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The process of a unified budget: Presbyterian leaders collaborate and wrestle with sizable task

Members of the Moving Forward Implementation Special Committee have voiced some concern about whether leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be able to pull together a unified budget for the denomination for 2023 and 2024 — saying there’s been increased collaboration among agency leaders and some progress, but the task is big.

“We may not have time to work through the entire proposal for how we reach a unified budget,” said Marco Grimaldo, who is co-moderator of Moving Forward and who said he has been involved in private discussions with the leaders of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and PC(USA), A Corporation on this issue in recent weeks.

“It occurred to us we needed a little space,” Grimaldo said, so the agency leaders canceled the public April meeting of the Coordinating Table that’s working to create a unified budget, and had private conversations instead.

That increased collaboration is a sign of progress, Grimaldo said during an April 27 Zoom meeting of Moving Forward. “To me that might be a win,” even if there’s not enough time this year to produce a unified budget in which the agencies mutually consider all the revenue sources and agree on how the money should be spent.

Debra Avery

One sticking point may be the difficulty of analyzing all the revenue sources and the possibility of using those funds for different purposes, Grimaldo said. To some extent, that involves the question of what aspects of the denomination’s work are considered mission — making them perhaps eligible to use certain restricted funds held by the Presbyterian Foundation.

And then there’s the question of how committed each of the agency leaders are in making all this happen before the 2022 General Assembly.

Some members of the special committee expressed frustration and their desire to push for clearer results.

“I am having feelings about this,” said committee member Debra Avery of Illinois. “A bit of frustration — I just feel the wheels have been spinning and spinning and spinning. We’ve tried to lean in and push. We’ve known it’s been complicated from the get-go. … We’ve known it was going to be difficult from the beginning.”

She raised the idea of having a few members of Moving Forward, along with representatives from the Special Committee on Per Capita Based funding and National Church Financial Sustainability, write a proposed unified budget themselves, “and let people react to it. … I don’t like kicking it down the road.”

Mathew Eardley

Committee member Mathew Eardley of Idaho said that “while I will celebrate every little win we can get,” he also wants to see permanent changes in the structure for developing the budget. “We’ve got to get some teeth in there somewhere,” Eardley said. “I don’t know how to do this incrementally.”

And committee member Eric Beene from California said he thinks the Administrative Services Group, which handles accounting for both PMA and OGA, “should have all the relevant data” on where the money comes from and how it’s being used now, and that representatives of the Foundation should be able to explain restrictions for the use of particular funds.  “I appreciate that it’s complicated, but it’s also the Foundation’s job,” Beene said. “Theoretically, it shouldn’t be all that complicated.”

Another factor, Grimaldo said, is that “I think there are different definitions” about what should be considered “mission” work — whether, for example, some of the administrative or ecclesial work that OGA does would qualify for that funding.

Eric Beene

The evaluation of restricted funding takes time and sometimes a careful examination of the wills or designations of particular donors, said Kerry Rice, deputy stated clerk for the PC(USA). A recent review of about 20 funds used for historical archives that have been housed at Montreat Conference Center has taken weeks of review regarding the entities to which those funds were given to see if the Presbyterian Historical Society could be allowed to use those funds, Rice said in the Zoom chat.

One possibility, Grimaldo said, is to ask Kathy Lueckert, president of the A Corporation, to provide information on “how much of this can be done realistically” in the time available. Grimaldo said he thinks it’s important “that we not put our thumb on the scale too much,” in terms of advocating for particular results, but the committee can push to move forward with the process.

“Let’s propose something,” Avery said. “If they say no, they say no.”

The committee also agreed informally that:

  • Grimaldo will remain in conversation with Elona Street-Stewart and Gregory Bentley, co-moderators of the 2020 General Assembly, to name someone to serve with him as co-moderator of Moving Forward. Larryetta Ellis has asked to step aside from that role, although she remains on the committee. Several committee members say they hope a new co-moderator would be appointed from the current committee members, as “this is complicated stuff that we’re doing,” as Avery said. Or as Ellis put it: someone who “knows where the bodies are buried. Knows how to get things done.”
  • In May, the committee will begin discussing the possibility of proposing a merger of OGA and PMA — a subject that’s already being talked about in other venues, including by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly.
Marco Grimaldo

Committee member James Tse of New York asked, “What’s the basis for proposing it?” — asking whether Moving Forward has done the necessary work to know if it’s a good idea to recommend merger to the 2022 General Assembly.

“I’m not ready to say that merger is the right thing to do,” Grimaldo said. But if Moving Forward could help explore what the goal of a merger would be – such as a greater level of collaboration and cooperation in the PC(USA) – “that’s a conversation I’d like us to have.”

Moving Forward will meet next May 11, and the Coordinating Table on May 13.