BALTIMORE – This is crunch time for groups making recommendations to the 2020 General Assembly, with the reports due Feb. 21.
So, representatives of three groups considering big picture issues involving the future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – the Moving Forward Implementation Commission, 2020 Vision Team and Per Capita and Financial Sustainability Special Committee – came to a joint session of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) in Baltimore on Feb. 13 to discuss what they’re planning to propose and to answer questions.
Much of what they presented has been bubbling on the stove for a while now – those paying attention have a pretty good idea of what’s on the menu. But some final votes haven’t been taken – so there’s a chance the groups will make some adjustments depending on the feedback they’ve received.
Here’s some of how the conversation went.
Moving Forward Implementation Commission
Marco Grimaldo, co-moderator of the commission, clicked through some of the likely recommendations – including moving the Mission Engagement and Support office from the Presbyterian Mission Agency to the Administrative Services Group, developing a unified budget rather than separate ones for each agency, having the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) share large new unrestricted bequests.
Sallie Watson, a member of COGA, asked why the commission isn’t recommending a merger of OGA and PMA– an idea that’s been floated periodically in recent years, and which the Special Committee on Per Capita Based Funding and National Church Financial Sustainability is leading toward asking the assembly to set up a process for doing.
Grimaldo’s basic answer: The time isn’t right.
“These agencies are big and have real responsibilities,” he said, and “we feel there are some pieces of the puzzle that are important to put in place first” – such as creating the unified budget, and putting in place a staff table to work on areas of efficiency and collaboration.
Marci Glass, a member of PMAB, said “I was a little surprised when there wasn’t a motion to merge PMA and OGA” earlier, after those agencies were reviewed. That didn’t happen, but Glass said she’s concerned that “there has been some creep about mission happening in OGA which is fine. I’m all about mission happening.” But Glass said she doesn’t want to see mission in PMA “not being able to continue because the money is now being used to do mission somewhere else. I want to be hopeful about this and I want to trust that there will be enough and it will all work out.”
Grimaldo acknowledged that OGA is doing some mission work – he cited the work of the Office of Immigration Issues. The amount spent on that office is relatively small, and the General Assembly put that office in OGA because commissioners “thought per capita was safer” as a source of funding for such important work. “The General Assembly made that call,” Grimaldo said.
He also said having a unified budget – and an environment where leaders of multiple agencies think about budget priorities together – might help and would “challenge us to make those choices more carefully.”
The strongest pushback came to a proposal to drop the word “president” from the title of the PMA leader – changing that title from “president and executive director” to simply “executive director.” In a conference call Feb. 11, some commission members said they were reluctant to propose that change – particularly if it would make Diane Moffett, who currently serves in that role, feel disrespected.
PMAB member Ken Godshall told Grimaldo that Moffett manages a budget of more than $70 million, supervises mission work around the world, has developed a Matthew 25 initiative that the church has embraced and “her first-year review by the PMA board was exemplary. … How does it help the church to diminish her title at this time?”
Grimaldo answered that “it is not about Diane. It is about the position,” and reflects changes made in 2018 when the PMA board stopped serving as the board of the PC(USA), A Corporation.
Michelle Hwang, a PMAB member from the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee, said that when Moffett deals with patriarchal cultures in her work with World Mission, having the title of “president” gives her “status she otherwise wouldn’t have as a woman of color. … It is about Diane.”
And Flo Watkins, a PMAB member from the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, said the commission should have consulted the advocacy committees on this issue. If other PC(USA) agencies are led by “white men who are presidents,” then “I’m not sure that’s the message we want to send to our world,” to remove that title from a black woman, Watkins said. “Invite us to be part of the conversation,” she said. “Together we can come up with solutions that work for everyone, not just for some.”
2020 Vision Team
Sabrina Slater, the team’s co-moderator, acknowledged some of the challenges her team has faced. The 2016 General Assembly gave the team the job of developing a “guiding statement” for the PC(USA), but also gave it the name of “2020 Vision Team” – leading many Presbyterians to expect the team to produce a vision statement for the PC(USA).
There’s some confusion too about what’s the hallmark program of the PC(USA).
“We play well with others,” Slater said. “We are not intimidated” by the Matthew 25 initiative from PMA or the Hands and Feet project from OGA. “We all work well together.”
What the 2020 Vision team is proposing is a guiding statement that says “God calls the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be prayerful, courageous, united, serving, alive” –with the words spelling out the acronym PC(USA).
At first, “we wanted to do what everyone wanted,” Slater said. “We wanted to discern the 1,2,3 steps that are going to save the church, that are going to make everyone happy.”
Instead, the team is proposing adopting a guiding statement for a season – along with a song written by Tracy Keenan and Aisha Brooks-Lytle and resources for engaging with the statement – and the idea that the process of listening for God’s direction is ongoing.
Among the team’s proposed recommendations: asking the General Assembly in 2026 to appoint a 2030 Vision Team, to work on a new guiding statement for that time.
Nicholas Yoda, a PMAB member, asked whether people in the pews might be confused by seemingly competing endeavors – Yoda said he supports what the vision team has done, but “this is a marketing nightmare” to explain the distinctions to people in congregations.
Cindy Kohlmann, co-moderator of the 2018 General Assembly, said some people who aren’t Presbyterian or familiar with church might not be familiar with the Matthew 25 Bible passage or what it means to be the “hands and feet of Christ.”
But they would understand the meaning of “prayerful, courageous, united, serving, alive,” Kohlmann said. “This is describing who we are and how we are” to people who are not fluent in the language of the church.
Per capita and financial sustainability
Laura Cheifetz, co-moderator of the special committee, and Jeanne Radak, one of its members, described at a rapid pace some of the findings and leanings of the special committee – they had a lot of ground to cover. “This report will have a lot of appendixes,” Cheifetz said with a smile.
OGA collects most of the per capita owed to it – the per member assessment that funds the ecclesial work of the church – and “there does not appear to be an emergency at the national level,” Cheifetz said. But OGA can’t support itself that way long-term in a denomination with declining membership, she said. If nothing changes, OGA would face “extreme challenges” in funding its work in the future.
The committee also conducted extensive listening sessions with presbytery and synod leaders, and heard some themes, Radak said. People value a funding system that’s connectional, fair and equitable. And while many presbyteries submit 100% of per capita to the national church, they don’t collect 100% of per capita. “Our presbyteries feel squeezed and overwhelmed with financial issues” and leadership challenges as their staffs and budgets shrink, Radak said.
The special committee is leaning towards asking the 2020 General Assembly to continue the work, by establishing a team to develop experiments for possible alternative funding models and to form a commission to begin the process of unifying OGA and PMA.
COGA member Eliana Maxim asked: Why are the special committee and the Moving Forward Implementation Commission telling different stories about whether merger is a good idea?
“There are multiple perspectives,” Cheifetz said – and the committee was influenced by the desire for change by mid council leaders, because “the anxiety was so high.”
The long-term answer isn’t just to keep increasing per capita, she said. “We don’t think we necessarily have the right answer,” which is why the committee is recommending that the assembly create a commission to look at the idea of merger, another group to develop alternative funding experiments, and continue the work.
One more piece of the puzzle will slide into view sooner.
Stephanie Anthony, vice moderator of COGA, said that even with a unified budget – with all the efforts to work together, share resources and keep any proposed per capita increase for 2021 and 2022 at the lowest level possible – OGA will have to return home after the 2020 General Assembly and “make real ministry cuts,” which will be painful. The unified budget and cost sharing agreements will “help make the cuts not as deep as they might be,” Anthony said, “but it’s still going to hurt.”