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A ‘value lens’ can help three PC(USA) bodies see their way to a unified budget

A Corp President Kathy Lueckert loosely bases budgeting proposal on time spent in county government

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Kathy Lueckert is president of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation.

LOUISVILLE — Charged with the job of creating a unified budget for 2023-24 to present to the 225th General Assembly next year, the Coordinating Table heard a proposal for doing just that from Kathy Lueckert, president of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation.

Lueckert proposed a framework “loosely based,” she said, on what she observed during nine years working for Prince William County in Virginia. At the heart of deciding how unrestricted dollars should be spent is a value lens, which the Coordinating Table — convened last year by the Moving Forward Implementation Commission, now a special committee — will use to guide budget decisions.

The value lens will be agreed upon by the three groups represented around the Coordinating Table — the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the A Corp Board. It could be shaped with a number of sources in mind, Lueckert said, including the Book of Order, the Organization for Mission, General Assembly mandates, and other related sources, including the Matthew 25 invitation.

She said the value lens “is a way of looking at requests, recommendations and decisions that help us see if we align with agreed-upon things we think are important for whatever reason,” including the fact that a General Assembly mandated them, that they’re “the right thing to do,” or that they fit within the Matthew 25 invitation’s framework.

She said she’s heard from a number of special committees formed by the General Assembly that “one thing we lack at the national level is agreed-upon priorities that are reflected in where the money goes. The value lens is my attempt to put language around common assumptions and values.”

Forming what she called “an incremental step in creating a truly unified budget” will require completing several tasks in a fairly compressed timeframe, which Lueckert divided into two phases.

The first phase includes:

  • Identifying funding sources for all program areas in all three agencies
  • Working with the Presbyterian Foundation to identify restricted funds that cold be used more flexibly than their current use
  • Determining the approximate totals from various types of funding sources
  • Setting aside some percentage of unrestricted funds for new initiatives
  • Determining which functions must be funded as required by the Book of Order, the Organization for Mission or a deliverance from, for example, a special commission
  • Agreeing on the value lens that’ll be used to assess the budgeting of unrestricted funds
  • Reviewing General Assembly mandates to identify those that should have a sunset due to what she called “changing contexts.”

The first phase should be completed by summertime. Under Lueckert’s proposal, the second phase includes these steps:

  • Program areas submit their requests to fund existing or new programs. All requests that require unrestricted funds are put on a “consideration list.”
  • A Coordinating Table work team uses the value lens to make funding recommendations to the full Coordinating Table, which approves a final recommended budget for presentation to the three boards — the PMA board, COGA and A Corp Board.
  • Those three boards approve the combined budget ahead of the GA’s 45-day deadline, in May 2022.
  • The final 2023-24 budget is considered and approved by the 225th General Assembly.

Marco Grimaldo, co-chair of the Moving Forward Implementation Special Committee, offered up a half-dozen questions for Coordinating Table members to think about and discuss in time for the March meeting, which will mark the beginning of Phase 1 if the Coordinating Table approves this process. Those six questions are:

  • In what specific ways do you want the church’s ministry and mission to be strengthened by this work?
  • In what ways will this work strengthen individual congregations or mid councils? How will it support pastors or ordained lay persons in their ministry?
  • Who other than your program could join in this work — among other agencies, lower councils of the church or ecumenical/interreligious partners?
  • How will this work be communicated to the church?
  • Will the work strengthen the PC(USA)’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion?
  • If the work is of a planning nature, how could you meaningfully include leaders from throughout the breadth of the church?

If the Coordinating Table can’t determine what the value lens will look like by August, it’ll probably be necessary to develop three separate budgets and then combine them for presentation to the GA, as occurred during last year’s online assembly, Lueckert said. “I think the value lens is a key step,” Lueckert said. “If we can figure that out, the rest of the process has at least a 50-50 shot of working.”

Those values “are in service to something,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “They aren’t abstract.”

“To talk about a unified budget,” said the Rev. Eliana Maxim, representing COGA, “we have to talk about a unified vision.” Otherwise, Maxim said, “we will get three versions of values” and have to discover the least-common denominator to complete the budget proposal.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), wondered about “the shelf life” of GA overtures, some of them “hanging on forever” when “the reality of their importance to the world has shifted and gone someplace else.”

“We have a lot of overtures we have never removed, or there is no hope of them happening,” Nelson said. Similarly, he said, “there are things we are doing internally that have lost their shelf life … They aren’t relevant anymore.”

“At the end of the day,” Moffett said, “we have to be able to say, ‘This is our vision together.’ I really want to know what that is, because it impacts all our work … We can’t do our budget without a clear sense of what we want to accomplish together.”

“We are one church, one denomination,” said the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the chair-elect of the PMA Board. “In the past there has been territorialism between various agencies. We want to be careful we don’t set up a way of being that continues to advance that. We have to project to the larger church a church that is together and understands the seriousness of our role in the world at this time.”

“We need your help as we try to build a church you would have us build,” Nelson prayed to the Almighty to wrap up the online meeting. “These offices we hold are yours, not ours. Grow us up in grace and faith.”


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