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A roundup of action by committees of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board

Committees will report back to the full Board on Friday

by Kathy Melvin, Tammy Warren, Scott O’Neill, Mike Ferguson and Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Some committees of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) made more news than others during their Wednesday meetings.

Here’s a roundup of some of the actions taken and input received from among the Board’s half-dozen committees.

Outreach to the World

The committee voted unanimously to authorize Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) to file or co-file a shareholder resolution regarding online protections against child sexual exploitation. This is part of MRTI’s 2020-2021 work plan, which will be finalized at its next meeting.

Per the guidelines for the MRTI Committee, the PMAB must authorize MRTI to file or co-file a shareholder resolution on a particular issue, area or concern. MRTI has never filed a resolution regarding online protections against sexual exploitation in the past, so PMAB authorization is required.

MRTI felt the issue has become increasingly important given the increased number of youths online for longer periods due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The exact companies included in the overall ecumenical engagement strategy will be determined later this fall.

The interim director of World Mission, Sara Lisherness and the Rev. Philip Woods, associate director for strategy, program and recruitment, gave brief reports on World Mission, its global partners and mission co-workers.

Woods said migrants have been deeply impacted by the pandemic across the world. Many have lost their jobs and are not able to return home, so they are stranded in the countries in which they are working. They are also not able to send funds home to their families, which is worsening poverty in many places around the world.

Lisherness said the pandemic has impacted the work of World Mission and how the church is engaging its global partners. Mission co-workers are working hard to continue to work for their countries of service in new and creative ways, as well as connecting U.S. churches with global partners. She said World Mission is also engaged in strategic planning centered on global and national engagement that challenges the old colonial model of mission and envisions a future that is fair and equitable for all.

Tamron Keith, World Mission’s associate director for administration, gave a brief update on the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, which is virtual for the first time ever in 2020-2021. He said participation by people of color has increased about 50 percent for the virtual year.

Working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, World Mission has distributed over $400,000 in grants, enabling many partners to meet the needs of the moment in their context, strengthening medical and health education capacities, improving access to water and sanitation, and helping them address the increased poverty brought on by the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Lisherness, who also serves as ministry director for Compassion, Peace and Justice, said the CPJ staff were actively involved in the planning and execution of PC(USA)’s Week of Action. The Week of Action was a coordinated week of daily events focused on the call of Matthew 25 to seek justice for those who are marginalized. The endeavor was structured to provide a public witness that facilitated education, visibility and action around the support of eradicating racism and acknowledging that God loves all Black lives.

 PDA has been deeply involved with the hurricane season, Lisherness said. The agency pulled $2.7 million from its reserves to undertake a wide-ranging initiative to support presbyteries, congregations and international partners as they responded to the urgent needs of COVID-19 in their communities.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program minutes were presented, highlighting the 23 congregations that received emergency food grants in April.

Property and Legal

The Property and Legal Committee is reviewing the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s ethics policy based on concerns that were raised during a presentation at the board orientation in August. The committee will discuss the issues with the Board during its report Friday.

Resource Allocation and Stewardship

The committee’s agenda held four items for action, including revised 2021-2022 budgets and a restricted funds oversight subcommittee report. Information items included strategies and action for end-of-year giving, and reports from the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP) and the Presbyterian Foundation.

Led by Chairperson Kathy Maurer, the first order of business had April Davenport, the PC(USA)’s associate general counsel, presenting the Restricted Funds Oversight Subcommittee report, which recommended 12 grants directed toward councils of the church. The grants will be made using unassigned restricted funds and will be submitted for approval by the PMAB. The total amount of grant money proposed is $58,765, with most of the grantees being first-time recipients. Part of the criteria for awarding grants this year was connecting the program to the churchwide Matthew 25 invitation. The committee approved recommending all the grants to the Board.

PMA President and Executive Director the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett then provided context for the 2021-2022 revised budget with a brief presentation. The 2021 budget proposes a 25% reduction, totaling $8.2 million, and a 20% reduction in the 2022 budget, totaling $6.8 million.

When explaining the principles that guided the cuts, Moffett said, “We believe that vision should drive the budget reductions. Given the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, and the decline in contributions, the PMA along with the coordinating committee is now engaged in creating a Matthew 25 Vision Implementation Plan. This plan will clarify the direction and provide measurable goals to help the PMA live into the vision of being a Matthew 25 church now and post-pandemic.”

Noting a strong desire to minimize staff reduction through involuntary separation during a pandemic, PMA offered a voluntary separation package that was accepted by 28 staff members who met established criteria. Travel, meetings, salary administration and programs were other areas identified to help meet expected contribution shortfalls.

After a more detailed look into the specific line items on the budget provided by Denise Hampton, the PC(USA)’s controller, the committee approved sending the working budget to the Board for approval.

Information items provided to the committee included one from the Rev. Rosemary Mitchell, senior director of Mission Engagement & Support, who provided a report on end-of-year giving and the upcoming Giving Tuesday telethon. James Rissler, president of PILP, summarized loan assistance efforts to congregations during the pandemic.

Personnel and Nominating

Lydia Kim, mission personnel coordinator for World Mission, updated the committee on the voluntary separation program. Twenty of 25 World Mission employees have accepted the offer. “A lot of vacancies have resulted,” Kim said, “and we are in the midst of a hiring freeze.”

Some accepting the separation offers are regional liaisons, she said, which she described as “critical positions.”

About 40 mission co-workers have returned to the U.S. because of the pandemic. Some stayed in the country they were serving because of the effective ways those countries were dealing with COVID-19.

valerie izumi, who prefers to lowercase her name and is an Assistant Stated Clerk and director of General Assembly Nominations, told the committee that the General Assembly Nominations Committee is counting on PMA Board members to help recruit new members to the PMA Board.

“You know what is needed,” izumi said. “GANC feels it’s best for everyone if the entities do the recruitment.”

The portal for online nominations for 10 new PMA Board members is scheduled to open Oct. 25 and will remain open into December 2021.

Nurture the Body

The Nurture the Body Committee took one new action and heard a variety of reports during its Wednesday afternoon meeting.

The committee’s only action was to approve two name change requests and five new date requests that will be included in 2022 on the Presbyterian Planning Calendar. The new or changed programmatic emphases and liturgical dates are:

Jan. 16: Racial & Intercultural Justice/Presbyterians Affirm Black Lives Matter Sunday. This is a new name for Racial & Intercultural Justice Sunday, occurring the Sunday before the federal holiday in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Feb. 13: Camp and Retreat Sunday. The new name for Camps and Conference Ministries Sunday is to more accurately reflect what happens at the centers.

May 5: National Day of Awareness & Action for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls & Two-Spirit People

May 15: Palestinian Nakba Remembrance Day

September: National Suicide Prevention Month

Oct. 23: Young Adult Volunteer Program Sunday

Nov. 20: Transgender Day of Remembrance

The remainder of the one-hour meeting was devoted to informational presentations that in several cases sparked engaging conversations.

The Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter, Director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, presented the 224th General Assembly declaration On the Church in This Moment in History —Responding to the Sin of Racism and a Call to Action and a report from the Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls Task Force, “Black Women and Girls, and Affirming Those in Our LGBTQIA+ Family.”

The latter report was to be presented at the 224th General Assembly (2020), but was forwarded to the next GA because this year’s assembly was shortened due the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was disappointing to the task force because there is action the task force hoped would be discussed, but the task force is continuing to do this work,” Hunter said.

She noted that some of the trainings offered by the Office of Gender & Racial Justice include cultural humility training; anti-racism training; gender, race and class; sacred dialogue on gender issues; welcoming space for LGBTQIA+; and power and privilege and anti-sexism training. She said that training is taking place in congregations, mid councils and seminaries.

The committee also took a few moments to recognize the 40th anniversary of the Conference for Seminarians of Color, an event whose past attendees have included the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), and the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Hunter took a moment to recognize Jewel McRae, Associate for Women’s Leadership Development & Young Women’s Ministries, who plays a key role in the conference, for “her unwavering spirit and dedication for all the work she has done for so many people.”

The Rev. Irv Porter presented a report on Native American General Assembly Referrals and on Native American Day celebrations in late September. Porter noted that due to the urgency of some of the situations the GA referrals addressed, including the conditions of church buildings on Native American land, they were taken up and approved at GA. Some of the work has not begun due to the pandemic, but Porter noted some mid councils had already begun work with churches before there was direction from General Assembly.

He also noted the GA declaration of the decade of 2020 to 2030 as a Decade of Confession and Repentance, Turning Away from the Doctrine of Discovery.

Presbyterian Women, Inc. presented a report on its activities including more than $700,000 in grants in 2020 and its 2020-21 Bible Study “Into the Light: Reclaiming Prayers of Lament” by Lynn Miller, which has been made available virtually.

Melonee Tubb, specialist for student loan repayment assistance in the Office of Financial Aid for Service (FAS), provided an update on student loan relief in the CARES Act, which she said provides for student loan extensions at 0 percent interest through the end of the year. Tubb said the office is launching a social media campaign to, according to the office’s report, “raise awareness of the loan assistance programs and advise pastors and other church leaders to think strategically about paying down their student loans during this time.”

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