LOUISVILLE – The Moving Forward Implementation Commission is starting to drill down into the work before it – trying to keep on top of everything from the financial sustainability of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to setting a vision for the denomination.
The commission took one formal vote on the final day of its Jan. 14-15 meeting in Louisville: passing a motion regarding the membership of the Diverse Voices Table, a new entity the 2018 General Assembly created to consider matters of inclusion and equity. According to the assembly’s action, the table would have “equal staff representation” from each of the six PC(USA) agencies, with Presbyterian Women invited to participate as well.
It isn’t clear yet exactly what issues the Diverse Voices Table might take up, whether it would make recommendations, or somehow report to or be accountable to a PC(USA) governing body. But the Moving Forward Implementation Commission acted after hearing from Valerie Izumi, manager for General Assembly Nominations, that the Diverse Voices Table will hold its first meeting Jan. 25 and that all the PC(USA) agencies except the Board of Pensions planned to send two representatives, including at least one person of color. The Board of Pensions was planning to send one person, a white male, Izumi said.
The Moving Forward Implementation Commission voted Jan. 15 to notify the executive directors of each of the agencies that it had taken this action:
“The Moving Forward Implementation Commission urges all six agencies to fully comply with the mandate of the General Assembly to designate staff representatives to serve with the Diverse Voices Table. The Table is designated to include equal staff representation (two each) from each of the agencies. We continue to be excited about the coordination and collaboration which the Diverse Voices Table can model as they lift up best practices for equity and inclusion, which are central to our identity, our mission and our growth. Full investment in the Table by all agencies is essential to that coordination and collaboration and a sign of the new openness the church is called to.”
The commission started the second day of its meeting with lectio divina, led by commission member Eric Beene, a pastor from Georgia, using the 13th chapter of Exodus, in which God takes the Israelites out of Egypt on the roundabout way through the wilderness, leading them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
In a discussion of their task, commission members worried that maybe they had been too slow in getting started and spoke of the need to provide input to other groups working on important issues – to possibly have influence in their decisions, not just to track to make sure the work is being done.
“We are part of the pillar of fire and the pillar of smoke,” said commission member Debra Avery, a minister from California. God is leading the denomination, but “people are looking to us to help navigate this wilderness.”
Beene said he appreciated positive reports made the previous day by several denominational leaders, essentially saying “we’re taking care of it, it’s good, it’s all under control.” Beene said he trusts the leaders, but “we won’t be doing our job if we don’t get below that surface. … We need to go a little bit deeper than that.”
And Cliff Lyda, a minister from Florida, said he expects the commission’s work won’t be easy, and “there may be significant conflict involved with this” along the way.
The commission is awaiting an advisory opinion from stated clerk J. Herbert Nelson regarding the scope of the commission’s authority.
Part of the discussion also dealt with the relationship between the commission and other PC(USA) entities, including the board of the A Corporation, which is the corporate entity for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly.
The A Corporation board will meet by conference call Jan. 16, and is expected to consider changes in the structure for how the denomination delivers administrative services such as payroll and information technology. But commission members asked whether the commission will have input into what the A Corporation is deciding on that before the decision is publicly announced.
If the A Corporation makes its decision and then announces it, “we can’t feed into it,”
Avery said. “We can’t be responsible for it if the decision is made and we’re told about it at the same time as the public, and we don’t have a chance to weigh in.”
In the end, “we’re on the hook for this,” said Mathew Eardley, a ruling elder from Idaho.
It wasn’t made clear what the A Corporation board co-moderators, Bridget-Anne Hampden and Chris Mason, have already told the commission (including what was communicated during a closed session Jan. 14). Marco Grimaldo, the commission’s co-moderator and a ruling elder from Washington, D.C., said “we made a request to know” what proposal the A Corporation board is considering, but did not yet have that information.
Shortly after that, the commission voted to go into closed session again to discuss personnel matters.
Before it adjourned, the commission decided that it will:
- Hold twice-a-month conference calls.
- Meet in person March 25-26 in Louisville and at least twice more in 2019.
- Create four working groups: on financial sustainability and the A Corporation transition; on shared services; on vision and discernment; and on inclusion and equity matters and agency culture and relations.