Coordinating Table starts work to craft a unified budget for the PC(USA)

What does it mean to have a common vision for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?

And what’s the process for creating a single, unified denominational budget to support that vision?

Top PC(USA) leaders are beginning to try to figure that out — holding the first meeting Nov. 30 of a new entity known as the Coordinating Table, a group of 15 leaders given the responsibility of crafting a unified budget for the denomination for 2023 and 2024.

In its administrative action from June 2020, the Moving Forward Implementation Commission instructed that the table be convened, and instructed it to develop a unified budget process “which results in a single budget for the three entities” — the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and the PC(USA), A Corporation, which is the denomination’s corporate identity.

Screenshots by Leslie Scanlon

Barry Creech, director of policy, administration and board support for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said one purpose of the Coordinating Table is to look for areas of collaboration and coordination — either in work that’s currently being done or in discerning what might be possible.

And Creech outlined three specific tasks the Coordinating Table has before it:

  • To create a memo of understanding about the roles and responsibilities of PMA, OGA and the A Corporation.
  • To create a new process for developing a unified budget. That process would draw in all revenue sources (both per capita and mission funding) and all expenses (both missional and ecclesial) into a single process that would be presented to the 2022 General Assembly as a revision to Appendix A in the PC(USA) Book of Order.
  • Use that process to develop a single, unified budget for 2023 and 2024 — a budget that would go to the 2022 General Assembly for its approval.

The Moving Forward Implementation Special Committee – it’s no longer a commission – is “responsible for coordinating the coordination and implementation of this table,” the June administrative action states.

Three representatives of the Moving Forward special committee participated in the Nov. 30 Zoom meeting — although they are not formally part of the 15-member table itself. Committee member Debra Avery said she’s excited about the potential and promise “of what’s possible” and the energy she has sensed over the past two years for greater collaboration.

Committee member Mathew Eardley spoke of creating a new budget process that doesn’t just focus on the numbers, but creates a nimble, agile framework for meeting both today’s needs and those of the future, urging the members of the table to “look beyond the individual interests” of the entities they represent.

Debra Avery

And Avery said of the Moving Forward special committee: “We understand our role to be more than observers of this process. … We really do see ourselves as partners in this work.”

J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the PC(USA), spoke of the importance of forbearance

and faithfulness in the Coordinating Table’s work — and the likelihood its members will “go down the road that wasn’t on the map.” While they represent different agencies, “we work together for the same God,” Nelson said.

What’s not so clear yet are the nuts and bolts — practical questions of how the work will be done and difficult decisions made. Among the points raised in the first discussion:

  • PMA already has a consultation process underway, which involves conversations with mid council leaders, pastors, representatives of collegiate ministries and more about how to live into PMA’s Matthew 25 initiative. How do attempts to shape the vision and work within particular agencies get communicated to the other agencies and incorporated into the work of the Coordinating Table?
  • How will the Coordinating Table make decisions — by consensus or formal votes? Does every member have an equal voice?
  • How do people in the pews get asked what they think the vision should be?

That last question came from Chris Mason, co-chair of the A Corporation Board.

Kathy Lueckert, president of the A Corporation, stressed that the timeline is challenging, and spoke of the possibility of moving along multiple parallel tracks to get all done.

Eliana Maxim, vice moderator of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, said there needs to be intentionality about sharing visions between the governing bodies involved. “I don’t believe that will happen naturally or organically. Not with the history of these two bodies,” Maxim said — referring to past differences of views between the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly.

Instead of describing work proceeding on parallel tracks, Avery presented another image: that of the double helix of DNA, a spiral with complementary pairs holding the structure together. Look for where the connecting points are, Avery said. Maybe the unified budget can become the ladder that holds it all together.

Warren Lesane, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, asked whether the COVID-19 pandemic has changed any of what the Moving Forward Implementation Commission would recommend. “Absolutely not,” Eardley said — saying the pandemic has made the need for collaboration in the denomination more evident than ever.

The Coordinating Table has scheduled its next meeting for Dec. 16.