General Assembly review groups issue letter seeking to clarify recommendations

Vision and theology, A Corp function, and role of Stated Clerk addressed

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Hoping to clarify what they believe is “confusion” and “misinformation” regarding their reports to General Assembly 223 (2018) in St. Louis, the Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued a letter today.

The letter specifically addresses the areas of vision and theology, their joint proposal on the corporate function — known as the “A Corp” — of the Office of the General Assembly and Presbyterian Mission Agency, and recommendations on the role of the Stated Clerk, the head ecclesial officer of the denomination.

Saying their mandate was to deal with “the dysfunctions in the form and structure of our national church,” the groups defer discussions of theology and vision to the 2020 Vision Team, the third group established by General Assembly 222 to address the future of the PC(USA).

Addressing their recommendation on the “A Corp,” the letter says decision-making regarding the mission of the church, and operational control of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, will remain in the PMA. The PMA Board has asserted that the offer to remove what the review groups are calling “administrative burdens” is tantamount to removing decision-making power from the board.

Finally, the letter asserts that the groups’ recommendations on the role of the Stated Clerk “do not change the nature or role of that position,” rather they extend oversight responsibilities “to address the lack of coordination and information flow that has frustrated collaborative work among our six national agencies.”

The reports of the All Agency Review Committee and Way Forward Commission, along with the report from the 2020 Vision Team and responses from other groups, will be considered by the Way Forward Committee of General Assembly 223.

The full text of the Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee letter is below:

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To our sisters and brothers of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):
Greetings in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

On behalf of both the Way Forward Commission and the All Agency Review Committee, we write to you today in order to clarify confusion, and frankly misinformation, there exists around our recently released reports.

It is helpful to remember that the 222nd General Assembly’s mandate to both our groups arose from significant concern surrounding the existing ecclesial structures, particularly in regards to the Mission Agency and the PCUSA Corporation; concerns that centered on the agency’s challenges in meeting the missional needs of the denomination because it was encumbered by corporate responsibilities.

There are three particular areas we believe need addressing.

Although our work has been grounded in our reformed understanding of what it means to be church, our mandate was limited to dealing with the dysfunctions in the form and structure of our national church. We were never asked to explore or discuss vision or theology for the church. This work has been entrusted to our colleagues on the 2020 Vision Team and we eagerly anticipate their continued work in this realm. Our work required us to engage in thousands of hours of conversations throughout the church, and we held our commitment to a new openness (Book of Order F-1.04) as a high value, we united with Christ in the power of the Spirit to seek “not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)

A second misunderstanding is around our recommendation regarding “A Corp”. This proposal does not and will not move decision-making about the national church’s mission away from the PMA board, nor does it alter the PMA’s role around money and mission.  No changes to mission are required; the proposal in itself does not change funding for any ministries or shared services. As the ecclesial body focused on mission, the PMA board remains in the driver’s seat, while relieving the PMA board from the administrative burdens that have given rise to the dysfunction identified by several review cycles, church surveys, moderator’s reports, and by the General Assembly itself in establishing our Commission.

“A Corp”, in our proposal, will provide the support for the substantive decisions made with respect to mission by the PMA board.  It does not create a new power center; in fact, it makes clear that the back office can never run the front office.  It does not create a new structure; in fact, “A Corp” already exists, and the only changes that are being made is to the composition of the “A Corp” board. Composition of that board will include representatives from each agency (three nominees will be proposed by each agency to the General Assembly Nominating Committee), representatives from both ACREC and ACWC and three at-large members, all in compliance with our commitment to full inclusion and diversity on the “A Corp” board.

Finally, there has been confusion surrounding our recommendations about the Stated Clerk, recommendations that do not change the nature or role of that position from what has existed for many years, but rather attempts to address the lack of coordination and information flow that has frustrated collaborative work among our six national agencies.

Our proposals merely allow the Stated Clerk, in light of his/her longstanding and already-stated role as the ecclesial head of our church, to attend all board meetings and be made aware of changes to agency executives; to assist General Assembly in coordinating the periodic agency reviews; and, without altering any ability of any other voice in the church, to speak to and for the church – as the Stated Clerk does now – as a pastoral voice in times of crisis.

The Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee remain committed to assisting the General Assembly in its discernment of a better structure for the church, and will continue to revise and improve our recommendations.  We welcome engagement from the church is the ongoing work and covet your prayers that the same Spirit that has brought us thus far, will continue to inspire and encourage us all on our way to St. Louis.

To God alone be the glory!

Mark Hostetter, Moderator, General Assembly Way Forward Commission
Deborah Block, Moderator, All Agency Review Committee

 


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