At their Sept. 17 virtual meeting, the General Assembly (GA) commission to unify the Office of General Assembly (OGA) and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) received a report on the first 17 fact-finding consultations and began to plan for a July 1, 2025, unification date by working backward.
The 2022 GA mandated this commission unify the two national agencies, bringing a new organization for mission to the 2026 GA. The commission has a wide range of powers to review, adapt, align and organize boards, committees and constituent bodies. If needed, the commission has the ability to assume governance of the agencies to achieve these purposes.
The mandate includes an instruction to consult with representatives from OGA, PMA and all other agencies, committees, staff, and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) entities and their boards. One of the five workgroups developed by the commission is consulting these constituencies using listening sessions. Each commissioner is expected to be part of the consultations.
Reporting for the consultations workgroup, Commissioner Dee Cooper shared an analysis of 17 listening sessions conducted between April 19 through Aug. 28. The analysis was prepared by Susan Barnett, director of the PC(USA)’s Research Services.
Cooper said, “I believe people are very deeply appreciative that we didn’t go off on our own and do this (unification) without talking to people about their experiences, hopes, dreams and concerns.”
Their key findings were summarized under six headers: structure, polity, culture, basics, finances and governance.
The findings within the structure category were about being flexible and strategic. There was a desire not to “simply mesh the two agencies” but to make thoughtful, innovative changes.
Other structural findings include eliminating redundancies, ministries and programs that are no longer relevant, and functions that no longer support a new agency’s purpose. There was also interest in creating “clearly identifiable work groups” and balancing domestic and international work.
Findings within the culture category emphasized diversity and support for people of color. Another finding was about purposeful, bi-directional communications among staff, between agencies and aligned entities. There was a desire to be “supportive of staff as some are fearful of this change” and “accept that some staff will not be retained.”
Within the polity category, the findings included a desire to “reduce bureaucracy for appointments.”
Within the finance category, the report shared a desire to create savings and not additional costs for congregations, as well as ensuring competitive salaries to attract and retain staff.
Findings included the desire to “seek new leadership models” and “reduce bureaucracy” in governance.
Reflecting on the consultation workgroup’s report, Commissioner Scott Lumsden shared a need in the financial workgroup report for identifying key unification priorities as the commission speaks with different stakeholders.
“One of the things that is coming up, I see in the consultations as well, is the question of culture. PMA and OGA have very different cultures. [The Administrative Services Group], in the same vein, has a different culture,” Lumsden said.
“I want to note that we have to find tangible ways of factoring that in as we move forward. As many very skilled and learned people in the business have said, ‘We can make all the dictums we want, but the culture is what will determine the outcomes.’ This is a hard question that will take us some time to wrestle with.”
Commission Co-Moderator Felipe Martínez said that synthesizing and identifying key priorities for unification should be addressed at the October meeting.
The second major item of business was to develop a pathway to the unification on July 1, 2025.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation President Kathy Lueckert offered a first reading of some processes that would have to be made before unification. Lueckert reported that the PC(USA)’s Administrative Services Group (ASG) gathered a group of staff from ASG, PMA, and OGA to begin “backwards planning” for a unification date of July 1, 2025, which was adopted at the August 20 meeting. She described “a number of behind-the-scenes system and process changes that must be undertaken to be ready for that date.”
Her report introduced the idea of hiring a unification director. This position would be a program manager focused on work related to the commission’s mandate.
More discussion of these changes will be docketed for the October meeting of the commission.
Commissioners then entered into a closed session for 50 minutes and announced afterward that no action had been taken.
The next meeting of the commission is scheduled in-person for Oct. 10-14 in St. Louis where mid council leaders will be meeting for the Polity, Benefits and Mission Conference. The commission plans to consult with mid council leaders at this time.
A recording of the livestream can be found at https://vimeo.com/856236629.