Both the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly will be meeting Feb. 12-14 in Baltimore – the same city where the 2020 General Assembly will do its work just a few months from now, from June 20-27.
Up for discussion will be some big issues facing the church and the world – including climate change, racism, what makes a congregation thrive, and questions of how, in an era of declining membership, to effectively fund the work of the church.
Some sessions will focus on education and training. For example, Kerri Allen and Shanea Leonard will present the findings of the Disparities Experienced by Black Girls and Women Task Force (P.201 Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls from GA Task Force Report), discussing such issues as systemic violence against black women and girls; the need for support of LGBTQIA+ identified black pastors and trans black church leadership; and the tendency to “adultify” young black girls – to perceive them as sexualized or as criminals.
Allen serves as moderator of the task force, and Leonard is the associate for gender and racial justice in the PMA.
Per capita and budgets
Here’s what won’t happen: a vote on what to recommend for the General Assembly per capita rate for 2021 and 2022. Because denominational leaders have promised to present a unified budget to the 2020 General Assembly – a joint presentation from the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and the Administrative Services Group (ASG) – the governing entities of all three groups are waiting until April to approve their budgets, to avoid “adopting the budget in a piecemeal fashion,” one report states.
There will, however, be discussion of the unified budget process. Some key elements of that proposal (Report F-04):
- The 2021-2022 budgets for OGA, PMA and ASG all will be presented and voted on during their governing entities’ meetings April 15-17.
- To help OGA with its budget difficulties, PMA will essentially waive talking about any per capita funds in 2021 and 2022 by using funds from bequests and reserves to reimburse OGA for the per capita PMA receives. It’s estimated that would give OGA about $1.4 million in additional income.
- PMA and OGA would share future unrestricted bequests, with 80% going to PMA and 20% to PMA (the same formula currently used to share administrative costs). There would be conversation to “consider ways to share future restricted bequests by a similar process.”
- OGA will “propose a flat expense budget” for 2021 and 2022; contribute 5% to rebuild its reserves; continue to seek budget efficiencies while also looking for new ways to support mid councils; and “propose the lowest apportionment rate possible to support the budget.” In other words, OGA leaders would propose the lowest possible General Assembly per capita rate increase they can get by with, and still do the needed work.
A proposed PMA budget revision (A.102 Revised 2020 PMA Budget Action) for this year calls for increasing the PMA budget for 2020 by nearly $844,000 – including more than $678,000 in additional expenses to support the Matthew 25 initiative.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board will vote on an issue that’s certain to be controversial at the assembly: a recommendation (G.104 MRTI Response to 223rd GA (2018) Directive on Applying Environment Policy and Recommending Selective Divestment) from the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) that the assembly instruct the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to divest from three companies it contends are not making sufficient progress on environmental issues.
The board will vote Feb. 14 on whether to support MRTI’s recommendation to ask the assembly to divest from Exxon Mobil, Marathon Petroleum and Valero Energy. MRTI is also asking that the assembly add four more companies – Occidental Petroleum, American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines – to the list of firms with which MRTI would engage in conversation on climate change issues.
If the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board endorses the MRTI recommendation, which is likely, then the assembly will have a choice: whether to go with that approach or potentially support a call to swifter action – an overture from the Presbytery of Monmouth, which already has concurrences from at least seven other presbyteries, calling on the PC(USA) to divest fully from fossil fuel companies “as a viable approach to the climate emergency,” and to invest instead in companies whose primary focus is renewable energy or energy efficiency.
Fossil fuel divestment was one of the most heated issues at the 2018 General Assembly. And with some convinced that global warming is putting the planet in immediate peril, Presbyterians will bring their passion about climate change and their conviction that the church needs to act – certain the PC(USA) needs to take a stand on this issue, even if they don’t agree how.
Joseph Kinard, chair of MRTI, told the board’s Outreach to the World Committee on Feb. 4 that MRTI hopes its process of shareholder engagement, done in partnership with the Climate Action 100+ investor group, will convince more companies to move towards compliance.
Rob Fohr, the PC(USA)’s director of Faith-Based Investment and Corporate Engagement, said “I hope this report is a testament to the work MRTI has done to really do due diligence, to really create a very robust and clear and fair process,” using a system of metrics for measuring compliance the 2018 General approved.
“Nothing changes overnight,” Fohr told the committee. “But we feel confident some of the companies are clearly moving in the right direction.” And the ones that aren’t – and for which divestment may be recommended – “we can show why.”
Meeting jointly Feb. 13, the PMA Board and Committee on the Office of the General Assembly will hear from representatives of three groups working on big picture issues on behalf of the PC(USA) – the Moving Forward Implementation Commission; the Special Committee on Per Capita Based Funding and National Church Financial Sustainability; and the 2020 Vision Team.
All these groups face a Feb. 21 deadline for completing their recommendations to the General Assembly – and there may be some pushback to some of the ideas they have in mind. The commission, for example, is suggesting that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board change its name. It may also recommend moving the office responsible for funds development for PC(USA) mission giving – the Mission Engagement and Support office – from PMA to ASG, and adding responsibility for build support for per capita funding to that department’s portfolio.
The per capita and financial sustainability special committee has written draft recommendations calling for denominational restructuring – a possible merger of PMA and the Office of the General Assembly – and for a process of exploring possible experiments that might be alternatives to the per capita funding system.
That joint session also will include reports on national fundraising efforts being considered in the PC(USA), including for Stony Point Center and the Presbyterian Historical Society.
Last September, the board voted to “affirm the basic direction” of a redevelopment plan for Stony Point Center, a conference center north of New York City, that there is hope could become a focus of PMA’s Matthew 25 initiative. That plan would call for at least $10.3 million in capital improvements for Stony Point.
The board committed in that first vote to provide $295,000 to support the idea – $220,000 for additional staff positions at Stony Point this year and $75,000 for a feasibility study to assess how much money a capital campaign likely would raise.
Ray Jones, director of Theology, Formation and Evangelism for PMA, told the board’s Resource Allocation and Stewardship Committee Feb. 5 that the board will hear a report from that consultant, CCS Fundraising, at its meeting in Louisville in April, and will be asked then to vote on next steps.
Another question: If a fundraising campaign also begins for the Presbyterian Historical Society, that possibly would “send mixed signals to the church,” Jones said. “We haven’t figured that out, but I think those conversations need to happen.”
So far, “the marketing plan (for Stony Point) is going extremely well,” Jones said, and work to install energy efficient roofing on all the buildings is 90% complete. “Our hope is to increase the PMA usage” of the facilities at Stony Point.
The report (A.200 Stony Point Center Update_Baseline Year Implementation_Feb 2020) refers to a potential pilot project: the “possibility of a Matthew 25 Justice Tour, which would be a partnership between the PMA and mid councils. We would pool the resources of the PMA to plan events around the hope of the gospel and service to the community in the form of justice that tackles unjust systems and structures. SPC (Stony Point Center) would be the training ground for these gatherings.”