The Coordinating Table has begun to try to refine its vision and process, meaning: What are the steps it will take to try to develop a unified budget for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for 2023 and 2024, and what are the values that denominational leaders will use to make funding decisions?
Also: If all that doesn’t work, what will be the Plan B?
During its Zoom meeting Feb. 16, the Coordinating Table’s discussion of these matters was subdued — perhaps out of an awareness of the difficulty of translating high-level values or concepts into actual budgeting decisions.
Marco Grimaldo, chair of the Moving Forward Implementation Special Committee, presented a series of “guiding questions” that might be used to help develop a “values lens” for the budget. Some of the questions being considered:
- In what specific way do you want the church’s ministry and mission to be strengthened by this work?
- In what ways will this work strengthen individual congregations or midcouncils? How will it support pastors or ordained lay persons in their ministry?
- Who other than your program could join in this work — among other agencies, lower councils of the church or ecumenically/interreligious partners?
- How will this work be communicated to the church?
- Will the work strengthen the PC(USA)’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion?
- If the work is of a planning nature, how could you meaningfully include leaders from throughout the breadth of the church?
Kathy Lueckert, president of the PC(USA), A Corporation, presented for a “first reading” a proposed process the Coordinating Table might utilize for developing a unified budget — in which all revenue streams and expenses would be considered together for the Office of the General Assembly (OGA), the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the A Corporation, instead of each entity developing its own budget separately. Last June, the Moving Forward Implementation Commission took an administrative action in which it instructed that the Coordinating Table be created and that, for the first time, a unified budget be developed.
Lueckert said the proposed process is roughly based on one used by Prince William County in Virginia, where she formerly worked — and which she said has some similarity to the PC(USA) in that it has multiple revenue streams and some parallel challenges.
Lueckert also outlined some assumptions built into the proposal — among them, that the Coordinating Table would agree on a “value lens” it would use for making decisions about what’s most important to fund.
The work would be divided into two phases:
The timetable being proposed calls for the boards of OGA, PMA and the A Corporation to approve the process in April and for unified budgets to be ready for consideration by February 2022.
“This is not an easy thing to do,” Lueckert said. “We’ve never done it before.”
Among the open questions:
- The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly needs to present a per capita request to the 2022 General Assembly. How does that recommendation fit into this process?
- Do the members of the Coordinating Table – 15 people who are top leaders from OGA, PMA and the A Corporation and their boards – have the capacity and time to do all this work?
- What’s the Plan B if they don’t reach agreement or can’t make the deadline?
While the Table didn’t make any firm decisions at this meeting, its members did provide some feedback.
Eliana Maxim, who is vice moderator of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, said she’d like to see “an inventory of what we actually do” — some way to map the breadth of the work the PC(USA) already does at the national level, and a way to determine if there’s duplication.
Sara Lisherness, interim director of World Mission, said she’d like to hear discussion of the theological foundation of any values lens the Coordinating Table adopts.
Chris Mason, who is co-chair with Bill Teng of the A Corporation board and a lawyer, said that in his workplace the budget gets tested against the strategic plan.
The value questions are “not abstract,” but “in service to something,” said Diane Moffett, president and executive director of PMA. Her agency, for example, is organizing its work around the Matthew 25 initiative. “We have to have common vision,” and the Coordinating Table can’t develop a unified budget “without a clear sense of what we want to accomplish together,” Moffett said.
Although there are multiple agencies, “we are one church,” said Shannan Vance-Ocampo, vice chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. “We are one denomination. In the past I think there have been sort of – I’m trying to find the right word for this – territorialism or whatever you want to call it between various agencies. … I really want us to work on ways of lifting each other up and the common ministry that we all share.”
And what about a Plan B if the leaders don’t reach agreement?
“It seems to me we shouldn’t have a fallback,” said Mathew Eardley, a member of the Moving Forward committee. “I think the imperative is actually on the denomination, the General Assembly … to understand and coalesce around a singular value lens.”
Barry Creech, PMA’s director of policy, administration and board support, put it this way: “If we’re going to have a unified budget, we’re going to have to have some priorities around which to build this budget.”