The Moving Forward Implementation Special Committee, some version of which has been working for years to consider big picture issues concerning the future and functioning of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), voted Feb. 14 to send 11 recommendations to the 2022 General Assembly.
One key action Moving Forward did not take: it made no recommendation regarding a potential merger of church agencies. On Feb. 11, the Special Committee on Per Capita and National Church Financial Sustainability approved a recommendation asking the General Assembly to form a commission with significant powers to oversee and facilitate the unification of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) into a single agency.
While most Presbyterians probably pay little attention to the structure of the national church, Per Capita and Financial Sustainability made this point: “Our denominational structure no longer serves our denomination and until that is corrected, no other actions will lead to significant change.”
And: “A unified church will be a stronger church.”
For months Moving Forward committee members have discussed whether to join in that recommendation but Moving Forward ultimately decided not to do that. Instead, they would let the Special Committee bring that proposal to the assembly on its own.
“That was by design,” said Moving Forward committee member Mathew Eardley, part of a subcommittee involved in those conversations. “We believe it would have confused our report, and we want our report and our recommendations to stand alone.”
But there is that possibility that Moving Forward may weigh into that conversation or signal its support by commenting later this spring regarding Per Capita and Financial Sustainability’s recommendation to unify PMA and OGA. It’s likely Moving Forward will “have a lot to say to that,” said Marco Grimaldo, the committee’s co-moderator.
Some iteration of Moving Forward has been at work for more than five years now — starting with the Way Forward Commission, which the 2016 General Assembly created to “study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly entities of the PC(USA).”
That commission was part of that assembly’s response to somewhat critical reports from the agency review committees for PMA and OGA — reports that raised concerns about dysfunction at the top levels of the national church and suggested exploring the idea of a possible merger of the missional and ecclesial arms of the church.
Moving Forward now is a special committee and no longer a commission. It’s likely Moving Forward will cease to exist after the 2022 General Assembly — its service ends there. Among its recommendations are that the assembly:
- Move the Mission Engagement and Support department, responsible for funds development work, from PMA to the Administrative Services Group (ASG). With that change would come a continued commitment that Mission Engagement and Support would raise funds for the mission work of PMA but also build support for per capita funding, which supports OGA. The rationale for that recommendation states in part that “while the Mission Agency has proper infrastructure in place to adequately interpret, educate, and raise funds, the Office of the General Assembly has no such infrastructure in place. This has both missional and ecclesial implications as per capita funding declines.”
- Create a new policy to state that all unrestricted bequests and gifts that the PC(USA) receives be divided 50-50 between PMA and OGA. Currently, the distribution formula is 80% for PMA and 20% for OGA for all gifts above $50,000.
- Direct that a Coordinating Table – bringing together top leaders from OGA, PMA and ASG – meet at least four times a year to discuss budgetary and other denominational issues. In 2020, the Moving Forward commission took administrative action to create such a Coordinating Table — but this recommendation would ask the assembly to require that the table continue to meet going forward. “The national agencies, particularly the ecclesial and missional bodies, are at their best when they work well together,” the rationale for one recommendation states.
- Direct ASG to continue its assessment of technological capacities and needs, and to address increased technology investments through future budgeting processes.
- Make some changes in the schedule and process for reviewing General Assembly agencies and entities.
- Direct the appropriate denominational officials to continue the work of the Diverse Voices Table, which would work on issues of equity and inclusion and will report directly to the General Assembly. Equity and inclusion audits will be conducted every six years, with funding provided as an increase to per capita. The recommendation also asks the assembly to direct ASG to consult with the Diverse Voices Table and the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee “in discerning and directing the prioritizations and exceptions of translation services.”
- Approve a revised process for developing a General Assembly budget. The recommendation states that the General Assembly budget refers to the combined mission, per capita, ASG and designated budgets. So far, the agencies have not been able to achieve a unified budget — only a unified presentation to the assembly of their separate budgets.
One of Moving Forward’s most significant goals “has been to challenge the Mission Agency, Office of the General Assembly, and the Administrative Services Group to better understand their unity under the authority of the General Assembly,” the rationale states.
“We believe these [proposed] changes spell out a process and responsibilities which reflect the goal of unity among PMA, OGA, and ASG under the authority of the General Assembly while acknowledging the reality that there is much more work to do to bring true unity to all of those entities’ practices.”