At its meeting in Louisville March 27-29, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board will focus on anti-poverty work the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is doing, and consider a number of issues related to property.
The board’s coordinating committee met by conference call Jan. 17 and gave some glimpses into what’s likely to come up.
Work on poverty. At each of its meetings, the board is focusing on one priority in its Mission Work Plan – this time, on work the denomination is doing to address poverty.
Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said she wants to discuss the theological foundation for the work, based on the 25th chapter of Mark’s Gospel – “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” – and for staff to let the board know what Presbyterians are doing to confront poverty both nationally and at the grass roots.
Another question, raised by the board’s chair, Joe Morrow: “What is our theory of change around poverty?” What does it mean to reduce poverty? “By what metric do we evaluate success of measures we take or faithfulness to the task?”
Stony Point. The board is expected to continue discussing the financial sustainability of Stony Point Center — a conference center outside New York City that in 2018, ran a deficit of $174,000 through the end of August, and was facing about $3 million in needed capital improvements. There has been ongoing consideration at recent board meetings about both the cost to the PC(USA) of supporting Stony Point and the value of its ministry.
Moffett is shepherding the idea of a potential new vision for Stony Point. Ray Jones, acting director of Theology, Formation and Evangelism for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said the idea is that Stony Point would become an international conference center working on discipleship, transformative mission, justice and community engagement. The intent, he said, is to ask the board in March to approve hiring a consultant to evaluate the feasibility of that approach and determine what it would take to implement it.
Moffett told the committee that “we also want to go in with our eyes wide open, with a sober analysis” of what it will take to get Stony Point from where it is now financially to where the leadership wants it to be.
Jones said if the board authorized hiring the consultant, the firm would begin work in April with the expectation to have a report ready for the board’s September meeting, including answers to questions such as what improvements would be needed to existing facilities and whether any new construction would be needed.
Board member Melinda Sanders of Tennessee cautioned that “the staff may be too far ahead of the board” – saying it might be too much to ask the board to consider both Moffett’s vision for Stony Point and allocating fund to pay a consultant all at once.
Sanders asked if the board might be given information in writing or meet by conference call before the March meeting, saying that “giving board members time to get their heads around it, time to pray about it, would be good ground work before asking us to commit significant funds. Usually these consultants are not cheap.”
Morrow agreed with that idea, saying, “I definitely hear your caution.”
And Moffett reminded the committee that “there’s also a cost to nothing happening” at Stony Point. She said the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s leadership needs to decide if “we going to embrace this and move forward with it, or not.”
Barber-Scotia. Moffett said the board may also be asked to consider what might be done with the property of Barber-Scotia College in Concord, North Carolina — a historically black school that lost its accreditation in 2004 and owes roughly $11 million in debt, according to a recent news report.
Warren Lesane, the board’s vice chair, said Presbyterians founded Barber-Scotia to serve black women who wanted a college education as a sister school to Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. While the PC(USA) does not own the property, the denomination potentially would receive funds if it were sold, Moffett said, and mid councils in the area have been involved over the years in conversations about the college’s future.
“The land has just been sitting there,” presenting “all kinds of issues,” Moffett said. While “we don’t want to muddy the waters,” the question may come up whether or how the PC(USA) might get involved.
Property involving Native American ministry. Sanders, chair of the board’s Property- Legal administrative committee, said the committee need to do some work on the implications of General Assembly policy regarding the disposition of property that’s been historically related to Native American ministry. Discussions involving real estate may involve consultation with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation board as well, she said.
On all of these issues, “there’s a key opportunity here for us to set some precedent,” Morrow said, for how the church can “think about the way we use land, see land as part of our public witness as a church” – about use of the land, care of the land and care of nearby communities.