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Not only a seat at the table but a new table

Moving Forward commissioners propose forming a new table to encourage Presbyterian collaboration

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Wrapping up its work more than three hours earlier than expected, members of the Moving Forward Implementation Commission prayed Friday afternoon for traveling mercies and for the remaining work commissioners must do before sending its report in by Feb. 21.

The eight commissioners meeting Thursday and Friday at the Presbyterian Center don’t have their recommendations in final version yet. But with the help of a few conference calls over the next few weeks, they’ll shape their report and then prepare to deliver it to the 224th General Assembly, which meets June 20-27 in Baltimore.

“These are agreements in principle. It’s not the final language,” said Marco Grimaldo, the commission’s co-chair.

Among the recommendations to emerge Friday from the commission was the creation of a collaborative table “for ongoing ministry coordination” among the Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Mission Agency, the A Corp board and the Administrative Services Group, formerly known as shared services.

Commissioners said the focuses for that table would include:

  • Responses to General Assembly mandates and actions.
  • Ongoing and/or emerging mission and ministry.
  • Vision.
  • The development and assessment of a unified budget for the OGA, PMA and ASG.
  • Coordination of support for mid councils.

Creating such a table would have at least six benefits, commissioners said, including:

  • Fostering unity and purpose.
  • Providing direction and focus.
  • Establishing a basis for trust.
  • Undergirding the strategic decision-making process.
  • Offering a path for alignment of staffing and programmatic choices.
  • Inspiring more people to get involved in the work of the Church.

Here’s the rationale for the commission’s recommendation: “Because we are in a time when contextual dynamics are continually changing, attending to vision implementation and engaging in ongoing vision discernment and strategic alignment is essential if we are to live fully into the new openness to which we are called. We propose adding a broadly representative team with specific expertise in vision and strategy work who would serve as the ‘resident experts’ related to the vision of the Church.”

Among this group’s responsibilities would be to gather “success stories” from across the denomination and to lead a discernment process to test the Church’s current vision for clarity and relevance and provide opportunities to listen more broadly in the PC(USA)’s various ministry contexts.

Commissioners spent most of their time together Friday afternoon determining how to respond to recommendations made earlier this month by the Special Committee on National Church Financial Sustainability.

On that committee’s proposal to create a unified budget structure for the OGA, PMA and ASG, “We are already doing that, and we will have language we will propose,” said MFIC’s the Rev. Eric Beene.

On a proposal to merge the PMA and OGA into one agency, “we have offered an answer,” Grimaldo said. “We want to create a table to talk about synergies.”

Commissioners discussed one of the financial sustainability committee’s recommendations at length — the one that asks the General Assembly moderator or co-moderators to appoint a funding model development team to develop, recruit, implement and oversee funding model experiments among willing presbyteries in pursuit of a funding source different than the current per capita system.

Commissioner the Rev. Debra Avery said if the proposal is adopted, it should be given four years. Those promoting the experiments would have to travel to presbyteries where the experiments are taking place, Avery said.

The experiments could be costly, Avery said. Kerry Rice, the OGA’s Deputy Stated Clerk, who provides staff assistance to the commission, said four years’ worth of travel and related costs could add up to $150,000.

“I think we can support mid councils better without these experiments,” Grimaldo said.

Commissioners said they appreciated the work of the combined per capita and financial sustainability committee.

“Their outreach to mid councils is the most robust outreach that’s ever been done,” said Commissioner Mathew Eardley, adding he’d hoped that outreach would have included pastors and the national staff, which members of the committee interviewed near the end of their effort.

Commissioner Jackie Cummings, the treasurer of the Presbytery of South Louisiana, said she hopes members of the per capita committee will compile what they’ve learned through their mid council outreach into a compendium of best practices.

Friday’s session concluded with this three-step process for responding to the recommendations put forward by the financial sustainability committee, as suggested by Grimaldo: allow two years for proposed changes to take effect, share what per capita committee members learned by speaking to mid council leaders as well as consult other Presbyterians interested in altering the current per capita system — and then “feed all this to the 2022 General Assembly.”

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