Click here for General Assembly coverage

General Assembly Entity Policies and Procedures Committee begins by recommending entity leadership and working out agency relationships

The committee voted to re-elect the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett as president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and did not pass a commissioner resolution that would have provided more oversite to the Board of Pensions.

Kevin Porter, committee assistant, explains voting procedures in the General Assembly Entity Policies and Procedures Committee meeting. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Lousiville, Kentucky — The first day of meetings of the fourth and final group of committees began today, and the General Assembly Entity Policies and Procedures Committee of the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) started working through their agenda.

The day began with worship as the committee reflected on the General Assembly theme of “From Lament to Hope” as demonstrated in the psalms. Committee Vice Moderator Wilfredo Garcia spoke of how these writings, as exemplified by Psalm 23, frequently exemplify the hope that is embodied in the lament. The committee then went into a closed session for introductions, team building and building their covenant.

Roxie Holder, moderator of the General Assembly Entity Policies and Procedures Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Following the morning break, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly J. Herbert Nelson was recognized to present the five individuals to be re-elected as associate stated clerks of the General Assembly: Tricia Dykers Koenig, Laurie Griffith, Kerry Rice, Nancy Taylor and Y. Dianna Wright. Each of the nominated individuals was invited to briefly introduce themselves. The committee unanimously approved the recommendation to re-elect these individuals.

Next, the committee heard the recommendation to re-elect the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett as president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Warren Lesane, the chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, presented the recommendation from the board. He talked about Moffett’s work and how she is a “bold and visionary leader” and how in her work she has lifted up the Matthew 25 initiative and embedded it in the life of this denomination. He described her as an agent of change with an agenda for action and she is a collaborator making the agency way more together than the sum of its parts. Lesane added that Moffett has shifted the board culture in ways that are positive and permanent. He concluded by saying Moffett is “The spiritual leader we need at the moment.”

Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the board chair-elect, spoke next. She led the Presbyterian Mission Agency review and as part of that found that Moffett exceeded all expectations to inspire, lead change, foster a cohesive environment, build relationships and to lead into the future.

Finally, Moffett addressed the committee. She spoke about how an agency’s strength is the board and how they “Support and model the cultural transformation needed for such a time as this.” She described how the church is growing in the Matthew 25 vision and its opportunity to be an agent of healing. She concluded by saying that if the committee sees fit to elect her to a second four-year term, then “Let’s go together.”

There were no questions, no discussion and no objections as the committee unanimously approved the recommendation to re-elect Moffett.

Emily Edmonds (YAAD-Boise) in the General Assembly Entity Policies and Procedures Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

The committee next turned to the recommendation to approve the relationship between Presbyterian Women and the church. Acting Director of Racial Equity and Women’s Intercultural Ministries at the Presbyterian Mission Agency Denise Anderson spoke about Presbyterian Women (PW) and how as a related organization they work with the church and fit into the structure. Susan Jackson Dowd, executive director of Presbyterian Women, discussed the importance of PW’s relationship with the denomination. Following their comments, the committee had no questions, no one asked to speak about the item and the committee approved the recommendation unanimously.

The next two items related to the annual statistical reports that each congregation is expected to submit. The first, GA-PAP-03, recommended making three changes to the demographic information. It would break out the number of members aged 17 and under so there was more information on minors in the church. It would also categorize the number of students in Christian education classes by traditional school groupings of elementary, middle and high school rather than the current individual grade level. The most discussed recommendation was to remove the definitions of different racial-ethnic groups. Lynn Hargrove from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and Kris Valerius, manager of the Office of the General Assembly Records, discussed these changes and responded to committee questions. The definitions of racial-ethnic groups are not uniformly accepted now, and the recommendation is based on the there being no agreement at this time. The decision is left to the session clerks and individual members. After some discussion, this item was approved with strong support.

The second recommendation, GA-PAP-20, would change reporting on a congregation’s finances in the annual statistical report. The COVID-19 pandemic changed many churches’ finances and there is an interest, particularly from the Presbyterian Foundation, to learn more. The recommendation adds additional categories of financial information for churches to report. It was pointed out that this was information collected in the past but was removed a few years back. Discussion and questions about this proposal included the accuracy of reporting and the burden of additional questions placed on church volunteers who fill out the reports. In the end, it was approved 27 to 3.

After lunch, Nelson returned to address the committee and thank them for their service. He spoke of this critical time in the history of the church and how the work they are doing is leading to the new church that is emerging. Nelson said the church needs to “pay attention to the Word of God all the way to the cross to do what God is leading us to at this time and place.”

Frank Spencer, president of the Board of Pensions, speaks with commissioner Donald Hammond (TEC-San Francisco) following a vote that disapproved referring an update to the Board of Pensions’ memorandum of understanding by the General Assembly Entity Policies and Procedures Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Then the committee began work on its most controversial recommendation, commissioner resolution GA-PAP-22: Updating the Memorandum of Agreement between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Board of Pensions. The idea behind this recommendation is that the Board of Pensions is not accountable to the General Assembly like the other agencies. As most of the resource people emphasized, the situation is complicated. In her comments, Stephanie Anthony, the chair of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, pointed out that this is not as much about the Memorandum of Understanding but how the assembly does its business. Making large-scale decisions like this through commissioner resolutions is not the best approach, Anthony continued, since it does not give time for study and comment. She concluded by saying that it is not clear to the church how these relationships work. Clarity of information and governance needs to happen in good and thoughtful ways.

The resolution was introduced by commissioner Mitchell Trigger of Heartland Presbytery. He said the Board of Pensions needs to have its Memorandum of Understanding updated to be consistent with the other agencies and to be accountable to the General Assembly. Frank Spencer, president of the Board of Pensions, responded by emphasizing that the Board of Pensions is held responsible by the laws of Pennsylvania, where it is incorporated and the trust laws of the country. But within that, he said, they fully support the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) process and have never failed to put requested security on the divestment list. If there were a request the board felt would dramatically damage the beneficiaries, though, they would have to weigh that decision and act in the best interest of the members.

Several questions were asked as the committee worked to understand the situation and consider the options. Forrest Claassen, the moderator of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, commented that the advisory committee met about this without a quorum so there was no advice from them on this item. But he could point to a General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission decision that states the Board of Pensions is subject to the ecclesiastical authority of the General Assembly. Claassen continued, “We as the church, through the General Assembly, cannot step into the civil side as that is governed by the laws of the state of Pennsylvania.”

The first motion came from Leigh Benish, a commissioner from Beaver-Butler Presbytery, who moved that the item be considered by a special committee. After a brief discussion, this motion was defeated 13 to 18. Next, commissioner Jeffrey Ott from Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, moved that the committee recommend that the plenary disapprove the item. Again, with some brief discussion, the motion prevailed with a 17 to 12 vote.

After the afternoon break, the committee engaged the first three items scheduled for Friday morning, all relating to the Organization for Mission which describes the connections and responsibilities of the agencies in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Debra Avery from San Francisco Presbytery and Eric Beene from Savannah Presbytery, both on the Moving Forward Implementation Special Committee, described how these items came from the reorganization approved by the 2018 General Assembly to create the A Corporation in the denominational corporate structure. While some items were dealt with by the 2020 General Assembly, these three were referred to this assembly.

Following the presentations, the committee broke into small groups for discussion and to prepare themselves to act on these items on Friday. The committee adjourned at 4:30 pm and will resume at 9 am Friday morning with worship.