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Decision not to merge OGA and PMA eclipses All Agency Review business

Statement frees agencies ‘to pursue greater clarity’ in present tasks

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Kelly Shriver listens as the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II speaks with the All Agency Review Committee meeting in Louisville. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

LOUISVILLE – On the day of an eclipse that obscured 96 percent of the sun in Louisville, the All Agency Review Committee of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meeting here shed light on the year-long conversation regarding the makeup of the denomination’s agency structure.

A statement issued by the Committee and the Way Forward Commission — groups charged to review the structure and work of the PC(USA) by the 222nd General Assembly — resolved “not to explore further the option of a Presbyterian Mission Agency-Office of the General Assembly merger.”

“The Committee and the Commission believe that any gains that might be achieved through a merger could better be realized through a broader and more comprehensive approach to structural renewal,” the statement concluded, hoping the announcement of the decision at this time would reduce anxiety and free the agencies “to pursue greater clarity in their present tasks and responsibilities.”

While a merger of the two agencies is off the board, the Committee is still exploring possible efficiencies in what is being referred to as shared, or common, services between OGA and PMA. A Joint Working Group on Shared Services, comprised of members of the All Agency Review Committee and Way Forward Commission, is conducting interviews with approximately 30 staff members with knowledge of shared services over the next week. They plan to issue a set of recommendations by Sept. 20 based on these interviews and other analysis.

Although not directly related to the discussion of shared and common services, a concern raised by committee member Jim Wilson addressed a desire to consider revisions to the “financial structure that undergirds OGA and PMA. It’s the bridge between our ecclesiastical entity and the state.” These functions are currently controlled by what is known as Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation.

The Committee spent a working lunch with the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, at which he shared observations from around the denomination and hopes for the Presbyterian Center in Louisville.

“We are a church that’s in depression,” he said, saying membership losses and infighting have held the church back from “getting out of bed, getting started with the day. But all is not lost. The gospel is still real. And Jesus is still guiding us.”

Pointing to a different paradigm for the use and outreach of the Presbyterian Center, which Nelson says is seen as the national headquarters of the PC(USA), Nelson wondered, “How do we make this building represent the very thing we profess — our faith. It’s a cultural shift that has to happen here.”

Proposing a range of ideas from civic engagement, to a day-care center, to the formation of downtown church that would utilize the Center’s chapel, to offering the Center as a sanctuary site for people fearing deportation, Nelson offered the possibility of the Presbyterian Center — and the denomination — “model[ing] for the denomination what it means to take a risk in ministry.”

Part of that risk, Nelson insisted, is looking at the speed at which the denomination is able to act on a variety of issues including innovative and entrepreneurial outreach efforts, structural change within the denomination to respond to new needs, its attitude toward success and failure in ministry, and its effectiveness as a public witness on justice issues.

During the late afternoon, the Committee engaged in a conference call with PC(USA) Synod Executives meeting in Denver. Synod executives expressed a number of frustrations regarding the resources available to them from the agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Reacting to the frustration and confusion heard from the Synod Executives, the Rev. Deborah Block, moderator of the All Agency Review Committee, said, “As much as we’re concerned that people in the church don’t know what the agencies do, we just heard that the Synod Executives are not clear on this either.”

“If some part of what we’re doing is trying create some coherence and consistency in the church, and we get this kickback, it’s something we’re going to have to address, or 2020 Vision needs to address,” said Committee member the Rev. Eric Beene.

Looking forward to the Oct. 9–10 Mid Council Leaders’ Gathering in St. Louis, the All Agency Review Committee suggested deploying a team to engage in dialog with synod leaders for further clarification on their needs and expectation of the agencies.

The All Agency Review Committee will resume their meeting Tuesday morning to discuss nomination concerns and next steps.

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