Setting a vision, shouting “Amen!”

A screenshot of the Coordinating Committee meeting on April 7, 2022. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

Now that much of the business slated for the 2022 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been submitted, this is the season in which various church entities offer comments — trying to persuade the assembly to think one way or another about particular items of business.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) board will consider a series of comments at its April 27-29 meeting — including on recommendations coming from special committees that have spent years working on big picture issues concerning the denomination.

Among the comments, the Coordinating Committee approved during its April 7 Zoom meeting were these, all of which will now go to the full PMA board for its consideration.

Moving Forward.

  • PMA disagrees with a recommendation from the Moving Forward Implementation Special Committee to move the Mission Engagement and Support office – responsible for funds development – from PMA to the Administrative Services Group. The comment (D.103 Comment on MOV-02 MFISC Recommendations) states that it would be a mistake to classify funds development as an “administrative service” rather than a part of PC(USA) mission work; that the office already is committed to helping to raise funds for per capita and to stressing the importance of per capita funding for the denomination; and that the recommendation does not acknowledge about $1 million in revenue the office currently receives in cost recovery from restricted funds.
  • The language needs to be clearer on a Moving Forward proposal suggesting that PMA and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) would share 50/50 in “all unrestricted bequests and unrestricted gifts.” Depending on how that is interpreted, the change could cost PMA from $282,500 to $2.5 million in 2023, the comment states. If the broadest interpretation were used – including per capita as unrestricted funding – that “would require a massive redistribution of revenue from both PMA and OGA,” the comment states. “The most harm would come to OGA, since unrestricted per capita is a larger revenue source than unrestricted bequests and shared mission.”
Barry Creech. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

Barry Creech, director of policy, administration and board support for PMA, said PMA wants the assembly to “be very precise about what it is they are wanting us to share.”

Currently, undesignated gifts over $50,000 are split, with 80% going to PMA and 20% to OGA (reflecting the relative sizes of those agencies, and according to an agreement reached between them). Undesignated gifts below $50,000 go solely to PMA.

Ken Godshall, a PMA board member from New York state, called the current arrangement “a very stable solution for sharing an extremely scarce resource.”

Warren Lesane, chair of the PMA board, said: “This is a big one. This is a very important shift if it happens. Our argument is solid.”

Per Capita and National Church Financial Sustainability. In response to a recommendation from the Special Committee on Per-Capita Based Funding and National Church Financial Sustainability – a recommendation that asks the assembly to form a commission to “oversee and facilitate the unification of PMA and OGA – PMA suggests some alternate approaches (D.104 Comment on FIN 10 Per Capita and Financial Sustainability).

It says that such a merger is not a new idea — it’s been tried before in the PC(USA) structure. It says that while “OGA and PMA have not always worked well together,” in recent years they have built an improved track record of collaboration under the leadership of Diane Moffett, PMA’s president and executive director, and J. Herbert Nelson, the PC(USA)’s stated clerk, and are now “working together very closely.”

And Creech said that “PMA is open to the possibility of merger.”

Rather than forming a commission to work towards merger, however, the comment suggests that the assembly might consider directing PMA and OGA to work with an independent facilitator team “to increase the efforts already underway,” and to bring a merger proposal to the 2024 General Assembly if needed.

Or, if the 2022 General Assembly does decide to form a merger commission, the commission should spend the next two years working on vision, report those findings to the assembly in 2024, then return to the assembly in 2026 with a recommendation involving merger, PMA’s comment states.

Warren Lesane. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

It says that the commission’s first assignment should be “the establishment of a single vision for the national church facilitated by a third party.” That’s because “the barrier to collaboration isn’t structural, but rather a vision of what matters most.”

As Creech told the Coordinating Committee: “There are multiple visions that are operating at the national level of the church.”

According to the comment, the multiple visions include:

  • PMA’s focus on being a Matthew 25 church.
  • A vision for the denomination articulated by Nelson, the stated clerk.
  • The guiding statement that the 2020 Vision Team – which was created by the 2016 General Assembly and has worked on this for the past six years – is presenting to the 2022 General Assembly. That statement calls for the PC(USA) to be prayerful, courageous, united, serving and alive.

What isn’t said explicitly is that disagreement over vision often involves differing views over money – how funds are divided up and how they should be spent – and, inevitably, questions over who has the power to make those decisions.

Shannan Vance-Ocampo, chair-elect of the PMA board, said the PMA approach would allow the assembly itself to weigh in on the PC(USA) vision. “It follows our polity,” she said.

Board member Brenton Thompson said of the PMA board: “Our job isn’t financial sustainability,” but setting a vision for mission.

Board member Nicholas Yoda warned, however, about the possibility of “vision fatigue” for Presbyterians. After spending years talking about Vision 2020, Matthew 25 and Hands and Feet, “you’re telling people of the assembly, ‘Let’s tack on another four years.’ … I go back to the people in the pews. They’re already tired. They’re already very tired.”

While Creech used the phrase “where there is no vision, the people perish,” from the 29th chapter of Proverbs, Yoda responded that Presbyterians are saying “we’re already famished and perishing because the national church is too busy rearranging the deck chairs of the next vision.”

Lesane acknowledged that “yes, the church is tired,” and said some believe “that restructuring and merging will resolve the financial issue.” But he said PMA needs to focus on vision.

Diane Moffett. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

“From where I sit, Matthew 25 is breaking up the house,” Lesane said. “Folks may come back home to that. It may be codified” as the prevailing vision of the PC(USA).

Center for Repair of Historical Harm. Other comments the Coordinating Committee approved address recommendations coming to the assembly regarding racial justice and reparations — including an overture from the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy on “Offering an Apology to African Americans for the Sin of Slavery and Its Legacy.” The comments say that PMA’s new Center for Repair of Harm, for which the PMA board voted in February to provide funding to create, could take the lead in doing the racial justice work the assembly directs to be done.

Another overture, from Northwest Coast Presbytery, asks the assembly to issue an apology and provide reparations for the “racist closure” of the Memorial Presbyterian Church, a “thriving, multiethnic, intercultural church” in Juneau, Alaska, in 1963. That overture calls for $200,000 in reparations. The PMA comment states that $100,000 in repair grants from the Center for Repair could cover half those costs. And Creech said PMA could take the other $100,000 from its unrestricted reserve fund.

Other business. The board’s April meeting will be held virtually via Zoom. Other items on the agenda include:

  • A proposed PMA operating budget for 2023 and 2024. On May 2, a joint session will be held to approve a unified budget presentation for PMA, OGA and the PC(USA), A Corporation.
  • A proposal for realigning the board structure, beginning at the close of the 2022 assembly. That proposal calls for the PMA board to have co-chairs, a realigned committee structure, and fewer assignments of PMA board members to serve as deployed members of other PC(USA) committees (such as the governing bodies of other agencies).

“The problem is a math problem,” not an unwillingness to be collaborative, Vance-Ocampo said. With a smaller PMA board, there are fewer people to serve on these other committees. “We’re hitting the pain point in that math equation.”

At Vance-Ocampo’s request – she called for a minute of personal privilege in the midst of another discussion – the committee paused for prayer following the news that the U.S. Senate had voted to confirm Kentanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court — making her first Black woman ever to serve in that role.

Nicholas Yoda. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

“I’m sweating, I’m getting chills,” Lesane said with a whoop.

“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, God who has brought us thus far on the way,” Moffett began to pray, starting with the opening lines of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” She thanked God for “the way you are at work and for your hand upon this world and especially on our nation,” for justice and mercy.

Moffett said that particularly for Black people, “I am reminded that the prayers of my ancestors are yet being embodied in Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson. I thank you for the hope she presents for future generations of little Black girls, little Black boys, children of color.”

For the church, “this is our sacred, holy work,” to build a better community and world, Moffett prayed.

Then Lesane asked that the Zoom participants be unmuted, producing a chorus of “Amen” and “It’s about time.”

In the Zoom chat, board member Kathy Maurer wrote: “Wear your shoes. The ceiling is being shattered.”