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All Agency Review refines recommendations to GA


Draft report look to a ‘new openness’ for future review of PC(USA) agencies

by Leslie Scanlon | Presbyterian Outlook

LOUISVILLE — During a video conference call Feb. 5, the All Agency Review Committee worked on polishing its recommendations to the 2018 General Assembly.

The committee’s report is due to the Office of the General Assembly by Feb. 16 — and the writing process from now until then will be intense, with drafts circulating and the committee’s next conference call set for Feb. 9.

The committee is considering making seven recommendations (some of them multipart) covering these subjects:

Review process and a “new openness.” The committee is suggesting changes in the process of reviewing the six agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The suggestion is that:

  • The review process for the six agencies would take place over the course of three General Assemblies. There would be a two-year sabbatical at the start — so that a new Moving Forward Implementation Commission that the 2018 General Assembly would be asked to create would have time over the next two years to consider the proposed standards for agency review.
  • The 2020 General Assembly would appoint a committee to review the work of the Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Foundation and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program. That review committee would report to the 2022 General Assembly.
  • The 2022 General Assembly would appoint a committee to review of the work of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency. That committee would report to the 2024 General Assembly.
  • The 2024 General Assembly would appoint an All Agency Review Committee. That committee would report the results of the all agency review to the 2026 General Assembly.

Also, the next All Agency Review would focus its review of the effectiveness of the six agencies in implementing the assembly’s mission directives on their response to the call for a new openness found in section F-1.0404 of the Book of Order. That review would address these questions:

  • What are the agencies’ views, collectively and individually, as to what radical obedience to Christ looks like both in times of possibility as well as in times of peril?
  • What commitment to transparency in process and resources exists in each agency and in their collaborative work?
  • What does it mean to say yes to some opportunities and say no to others? What do we need to celebrate and release? What do we need to celebrate and support?
  • How does the agency grieve what once was beautiful, but now is no longer possible?
  • What does it mean to be faithful AND useful?

Moving Forward Implementation Commission. In alignment with what the Way Forward Commission is considering, All Agency Review is considering asking the 2018 General Assembly to create a Moving Forward Implementation Commission. That commission would consist of four members from Way Forward, four from All Agency Review and four others from the 2018 General Assembly. That commission would report back to the 2020 General Assembly regarding how the recommendations from Way Forward and All Agency Review are being implemented.

Shared services. The committee would ask the 2018 General Assembly to amend the Organization for Mission (a document which is the manual for the General Assembly) to include this statement:

The value of shared services in the PCUSA exists when all agencies, carrying out their respective missions as directed by the General Assembly, collectively best serve the church with excellence, transparency and efficiency. Simultaneously, sharing any service must be accomplished without harming the safety, soundness, well-being or missional goals of any individual agency.

Communication. The committee is working on language for a recommendation regarding development of a strategic communications plan for the PC(USA) — enabling the denomination to speak clearly and with one voice. The Way Forward Commission also is paying close attention to efforts by the communications directors of the six agencies to develop an overarching strategy for denominational communications, which could include possibly contracting with what’s been described as a “national caliber branding agency” to develop a brand strategy for the PC(USA).

Deborah Block, a pastor from Wisconsin who serves as moderator of All Agency Review, said that discussion also has included a focus on the need to translate PC(USA) resources into languages other than English and concerns about integrating the websites for the six agencies.

Per capita. The committee still is working on language for a possible recommendation regarding a denomination-wide self-study of the per capita funding system. While the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) use per capita, “all agencies should be concerned about the constitutional role that OGA has,” Block said.

The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, meeting Feb. 6–8 in St. Louis, is expected to hear a proposal for a significant increase in the per capita rate for 2019 and 2020.

And the Presbytery of Newton in New Jersey has sent an overture asking the 2018 General Assembly to create a team to review the financial sustainability of the PC(USA)’s current per capita funding system.

PC(USA), A Corporation. The PC(USA), A Corporation, board governs the corporate activity of the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

The recommendation asks the General Assembly to create a nine-person board for the A Corporation, with one representative from each of the PC(USA)’s six agencies, plus three at-large members. The A Corporation board currently has 40 voting members — the same people who serve as the voting members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

The recommendation for a reconfigured A Corporation board may be a joint recommendation from All Agency Review and the Way Forward Commission.

Language in the All Agency Review draft report (not yet approved) states:

“There is a great deal of history behind ‘A Corp.’ But we believe its appropriate role is clear. The General Assembly, directly representing all the people and councils of the church, should discern and announce theological positions, define mission, set mission priorities, and approve targets (both of income and expense) to accomplish those things. The six agencies of the General Assembly should implement these high-level decisions and support the people and councils of the church in carrying them out. ‘A Corp.’ should help support the agencies in these efforts, particularly the two most ecclesiastical of them, PMA and OGA.

We believe the governance of ‘A Corp.’ should reflect this role. Its governance structure — its board of directors and officers — currently does not.

  • The ‘A Corp.’ board currently has 40 voting members.
  • All 40 are from the PMA board of directors — in effect, the boards are the same.
  • The Executive Director of PMA is automatically the President of ‘A Corp.’
  • There is confusion between PMA’s mission role and the operation of ‘A Corp.’ by PMA’s board members.
  • There is distrust over whether services provided by ‘A Corp.’ are provided fairly for the benefit of other agencies, particularly OGA, because of this confusion.
  • The opportunity for coordination of agency activity through ‘A Corp.’ has not been realized.
  • The ‘A Corp.’ board is far too large to carry out its duties effectively.

The recommendation of the All Agency Review Committee represents a better way to govern ‘A Corp.’ It would allow ‘A Corp.’ to carry out its corporate functions to support the agencies of the church, not to control those agencies’ own missions, or favor only one agency’s preferences. ‘A Corp.’ would receive no additional powers from these changes in board composition and selection of president. (‘A Corp.’ would, for example, still have no authority to prescribe mission for PMA.) Importantly, however, these changes would eliminate the confusion between ‘A Corp’ and PMA. They would allow PMA to focus on mission. They would allow ‘A Corp.’ to manage itself efficiently. They would reduce mistrust over the fair provision of ‘A Corp.’ services to agencies, particularly as between OGA and PMA. They would provide a better platform for inter-agency cooperation.

These changes would also not be unduly disruptive. They would not require any change in the ownership of any assets or liabilities. They would not require — although they could lead to — any personnel changes other than a new determination of who should be the President of ‘A Corp.’ They would not preclude other changes that this Committee or the Way Forward Commission might want to recommend or pursue in other areas.”

This issue — how the A Corporation board should be structured and the impact of the proposed changes on PMA — are expected to come up for discussion at the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board meeting Feb. 7–9 in Louisville.

Commissioners’ resolutions. The committee is proposing a series of changes in the assembly’s standing rules regarding commissioners’ resolutions. Those proposed changes are intended to make sure the agencies have a chance to comment on or respond to matters raised in those resolutions — comments that can’t be submitted in advance because commissioners’ resolutions aren’t filed until the assembly convenes.

Under the proposed changes, a representative of an agency that would be affected by an overture or commissioners’ resolution would be entitled to speak to that item of business. Also, the financial effect of each recommendation on any agency would be spelled out for the assembly — not just the cost to OGA or PMA.

In addition to the seven recommendations, the draft report contains much more information – including summaries of the work of the six agencies and a description of how the committee did its work.

Block reminded the committee of the importance of making sure the report is “commissioner-friendly” — with language that’s clear. The committee will meet again via video conference call Feb. 9 from 2:30–3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

The Way Forward Commission meets from 5–8 p.m. Eastern Time on Feb. 5. It’s possible that discussion or decisions made in that meeting could affect the All Agency Review recommendations as well.

For more information on what All Agency Review discussed at its last in-person meeting, held Jan. 22–24 in Louisville, read the Outlook stories from:

Presbyterian Outlook stories