PHILADELPHIA – A new global resources manager will start work Oct. 28 with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – overseeing work on translation and interpretation into languages other than English.
There’s work being done on beefing up cybersecurity for the denomination; on revising the real estate policy used when the denomination sells or transfers property it no longer needs; and on updating the employee handbook to make policies more consistent across the agencies.
And, as always, there’s the budget – and the reality that, as Presbyterian put it, “everybody’s after the same dollar” when money gets tight.
All of this was part of the discussion as the board of the PC(USA), A Corporation – the corporate entity for the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) – met in Philadelphia Oct. 24-25, at the offices of the Presbyterian Historical Society, where the board took a tour and had a chance to peek a bit into the archives. Here’s more of what surfaced.
Discussions continue at the top levels of the PC(USA) about how to develop a budget for the denomination for 2021-2022 – with the hope of presenting some sort of unified budget that addresses potential shortfalls that OGA particularly is facing. That raises the possibility that the 2020 General Assembly will be asked to increase per capita – the per-member rate that congregations are asked to pay to support the work of the broader church, currently set at $8.95 per member.
At the recent Mid Council Leaders Gathering, the PC(USA)’s stated clerk, J. Herbert Nelson, and other OGA officials spoke directly of the budget difficulties – of depleted reserves at OGA; of increasing levels of unpaid per capita; and of the strain the current per capita system is putting on presbyteries.
The Moving Forward Implementation Commission emphatically pushed the idea of creating a unified budget as a priority when it voted Oct. 17 to convene a one-day summit on budget needs including top officials from PMA, OGA the A Corporation and the commission. The commission expressed its hope that those church leaders will “honestly and openly examine budget realities and establish a unified approach and plan for budgeting that meets the needs of both OGA and PMA for the 2021-2022 budget cycle.”
Marco Grimaldo, co-moderator of the Moving Forward commission, told the A Corporation board via conference call that he hopes that conversation, led by a facilitator, can be scheduled for early December – and said it will happen behind closed doors.
“I don’t think anyone had put a number on it,” Grimaldo said of the impending OGA shortfall, but “our thought was to get everyone in the same room” to talk about what needs to be done.
That motion to convene the summit came after representatives of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly asked to attend the commission’s October meeting and to present a proposal regarding the need for a unified budget, and after conversations with Diane Moffett, executive director and president of PMA, and with leaders of the PMA board, Grimaldo said.
“There does seem to be money there to meet the needs of both PMA and OGA,” said commission member Mathew Eardley. What needs to change is “thinking of us as one church, and not different silos.”
The commission also is working to conduct surveys of the staffs of OGA, PMA and the A Corporation – part of its mandate from the 2018 General Assembly to assess the culture at the denomination’s national offices. Grimaldo said he hopes those results “will give us a pretty good handle of what’s going on” with the agencies.
Kathy Lueckert, president of the A Corporation, raised the possibility of expanding the A Corporation board, which currently has 11 members, to include perhaps two additional at-large members – people who could bring particular expertise in areas such as accounting, information technology, real estate or legal work. That kind of change in the bylaws would need approval from the General Assembly.
A board task force on translation services, led by Julie Cox, reported back its progress – including the hiring of Jason Raff, who has led the Office of Translation Services for the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts, as global resources manager for the PC(USA). Raff has experience both as a translator and in developing a system for providing translation services in the Kentucky state courts. Raff will play a project management role – overseeing the denomination’s translators and helping determine what software and other tools are needed to meet the PC(USA)’s translation and interpretation needs.
Cox said she is “ridiculously proud” of the work the building services staff has done to provide directional signs in English, Spanish and Korean at the PC(USA)’s national offices in Louisville, Kentucky, to make the Presbyterian Center more welcoming.
The task force also has been working with a consultant, Lluís Baixauli-Olmos, an assistant professor in translating and interpreting in the Classical and Modern Languages Department at the University of Louisville. Baixauli-Olmos provided a report (D.001 – Task Force Report to Board) describing industry standards and practices and making recommendations – among them, to develop priorities for translation and consider sustainability, and to develop a language access plan, which makes it more clear what the language needs are in the PC(USA) for people with limited English proficiency.
The report also states that the translation (for written materials) and interpretation (simultaneous interpretation at events such as General Assembly) industry is “an overwhelmingly freelance-based profession,” with relatively few in-house professionals.
In the PC(USA), material is most frequently is translated into Korean and Spanish, his report states. A 2018 Research Services report found that “29 other languages are identified, the 10 most frequent being, in this order: Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese, Arabic, French, Japanese, German, Russian, Hindi, Tagalog, Serbo-Croatian (Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian). This report found that more than one third (39%) of respondents stated it would not be useful to have materials translated into other languages.”
Nuts and bolts
The A Corporation board is responsible for work on a variety of policies and procedures – including revisions to the employee handbook and the real estate policy. Revisions to the real estate policy are an attempt to make it clear that, when PMA decides it no longer needs a piece of property for PC(USA) mission, the A Corporation board is responsible for the sale or transfer of that property, said Sam Bonner, who leads the board’s Audit, Legal and Risk Management Committee. A subtext of that discussion between the PMA and A Corporation boards: determining, when property is sold, who decides what happens with the proceeds?
Bonner also presented a motion – which the board approved – to spend $8,500 on an updated cyber-risk assessment for the PC(USA).
Communication and new funding sources
The board authorized Lueckert to spend some money (no amount was specified) to develop communications material for the A Corporation. The question is “how do we communicate who we are and what we do?” asked Bridget-Anne Hampden, the board’s co-chair.
During a discussion of the A Corporation budget, Lueckert also said she’s interested in exploring additional funding sources – including by possibly leasing out vacant space on the first floor of the denomination’s office building in downtown Louisville, and by seeing if there’s interest among presbyteries or synods in purchasing services (such things as payroll support or information technology) from the Administrative Services Group, which is housed in the A Corporation and provides shared services to PC(USA) agencies.
The board spent time on “generative thinking” with Eileen Lindner, who has been doing research on generational patterns in charitable giving. That conversation was held in closed session.
The A Corporation board’s next two meetings will be Jan. 23-24 and April 14-15, both in Louisville.