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PMA Board begins first meeting of 2018

Executive Committee previews board work for the week; discussion of GTF recommendation and A Corp occupies plenary

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian Mission Agency
 additional reporting by Rick Jones

Joseph Morrow, PMA Board chair-elect, and Sinthia Hernandez-Diaz at the PMAB executive committee meeting in Louisville on Feb. 7. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

LOUISVILLE — Gathered here for the first of its two meetings in 2018 prior to General Assembly 223 (2018) in St. Louis, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) began its time together with reports from members of the executive committee.

The work of the Governance Task Force (GTF) led the meeting, shedding light on the internal reforms suggested for the PMAB by board members. In concert with expected recommendations from the Way Forward Commission (WFC) and All Agency Review Committee (AARC), the GTF has recommended a reduced board size for PMAB, shrinking its representatives from 40 to 20. Corresponding membership from other groups, to ensure representation, is also included in the proposal, along with associated changes to the PMA manual of operations and bylaws.

Additionally, the separation of the legal corporate identity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — referred to as the A Corp — from oversight by the PMAB was recommended. Both WFC and AARC have made similar proposals to be considered at the upcoming General Assembly. Though the specific details of each recommendation differ slightly, the upshot espoused by each group is the same — by removing the denomination’s corporate oversight from the responsibilities of the PMAB it will allow the board and agency the ability to exclusively focus on the mission of the church. Unique to the GTF recommendation is the formation of another corporate board exclusive to the mission agency.

A proposal for the PMA Mission Work Plan was approved by the executive committee, with a focus on vital congregations, poverty, and systemic racism and white privilege for the 2019–20 period. Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion Peace and Justice ministries at the PMA, presented a worship service used at the opening of the full PMAB meeting based on these goals and incorporating the Belhar Confession.

“Part of the flow is the acknowledgment we are in a new and different place in the church and we don’t know what the future holds, but need to sing a new song,” Lisherness said. “We, at the Mission Agency, have fallen short and fallen into [an attitude of] scarcity. We’re trying to bring pieces of the last General Assembly forward and make it live.”

Stony Point Center 

Board member Molly Baskin presented an update from the Stony Point Center working group. Falling short of providing a recommendation, given the amount of other business in front of the board this week, Baskin said they would attempt to avoid “decision fatigue” by instead presenting a draft report of their findings and preliminary conclusions following the analysis of Stony Point’s physical plant, programs, mission and financial situation.

“Where we think we’re coming out is that in fact we believe Stony Point is on a sustainable path from an operational basis,” she said, noting that the room occupancy had increased from 22 percent to approximately 45 percent capacity during the period of their analysis. “When most of the revenue is from lodging, and the cost of the facilities is fixed, each additional person goes to the bottom line.”

Noting the need for $2 million to $3 million in capital improvements, Baskin said, “We need to look at it as a ministry, and where does it fit in our priorities.” Needed improvements include upgrades to conference space, offices, bedding, lodging and “making it a little cheerier.”

Milestones set for Stony Point three years ago set a high bar for the center’s performance — any two consecutive years of not meeting these benchmarks would have terminated the relationship between PMA and Stony Point. The group engaged HHG (hospitality industry sales and marketing consultants) to help with meeting these benchmarks. Due to marketing, program and facility upgrades, and reorienting staff as hospitality providers, HHG concurred about Stony Point’s improved outlook.

“This is a major piece of business, this is a major event,” said PMAB chair Ken Godshall. “We are a resurrection people, and who would have thought it would make this turnaround. This ministry is interfaith and ecumenical. It would be a major investment by the church in this type of ministry.”

Financial reports

Paul Moretti, acting CFO and director of PMA shared services, presented a 2017 financial update indicating the agency experienced a $21 million overage in receipts and $2 million reduction in expenses. The $23 million excess was “primarily due to giving to disaster relief,” he said. Several large bequests and a $4.47 million increase in endowment income also contributed to the positive financial report.

Per capita discussion with the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly

A video conference held with the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) discussed the uses of per capita funding and the areas in which the PMA and the office of the General Assembly use these funds for programmatic work.

A second video conference will be held tomorrow to approve the following recommendations to General Assembly 223.

Recommendation: The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board Executive Committee and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly recommend that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board:

A. Approve the revised 2018 Per Capita Expense Budget totaling $14,214,859.
B. Approve the 2019 Per Capita Expense Budget totaling $15,565,241 and the 2020 Per 
Capita Expense Budget totaling $15,818,969.
C. Approve a requested
    1. Per Capita rate of $10.71 for 2019.
    2. Per Capita rate of $11.45 for 2020.
D. Approve an amount of $1,448,693 be designated from the 2019 Per Capita budget for the 
224th General Assembly (2020).
E. Approve Designated Budget expenditures of $1,211,461 for 2019 and $1,731,808 for 2020.

PMA Board plenary

Jan Edmiston, Co-Moderator of the General Assembly 222 (2016), brought greetings to the PMAB following opening worship. With only “four months and one week” left in her and Denise Anderson’s term as Co-Moderators, she said they continue to have great energy in serving the church.

Although Anderson has recently experienced health issues, Edmiston said the co-moderator model is working well as they speak on the intersection of issues of poverty and racism around the country in presbyteries, congregations and colleges.

Godshall said in his opening remarks, “This is an important moment in the life of the PMA,” referencing votes the board will take on the Mission Work Plan at this meeting and the two-year budget in April. Other concerns before the PMA include the search for a permanent executive director and continued identification of board leadership.

But it was “structural change in the national church,” as requested by General Assembly 222, that dominated discussion during the rest of the afternoon.

Referencing proposals made by the AARC and WFC to remove A Corp oversight from the PMA, Godshall said, “The future structure of the PMA has implication on our ability to do mission and work. It is not enough to be the mission arm of the General Assembly. In each area of work, we need to articulate what we are doing and why it is important for the local congregations and the mid councils we serve. We need to continue to communicate who we are and what we feel God has called us to do. … Our goal is not to be successful, but be faithful. We want to do all we can to support the change that is all around us.”

Saying the internal reform of the PMAB, including a smaller board size in the future “has been highly praised,” Godshall recognized “this has been a busy time for the PMA Board. … The future is unclear and it’s likely to continue that way for some time. … I have faith that if we do our best, God will give the increase.”

A Corp discussion

A review of the work of the Governance Task Force shed light on the complexities required to separate the A Corp from oversight by the PMAB.

Mark Hostetter, moderator of the Way Forward Commission, said the commission’s proposal would “remove from the day-to-day responsibility” aspects of the corporate function. Under the proposed structure, “the mission of the church continues to be done and directed by the PMA. Employees still report to the PMA. Budget the responsibility of the PMA … A Corp becomes a utility to make sure these things work together.”

Heath Rada, Moderator of PC(USA) General Assembly 221 (2014), comments on the proposal to form a separate PMA corporate identity. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

The Way Forward Commission draft recommendation proposes an A Corp board of nine members, one member nominated by each of the six agencies of the PC(USA) and six at-large members. The efforts of this “utility,” where shared services and other corporate functions reside, would be overseen by a president who would have voice in the other agency boards.

PMAB member Joe Morrow engaged Hostetter in a question and answer session, asking first if all agencies would be required to use the services of the A Corp.

“The thinking of having the representation from all the agencies is there’s a lot of wisdom in having them present,” Hostetter said. “The perception is that there’s siloing — that we don’t act as one body. This isn’t a decision-making body; that will remain in the ecclesial bodies. This may evolve into a utility that provides services to other agencies.”

Before the board convened in a late-afternoon closed session to discuss property, personnel and litigation matters pursuant to the A Corp decision, Governance Task Force representatives Melinda Sanders and Conrad Rocha presented a list of five options set before the PMAB in their decision-making.

  1. Do nothing and allow the General Assembly to synthesize the various recommendations.
  2. Stay the course and allow the already-suggested Governance Task Force proposal time for implementation and analysis.
  3. Work with the Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee to craft a joint resolution.
  4. Work with COGA to propose a mutual A Corp resolution.
  5. Recommend a deliverance to the General Assembly — what Sanders called “the nuclear option” — to create a separate mission corporation.

Prior to moving into closed session, Rocha concluded, saying, “We’re excited we’ll reach the agreements necessary so we can fulfill the mandates of the General Assembly to accomplish the mission of the church.”

No actions were reported from the closed session, and Hostetter heard comments and answered questions from PMAB members and observers at the close of the plenary.

Nominations for PMAB leadership

The PMAB approved the nominations of Joe Morrow as board chair for the 2018–20 term, and Warren Lesane as vice-chair for the same period. These names, along with the slate of other board leadership positions, will be presented to General Assembly 223 for approval.

Another recommendation, to rename the Executive Committee of the PMAB to the Coordinating Committee, will also be considered by General Assembly 223.

The February 2018 meeting of the PMAB continues through noon Friday.


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