsel with respect to appropriate procedures for retention of outside vendors.” The full board will consider the charters Dec. 14.
Mike Miller, acting chief financial officer for the A Corporation, told the committee that “I’m very comfortable living into this,” and “we’ll err on the side of over-communication” to start with.
“It’s a build-up of trust, and it works on both sides,” Hampden told Miller. “I’m very comfortable with the way you’ve been operating.”
Vision and communication. During lunch, J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the PC(USA), and Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, came to bring greetings to the board.
Nelson described this as “a new day in the life of the denomination,” calling it “a time of vision, a time for dreaming, a time for starting something, failing, brushing ourselves off, getting up and trying something new.”
Nelson said he’s going to the border along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas this weekend, to participate in a public witness organized by Mission Presbytery — what’s being called a “Wall of Welcome – Interfaith Caravan of Hope” event Dec. 14-16 in McAllen and Brownsville, Texas.
“I will not be arrested,” Nelson said, referring to a Dec. 10 protest organized by the American Friends Service Committee along the border in San Diego where at least 30 faith leaders, including some Presbyterian ministers, did get arrested. (Read this guest commentary from one of those arrested – Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the 218th General Assembly – on the power of nonviolent protest.) Across the church, Nelson said, “we’re seeing an uptick in the presence of Presbyterians on the transformative edge” on issues ranging from immigration to climate change.
Nelson urged the A Corporation board to be “more than a corporate board,” saying: “I pray that this will be a praying table,” a table of dreaming and vision and risk-taking, of leaders “willing to fail and get up again and try again and never losing hope.”
Moffett, who’s been in her job six months now and has just returned from a trip to Africa to meet with church partners, spoke of the emphasis the Presbyterian Mission Agency is placing on congregational vitality, on eliminating systemic poverty and confronting racism. “We are being a Matthew 25 church,” looking at the systems that cause people to be naked, hungry, in need, she said.
And Moffett reiterated her commitment to work collegially and to change what the Presbyterian Mission Agency review committee described as a stressful, unhealthy culture at the agency.
“It didn’t happen overnight, it happened over time,” Moffett said of the difficulties. “But I want you to know a new day is dawning,” where she is working with employees and with leaders of the other PC(USA) agencies to rebuild trust. Moffett urged the A Corporation board members to contact her directly if they have concerns.
“I want you to know we are healing, we are strong,” Moffett said of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, stressing the importance of keeping the lines of communication open. “You have a partner with me.”