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All-Agency Review Committee revises reports, plans next steps

Final day of Denver meeting brings consensus to work objectives

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Mihee Kim-Kort addresses colleagues at the Denver meeting of the All-Agency Review Committee. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

DENVER – Day two of the Denver meeting of the All-Agency Review Committee began with an expression of gratitude by committee Moderator Deborah Block, who asked the group to review the mission directives discussion from yesterday and look toward the work of future meetings.

“We’re going to need some help to get to the next steps,” committee member Eric Beene said of the analysis of the six agencies’ mission statements. “It feels that like, even in the pattern of the mission statements of the agencies, there’s siloing involved.”

Focusing on what she hoped would be a “General Assembly mission directive,” Block asked Beene to lead a review of findings from the previous day’s discussion that voiced concerns about the lack of an overarching directive for the work of the PC(USA).

Clare Lewis, vice president of sales and marketing at the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, said a common mission statement could “muddy” the focus of each agency — given their distinct work — to which Chris Mason responded such a common mission or vision statement would provide clarity and avoid the siloing present in existing mission statements.

“If we focus on doing what we do well, we will not be a smaller church; we will grow,” Mason said. “Our problem is often that people don’t know why they should be involved with us.”

Claire Rhodes speaks at the All-Agency Review Committee meeting in Denver. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

“If we are just dealing with agencies, then we’re not getting a picture of the whole church,” said Ruling Elder Claire Rhodes, citing the example of the work of Presbyterian Women. “[Looking more broadly] will give credence to the work we’re doing.”

Teaching Elder Kelly Shriver wondered if the focus of the mission review was correct, asking if an analysis of shared services and ecclesial structure, rather than looking at direct mission actions such as new church planting and leadership training, was the most valuable course of action.

“How do we encourage the agencies to work with one another?” asked Teaching Elder Mihee Kim-Kort, who previously served on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. “People are pulled in many directions, and it isn’t their first thought to look outside their agency for help.”

“Wherever the church gathers, it’s important that we’re together in a certain way,” Block said of what she called a “Presbyterian ethos.”

“The Presbyterian Church is a different church than it was before 2010,” she said. “But what’s been important in all of that are things like respect and diversity of theological and issue opinion. But we have moved forward in ways that are loving and respectful. It’s a way we can look forward to our life together that is counter to the narrative of scarcity and decline.

“An articulation of this Presbyterian ethos would bring clarity to the church and our work together,” Block said.

Others gave voice to concerns over implementing this broader version in the context of the General Assembly defining mission directives, priorities and programming for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), irrespective of the financial or personnel resources available to fulfill those directives.

“These agencies are radically smaller than they were, even since the last review,” Jim Wilson said. “This report comes across as saying we want more and more from these agencies, even as they get smaller and smaller. One thing we need to do as the church is model good stewardship and expectations for each agency. We are constantly asking fewer people to do more, and we need to be aware of that.”

Review work revisions

A workgroup of the review committee met to incorporate comments from the agencies into their summary updates — excepting discussion about the PMA and Office of the General Assembly (OGA), which will be addressed separately — and provide a current snapshot of the state of the agencies. Block said these snapshots would provide a basis for discussion with the Way Forward Commission and other agencies.

A separate group was tasked with clarifying the mission directives. A third subgroup met to discuss what is going to be presented to the Way Forward Commission during its May 3 conference call, along with areas of discussion with the 2020 Vision Team.

David Davis said there were no recommendations in the reports from these subgroups but rather they would serve as a “preamble for future work.”

James Tse seeks input from the resource subgroup of the All-Agency Review Committee meeting in Denver. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

James Tse spoke to the use of shared services by the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP), the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC), the Presbyterian Foundation, and the Board of Pensions. PILP and PPC — which are housed in the Presbyterian Center in Louisville with the OGA and PMA — consider these to be contracted services purchased from the PMA, including rent in the building.

The PPC review included a change noting the ongoing consideration of consolidation of publishing efforts and the directive that “the PPC have a five-year strategic plan to identify new product ideas for new and existing markets such as the publishing of books for children.”

Davis noted few changes to the Foundation report and only one change to the PILP report, in which there is no challenge to its ability to fund the projects and loans they have accepted. The group also provided more information on the makeup of the staff and a new leasehold product useful to new worshiping communities. No substantive changes were made to the Board of Pensions report.

Mission Directives

Beene addressed the topic of mission directives, saying the group would compose a report to answer the following questions in five sections:

  1. What does the All-Agency Review Committee interpret its work to be?
  2. What are the mission directives of the church?
  3. What is the PC(USA) vision and ethos? What moves it to do the work?
  4. How are the agencies of the PC(USA) addressing or adopting this ethos?
  5. How does the All-Agency Review Committee think the church is doing in this regard?

Further inquiry into the workings of the PMA and OGA relationship led Block to say she would discuss with the Way Forward Commission conference call tomorrow, “our mutually agreed-upon parameters of exploring the PMA/OGA merger.”

Still on the table are three questions asked yesterday about the PMA and its role in inspiring Presbyterians to be active participants in the work of the PC(USA), including:

  1. How will Presbyterians be more engaged in the mission and the work led by PMA?
  2. How will PMA raise funds that support their work and connect with the mission Presbyterians value?
  3. How does PMA assess its own effectiveness?

The next face-to-face meetings of the All-Agency Review Committee are scheduled for Aug. 21-22 in Louisville and Oct. 9-10 in St. Louis, prior to the Mid Council meeting there. The committee will conclude its work and recommendations Jan. 22-23 in Louisville.

A conference call will be held July 28 at 2 p.m. EDT as a check-in prior to the committee’s August meeting.

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