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Gauging the church’s financial sustainability


Special committee picks the brains of Presbyterian Mission Agency Board members

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Warren Lesane, vice chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, answers questions of special committee members the Rev. Laura Cheifetz and the Rev. Scott Lumsden, pictured at left during a video conference Thursday. (Photo by Rich Copley)

STONY POINT, New York — Two members of a special committee appointed to explore the financial sustainability and per capita funding of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) met via video conference with the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board Thursday, asking board members and staff questions ranging from agency cooperation to Friday’s significant board vote on the future of the Stony Point Center, the site for the board meeting.

The Rev. Laura Cheifetz, the committee’s co-moderator, and the Rev. Scott Lumsden, co-executive presbyter of Seattle Presbytery, spent an hour with the board, asking members about their budgeting process; what they do when there’s not enough in the budget for carrying out General Assembly mandates “or what you want to do,” in Cheifetz’s words; ways the board communicates with the boards of other PC(USA) agencies; whether the denomination’s structure allows for a high level of collaboration; whether there’s openness on the board’s part to revising the PC(USA)’s Organization for Mission; and whether the board also plans investments in other conference and retreat centers around the country, should Friday’s nearly $10.7 million Stony Point investment, which would occur in stages, be approved.

Cheifetz said the special committee has yet to vote on any changes it will recommend. “We are floating ideas and discussing them,” she said.

As for authorizing funds to carry out General Assembly mandates, Barry Creech, director of Policy, Administration and Board Support, said the board has no choice but to pay for such mandates, either by cutting programs or finding funds not assigned to a particular use.

The Rev. Rosemary Mitchell, senior director of Mission Engagement and Support, said that “our approach to good stewardship is to focus on unrestricted gifts” and that “a lot of congregations do still trust the national church to do what’s best with their gifts.” An MES outreach team makes contact with a donor when it observes a lapse in giving, she said, with MES personnel having “a lot of very intentional conversations with mid councils and congregations. My team spends a lot of time doing mission interpretation.”

PMA Board Chair the Rev. Joe Morrow said the board has worked in recent years to improve communications with the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the A Corp Board, including monthly calls with the latter board’s co-moderators, Bridget-Anne Hampden and Chris Mason.

But the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, a mid council executive and a member of the PMA board, said the PMA and OGA “don’t easily talk to each other.” She said it took her two years to find a particular translation of the Book of Order which wasn’t listed for sale on the denomination’s website even though it had been translated. “It fell through the cracks. It was a two-year Easter egg hunt for me,” she said. “It’s a little frustrating. I am a fan of greater collaboration, because it strengthens ministry.”

As to revamping the Organization for Mission, which lays out shared power and responsibility among the denomination’s agencies, Morrow said he believes there’s “general openness” to continuing “the kind of change and reformation we have been engaging in for the last several years.”

Noting that presbyteries and synods are re-evaluating their ownership of retreat centers, Lumsden wondered if the PMA board has a plan “to invest in a retreat center closer to where I live” or would consider subsidies for Presbyterians living in the West to travel to Stony Point.

The Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III, director of Theology, Formation and Evangelism who’s chaired the Stony Point Roundtable, said the hope is that what people experience at Stony Point Center “at some point will be portable … What happens here won’t just stay here. We have an opportunity to combine head knowledge with an experience that’s transformative” in part because people involved in both rural and urban ministry can come together at Stony Point, about an hour north of New York City.

“I think hearts have to change,” he said. “Another program is not going to do it for our church. We have to go to places where hearts can transform.”

“Stony Point is a treasure,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director. “We believe it can be financially sustainable as well as a place of ministry.” So far this year, Stony Point Center is about $140,000 in the black, she said — even before any proposed improvements have been made.

“I believe you have to invest in ministry,” she said.

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