‘We’re taking it down to the level of the studs’

Unification Commission co-moderators describe efforts halfway through the combining PMA and OGA.

There’s an old joke that goes: How many Presbyterians does it take to change a lightbulb?


 If there’s any truth to that punchline – and, admit it, there is – the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is about to witness an extreme change as the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency, which handle the ecclesiastical (OGA) and the mission (PMA) respectively, are about to become one.

In fact, by the time the 226th General Assembly of the PC(USA) convenes with online committee sessions on June 25, one part of the two agencies, communications, will have already been merged. Also, commissioners this year will approve one unified budget instead of two — one for OGA and one for PMA.

Felipe Martinez, co-moderator of unification commission

“We’re doing something as a church that is new,” said Felipe N. Martínez, co-moderator of the commission. “God is the one that’s leading the way. We are running to catch up with God.

“We have a complex task, but I couldn’t be happier with the level of commitments,” Martínez said.

The commission was created by the 225th General Assembly (2022) and given a four-year time limit to begin implementation, a deadline the commission has said it will meet.

In its rationale for unifying the agencies, the Special Committee on Per-Capita Based Funding and National Church Financial Sustainability agreed with previous reviews of the denomination’s future and wanted to convey the “hard truth about our national church: our structure is not unified, our work is divided, and our mission is ineffective and unsustainable. … [T]his recommendation and report start and end with this: our denominational structure no longer serves our denomination, and until that is corrected, no other actions will lead to significant change.”

The 12-member commission has met 15 times both in-person and virtually since December of 2022. In addition, the commission and its work groups have had 25 consultations with various constituencies totaling about 400 people, gathering ideas and information.

“We’re going down to the level of the studs,” said Martínez, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Indiana.

The commission decided in October 2023 to move forward in combining PMA’s and OGA’s communication offices. In March, the denomination announced Rick Jones would be the new communications director for the combined offices.

“We can draw on the communications effort as a kind of first fruits,” Martínez said. “Very soon it will not be two agencies.”

He believes this smaller merger can also help the commission as overall unification is undertaken. “The level of planning and collaboration will make other efforts successful,” he said.

Cristi Scott Ligon, co-moderator of unification commission at their December meeting. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

The unified budget is still being prepared but is “very hopeful,” Martínez said. “It’s an effort nothing like we’ve ever had before. How do we shape a new budget with new priorities?”

While the commission isn’t bringing any requests or recommendations to GA 226, it will be very visible — with presentations to commissioners as well as the Assembly

Committee on General Assembly Entity Coordination, which has been created to receive all items related to the operation and functions of assembly entities, including amendments to the Organization for Mission, reports from the Unification Commission, and approval of workplans.

Both Martínez and co-Moderator Cristi Scott Ligon stressed that the commission has made no personnel or workforce decisions, despite at least one rumor that had circulated to the point that Ligon addressed it in the commission’s February meeting.

“You can’t chase a rumor and even if you could, our work is so heavy at times, we don’t have the energy to do it,” Ligon, a ruling elder from Nashville and a commissioner to the 225th GA, said in an interview. “While we were extremely disappointed, let’s just address this up front. We don’t want to feed into it and don’t feed us distractions.”