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PMAB Executive Committee previews spring 2017 meeting

Full PMA Board, COGA joint session convene today

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

José Gonzalez-Colon (right) brings greetings from the Presbytery of San Juan. Presbyterian Mission Agency Board chair Ken Godshall and vice chair Marsha Anson look on. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The meeting of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) Executive Committee here yesterday featured updates from constituent committees, liaisons and working groups in anticipation of the work the Committee will complete during its spring 2017 meeting.

Gathered in Puerto Rico at the invitation of the Presbytery of San Juan, members of the Committee considered several topics—including progress of the Governance Task Force and deliberations of the Way Forward Commission—that may impact the work and structure of the Board.

Governance Task Force

Melinda Sanders, chair of the PMAB’s Governance Task Force (GTF), said the group had responded to requests by the Way Forward Commission, answering questions about the PMAB’s function and history. Citing the complexity of the decisions made that formed the Board, she said, “Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.”

In response to those requests, the Governance Task Force published a paper on the role and purpose of the PMAB, along with documents (here and here) outlining the history of how the current structure came to be via General Assembly action and other restructuring actions.

Sanders said an updated resolution would be drafted asking Board to give the GTF permission to work with committees and agencies to which PMAB members are deployed “to reduce the number of deployed board members. … They are still important partners.”

When questioned on the purpose of the liaison committee that is proposed to take the place of deployed board members in advocacy groups, Sanders said, “In this case, they will have full voice and vote to a committee where they can bring agenda items and help craft the report of that committee. They cannot only comment on the work of the agency, but on the work the agency should be doing… I envision there will be better communication.”

Chad Herring expressed appreciation for the work of the GTF, but also expressed concern that their work was seen by the wider church—especially those following the activities of the Way Forward Commission and the All Agency Review Committee—as the position of the entire PMAB when there was still much work to be done.

“I’ve been observant that the GTF white paper—in spite of popular opinion—isn’t yet the position of the PMAB,” said Herring. “I’m concerned that the Way Forward Commission believes your work is a little more approved [by the PMAB] than it really is.”

Way Forward Commission

Former PMAB member Jo Stewart, now a member of the Way Forward Commission, delivered a progress report following the conclusion of the Commission’s second face-to-face meeting in Atlanta earlier this month.

Saying the Commission was extending its focus to look at shared or common services that exist for PC(USA) agencies, Stewart noted that initial enthusiasm for a “quick fix” approach dissipated as the Way Forward Commission focused its energy on long-term solutions.

“There was some hope going in that there would be areas that could be addressed quickly,” she said. “We are searching for consensus and buy-in and trying not to fix the current structure—the small things that lie at the periphery—and not keep our eye on the best structural goal for the long term.”

Ghost Ranch

Tony De La Rosa, interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, gave a report on the transition of the Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center from the PMA to the National Ghost Ranch Foundation (NGRF), saying there was “no news,” as the details of the transfer agreement had gone according to the plan outlined at the beginning of the year.

Some costs savings were realized when all but two employees of the PMA took positions with the NGRF, thereby reducing the commitment to pay separation costs for employees who wished to leave.

Furthermore, the PMA wrapped up bookkeeping functions for Ghost Ranch at the end of February, thereby transferring accounting functions for the NGRF to the Presbyterian Foundation. The final $150,000 of the transfer costs is schedule to be paid by the PMA on July 31.

Combining Publishing Functions

Ken Godshall, PMAB chair, led a discussion on the investigation into the viability of combining publishing functions of the PMA’s Congregational Ministries Publishing group with the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

Saying, “We should continue in this dialogue,” Godshall noted the progress that has been made in website consolidation for ordering of materials from both groups and financial considerations of further collaboration.

De La Rosa said the “outsourcing” of the PMA’s publishing functions should be looked at in the same way management of conference centers has been treated.

“All of these projects are all revenue generators. Some of them are effective, some not as effective as we’d like them to be,” he said. “As we approach this, it’s important that we’re not seen as constantly siphoning off our revenue generators or contracting [out] our operations—that we’re not seen as a potential cash cow for other organizations. If they’re interested in all the publishing we do, they need to look at all the publications, including Presbyterians Today, and all the publishing we do.”

Other Business

Earline Williams presented the preliminary unaudited 2016 PMA financial results, which showed unrestricted giving at $14 million over budget and expenses at $68 million on an anticipated $74 million. The positive variance was largely due to less spending on an under-capacity Young Adult Volunteer program, fewer mission co-workers, and less activity in Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries and 1001 New Worshiping Communities grant disbursements. As a result, the PMA added funds into the Presbyterian Mission Program Fund rather than drawing an anticipated $3.5 million in 2016.

De La Rosa, whose mother is Puerto Rican, outlined efforts to engage the Board in cultural humility activities—as it has done at previous meetings—by introducing the group to a number of video segments on Puerto Rico’s history and culture during plenary sessions.

Asking if this was an activity that could be included during every PMAB meeting, José Luis Casal, incoming director of Presbyterian World Mission, suggested meeting in locations and engaging in educational efforts that are a challenge for the PMA, such as the U.S./Mexico border and affiliated ministries in El Paso, Texas.

The Rev. José Gonzalez-Colon, pastor of ‎Iglesia Presbiteriana en Hato Rey, brought greeting to the group on behalf of the Presbytery of San Juan. He described the history of Presbyterian mission in Puerto Rico and the geographic disbursement decided upon by Protestant mission agencies that largely restricted the Presbyterian presence to the western end of the island.

“We have three and four generations of Presbyterians who are very proud to be Presbyterian,” he said. “They infuse the church with Latin American culture and identity.”

Noting the presbytery’s ties to the Presbyterian Synod of Cuba and other Central American regions, he said, “We can connect with Latin America in ways—with people and congregations and ministries—that the PC(USA) doesn’t have access to.”

“I’m so thankful you took this leap of faith to be in San Juan,” said Gonzalez-Colon. “Puerto Rico is at a juncture—not as a people or an economy—but the government. In many ways it is a colonial government. We have multinational [corporations] that don’t pay one cent in tax but make $35 billion in profit per year. … We don’t need churches or pastors, but our challenge is how we spread the message of U.S. policies that affect our people. We don’t have the structures that are just enough.”

The full PMAB meets today through March 24. The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly is meeting in Puerto Rico on March 21–23. The two groups will share a group plenary session this morning and will worship together this evening at Iglesia Presbiteriana de Puerto Nuevo. An offering will be received to support Puerto Rican seminary students.

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