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Consultants recommend a decentralized, partner-seeking and harm-repairing Presbyterian Mission Agency

The PMA Board’s Coordinating Committee receives the consultant’s report, which will go on to the full board next month for consideration

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — A consulting firm hired to help redesign the structure and purpose of the Presbyterian Mission Agency to more adeptly carry out the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 invitation and to better serve a changing Church and changing world has completed a report that recommends some sweeping changes for the agency over the next 30-42 months.

The PMA Board’s Coordinating Committee received the report on Thursday. The entire board will consider the report during its Oct. 6-7 meeting. Read the report and its appendices here.

For the past 18 months or so, CounterStories Consulting LLC has been working with PMA staff in what’s been called a Vision Implementation Process in three phases: Reflecting, Reimagining and Rebuilding. A Leadership Innovation Team took the process through the Reimagining phase, with the Rebuilding phase still to come.

Based on feedback throughout the process, the consultant crafted proposed identity, vision and mission statements and identified a list of 10 values: Authenticity, Creativity & Imagination, Decoloniality/Anti-racism, Diversity, Humility, Justice, Love, Mutuality, Spirit Alignment/Being Spirit-led and Ubuntu, for which one definition is recognizing people as unique. That list should be trimmed to no more than seven values, according to the consultants. The Coordinating Committee concurred Thursday, also recommending the full board consider the proposed identity, vision and mission statements.

The categories for the consultant’s recommendations are divided into four groups: Relationships, Resources, Structures and Testimonial Authority.

Relationships

One recommendation is that many — probably most — PMA employees will eventually be “more locally situated in the contexts where they are directly engaged” working outside Louisville in groups called Locally Situated Action Teams.

The skill set and knowledge base of many employees will shift toward “relational practices,” including convening and facilitating difficult conversations and community organizing. That will require “investments in skill and knowledge development for current employees as well as an emphasis away from siloed [isolated from others] and independent action towards multifocal, interdisciplinary, systems-oriented engagement,” the report states.

PMA employees would be organized with “an emphasis on convening, listening to community concerns, leading by belonging at the pace of the community.” Supervisors will be mentors, constantly improving relational skills and innovating networking strategies among the team working in various decentralized placements.

Scope of work will not be predetermined by program-focused resources. Rather, scope and focus for how to address the three Matthew 25 foci — building congregational vitality, eradicating systemic poverty and dismantling structural racism — “will be determined by listening and co-laboring at the context level.” Funding and other resource allocations will be driven by context-identified needs.

Resources

Conversations on loosening the restrictions on designated funds should continue, the report states. Funding for the Locally Situated Action Teams should be developed based on the mix of needs identified by the local context and not siloed by program categories.

Mission co-worker compensation ought to be evaluated “to address the extent to which compensation packages create a sense of elite presence in local settings.” If married mission co-workers are both qualified and engaged in the work, “compensation should account for this circumstance.”

A specific resource should be established “to convene a process to determine appropriate actions needed to achieve repair with specific communities,” including Indigenous people in the U.S., African Americans, the Latino/a community and Asian American Pacific Islanders.

To support organizational transformation among current employees, a substantial resources pool should be established to provide the knowledge and skills that’ll be required in the next iteration of the agency’s life.

The grant-making process, the role of Mission Networks and the use of designated funds that cannot be undesignated should all be reimagined, according to the report.

Structures

The agency would maintain a continuing presence in Louisville, with functions including agency leadership; agency-wide administrative and programmatic support, including communications and human resources; and fund and resource development. Proposed new offices, which would also be housed in Louisville, include the Office of Innovation, Futuring and Discernment and the Office for Repair of Historical Harms. Also remaining in Louisville would be a small contingent of subject matter experts on topics including structural racism, systemic poverty, congregational vitality and theological formation.

The Locally Situated Action Teams will be conveners, listeners and co-laborers with people in their local context, which could be a network of congregations or mid councils or partnerships with the local church and civil society “acting regionally in furtherance of one or more of the Matthew 25 foci.”

Testimonial Authority

This term refers to “who is listened to and how their voices are honored (even privileged).” In order to “center the margins,” PMA should establish advisory councils to create mechanisms for listening for “present and emerging concerns within communities whose full voice has not been previously honored.”

The consultants urge patience as the realignment takes shape and notes that in Matthew 25 and indeed throughout Matthew’s gospel, Jesus “encourages all who would listen to meet people at the point of their greatest need, to extend to them grace, and co-labor with them to build a just, equitable and hospitable world. This is an understanding of the work that is now required as the PMA undertakes the rebuilding phase. Be blessed in every way as you proceed.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

In a letter to the PMA Board accompanying the report, the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director, expresses gratitude to the consultants — David Hooker, Allen Hilton and Kirby Broadnax — for “their thoughtful work throughout the process. They have surfaced significant issues and recommendations for the Presbyterian Mission Agency that will be important to consider as we shape our preferred future.”

The amount paid to the consultants by PMA was about $215,000 over 18 months. The consultants will continue working with the PMA through the end of the year.

Moffett said she anticipates “our response to this report will evolve and change as we consider what to implement, and how to operationalize some, if not all, of the recommendations presented.”

“There is much work to be done,” Moffett wrote. “I am excited about the possibilities in many of the recommendations. May the Holy Spirit be our guide as we work together to better serve a changing Church and world for generations to come.”

During Thursday’s Coordinating Committee meeting, the Rev. Warren Lesane, Jr., who chairs the PMA Board, said that if the board approves the report next month, “it becomes the action of the board, not the action of Diane or the staff. If we approve it, doggone it, we stand behind it … I believe God is moving the Church in the direction God wants it to be.”

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo is chair-elect of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

The board’s chair-elect, the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, said that in the same way that the Co-Moderators of the 224th General Assembly (2020), Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart and the Rev. Gregory J. Bentley, have been vocalizing what’s “Good Medicine” for the Church, the report too “is good medicine. It is honest … Our need for decolonialization is named. We say we are Reformed and always reforming. That’s not a bumper sticker. It’s the heart of who we are” as people who are on the Way of Jesus.

“There is no magic pill for what ails us other than Jesus,” said Vance-Ocampo, who chaired Thursday’s meeting. “The Stated Clerk [the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II] has told us over and over again we need to be a movement and not an institution, and he’s right.”

“The wording here is Presbyterian prose at its best,” said the Rev. Ken Godshall, a member of the Coordinating Committee, speaking of the language that the committee is passing along to the full board. “It’s not just accurate, but beautiful and inspirational … The mutuality we are expressing here is welcoming and important.”


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