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All Agency Review Committee sets plan to complete work

Shared services, agency interviews and mission directives discussions next on agenda

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

All Agency Review Committee members Claire Rhodes, Deborah Block (moderator), and Jim Wilson listen to discussion in Louisville. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

LOUISVILLE – During its final day of meetings, the All Agency Review Committee began to formulate the work ahead that will be the basis for its final report and recommendations to General Assembly 223 (2018).

Key to this work, irrespective of the decision not to consider merging the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency, is a better understanding of how the denomination’s agencies can more effectively work together and fulfill the mission directives of the General Assembly.

The group began its day on a conference call with Barbara Gaddis, moderator of the Committee on the General Assembly, and Ken Godshall, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. The committee questioned these leaders on a number of topics including their understanding of the needs of their respective boards and agencies, the management and cost allocation of shared services, and how each board understood and fulfills the mission directives given by the General Assembly.

Godshall said the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) “could use a tighter definition of what our purpose is.” He said the work of the All Agency Review Committee and the Way Forward Commission was a welcome focus for the agency in its efforts to be clear about the work it does.

“If you look at the current things the PMA is responsible for, it’s much broader [than the General Assembly Mission Council],” he said. “We have over 30 mission areas, and we think that’s too diffuse. Our budget has been impacted by the decline of the church more than others. In the last 10 years we’ve lost half our revenue and over 300 employees, all while portraying an attitude of abundance. We need to refocus on mission and redo our board in a way that accomplishes that.”

Saying the effort that led to separating the Ghost Ranch Conference Center from PMA control was one such area of refocus that allows the PMA to more effectively conduct mission activities, Godshall pointed to ongoing talks about consolidating PMA publishing operations with the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation as one such continuing effort to “collaborate with other agencies to do the work of the church better.”

On the topic of shared services — of continued interest to both the Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee — Gaddis said, “The costs of shared services are no longer sustainable and we need to address that. … We’re going under financially if we continue to use the services the way they are.”

Noting of the complexity of cost allocation and distribution for these services — primarily administered by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation — Godshall said, “There is a great divide between perception and reality on this issue. … This task may not be simple or easy. Our board has a ministerial team — a short-term group — led by Wendy Tajima [who] said the costs are in line with other cost allocation models of similar organizations, and that although devilishly complex, are not out of range.”

Turning to the topic of mission directives, All Agency Review Committee Moderator Deborah Block said, “There’s a sense in which they are decisions of the General Assembly to the agencies. There’s another sense in which the agencies look to them as guiding principles for their work.”

Godshall agreed, reiterating the need for a tighter focus for the mission of the PMA and adding, “The PMA, more than any other agency, receives directives from the GA that require energy, intelligence and resources. This time, under the leadership of Barry Creech, we will be responding to over 90 directives. This is a significant challenge for us in every two-year cycle.”

Gaddis suggested that a distributed model, similar to what allows Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to adapt to situations and react quickly, may be useful for the church going forward in its response to General Assembly mission directives.

Continuing its discussion of next steps, Committee members proposed the following set of questions that will be answered in interviews with agency staff, board members and advocacy committee representatives prior to Oct. 1, 2017.

  • How does your agency reflect openness, particularly in the commitment to be transparent?
  • If you could change one thing within your agency that would create new opportunities to do your job better, what would it be?
  • How much time and energy do you as an agency spend looking forward?
  • What could you do to bring more joy to your staff, to the members of the church, to the world?
  • What would help you bring more joy?
  • How would you reflect on the possibilities and perils in light of God’s activity in the world related to your agency?
  • How does your agency engage in prayerful discernment?
  • How does God’s activity in the world inform your work?
  • How are you open to ecumenical collaboration for more effective mission?
  • What are the things that you hold onto as essential and carry forward even as you are open to the new?
  • What is new in the work you do that requires a new openness?
  • How is your agency demonstrating a new openness to God’s activity in the church and the world?

Other topics of concern for the All Agency Review Committee that will be investigated prior to its next meeting are the role and function of the General Assembly in allocating mission, declining membership of the PC(USA), and the location and utilization of the Presbyterian Center in Louisville. The committee hopes to share these discussions via its Joint Work Group with the Way Forward Commission.

The next face-to-face meeting of the All Agency Review Committee is Oct. 9–10 in St. Louis. Their final meeting will be Jan. 22-24, when members will prepare the committee’s report to General Assembly 223.

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