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Presbyterian Mission Agency Board committees Zoom to get their work done

Over the course of two hours on Thursday, five committees met virtually across four time zones

by Kathy Melvin, Darla Carter, Gail Strange, Rich Copley and Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Administrative and Program committees of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board met separately Thursday by Zoom calls.

Resource Allocation and Stewardship Committee

By a unanimous voice vote, the committee approved a unified budget for the next two years — about $90.5 million for 2021 and about $92.6 million for 2022. The budget covers the PMA, Office of the General Assembly and Administrative Services Group. Proposed per capita apportionment rates also received committee endorsement: $9.99 for 2021 and $10.50 for 2022.

The PMA Board is scheduled to vote on the unified budget proposal Friday morning.

Denise Hampton, controller for the PC(USA), told the committee that unrestricted reserves stood at $17 million at the close of 2019. The figure for the first quarter of 2020 is not yet available but will be less than that, she said, because of the significant downturn in the stock market owing to the coronavirus.

Hampton described the two-year budget as a “baseline budget” that will be subject to change, as is the budget for 2020, following another budget summit early next month. If adjustments are made, a likely scenario, the PMA Board, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation Board will need to meet again to approve the proposed budget changes.

The Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III, director of Theology, Formation & Evangelism, took the committee through an update on Stony Point Center. The entire board will discuss plans for SPC, which has been designated as the retreat center where Presbyterians will experience the Matthew 25 invitation together, on Friday.

“What’s interesting,” Jones said, “is that until COVID-19, Stony Point Center was on track to really have a good year.” It’s been closed until at least May 25, he said, and co-directors Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase have been “beating the bushes” to find a group in need of housing to use the facility in the Hudson River Valley about an hour north of New York City. The balancing act is to find a group aligned with the PMA’s missional values that’s meeting the needs of people who are suffering but would be “a modest risk exposure” and provide SPC with some needed income. Nearby hospitals have contacted SPC and the roundtable formed to help work with SPC about housing their health care workers, “but none of it has come to fruition yet,” Jones said.

While asking committee members to “keep praying for us,” Jones said progress has been made on identifying some “significant marketing segments” for SPC. In addition, he’s seen progress around development opportunities as well as finding out “what does it mean to be a training center for Matthew 25.”

“Maybe this time of pause will give us the time to begin to think about programming,” Jones said. “That’s what the baseline is all about — programming for Stony Point Center.”

The Rev. Rosemary Mitchell, director of Mission Engagement and Support, told the committee that during a crisis such as the current pandemic, not-for-profit organizations “need to focus on donor support and stewardship.”

“People who have always been faithful and generous will continue to be,” she said while explaining to the committee plans for conducting Special Offerings, including the Pentecost Offering, during the pandemic.

One challenge: reaching churches and mid council offices that are closed and may or may not be checking their mail regularly. MES, she said, has turned to social media, online news stories and a newsletter that’s sent electronically to mid councils to encourage Presbyterians to give online. In addition, “we’ve had multiple conversations on what kind of emergency appeal should we send to the wider church,” she said.

An effort is being made, she said, to identify up-to-date email addresses for each of the PC(USA)’s more than 9,000 congregations and worshiping communities.

Property and Legal Committee

The Property and Legal Committee created and voted on a formal response to a recommendation by the Moving Forward Implementation Commission (MFIC), that its committee be abolished. As agencies of the General Assembly, committees can comment on any items headed to GA.

Typically, comments are meant to give commissioners important information they need to consider as they look at the item of business before the assembly.

MFIC recommended that “we eliminate the legal and property committee and direct that all manuals be revised to reflect that change.”

Property and Legal Committee members expressed concern about the intent of the recommendation and said it is not in any consultation with the commission about what the commission is concerned about regarding this committee.

There is a standing rule that anyone who submits a recommendation to GA about the work or budget of another entity should show evidence that a consultation has been made with that entity. According to Committee Chair Melissa Sanders, despite multiple efforts to have conversations with the commission on this matter, no consultation occurred.

Previously the commission had reassured the PMAB that it was not its intent to eliminate any of the board’s committees — and in fact it was up to the board’s discretion as to what committees they have.

The recommendation from the committee makes the argument that there is a need for the functions of a property and legal committee as part of its elected oversight for General Assembly mission and the mission agency. Several categories for that work include international properties, revision and reconstruction of Stony Point Center, repurposing restricted gifts held by the Presbyterian Foundation when the original charitable purpose no longer exists, and review of PMA policies. The committee said these items could no longer be handled by the PMA’s Coordinating Committee since the executive committee model was specifically rejected in part because of problems identified by MFIC.

In other business, the committee is recommending to the board that it request more information about the recent allocation of proceeds from the sale of the Santa Fe Ghost Ranch property. The committee was notified that the proceeds will be distributed to A Corp and its entities, including PMA.

Ken Godshall, a former PMA board chair, said the sale of the property was a major agenda item of the 2016 board and he would like to see a presentation about it. “I think it’s the expectation of PMA Board members that the proceeds from the sale of the property go back to PMA. So if this has not happened, I’m sure there is a good reason and I would appreciate learning more about it,” he said.

ASG legal staff members April Davenport and Andrej Ajaovich gave a report on the ongoing effort to catalogue properties owned by the PC(USA) on Native American lands. Legal staff members are working with Dakota Presbytery and the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, where the greatest concentration of properties exist, and then will move out from there. The ownership of many of the properties have already been transferred to these two mid councils.

Davenport also briefed the committee on Cy Pres efforts, a legal strategy allowing the organization to approach the court about amending the use of restricted funds. Legal staff are working with the Presbyterian Foundation, specifically looking at the underutilized church loan program and how to move the process forward.

Outreach to the World Committee

Bookended by several overtures that were passed on to the full PMA Board and fond farewells, the Outreach to the World Committee spent the bulk of its time Thursday looking at what Presbyterian World Mission and the Compassion, Peace and Justice (CPJ) ministries had been doing in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sara Lisherness, director of the CPJ ministries and acting director of World Mission, led the discussion on harrowing efforts to bring mission co-workers home and addressing the disproportionate impacts of the virus on people who are black and brown.

“That was a huge undertaking, partly because borders were closing as we were getting people on airplanes,” Lisherness said of bringing mission co-workers back to the United States. “Our colleagues in the Office of Public Witness were amazing partners in helping us reach out to the embassy and then the embassies in the countries for staff who were having a difficult time getting out.”

Approximately 70 mission co-workers chose to stay where they are based and 40 whose permanent residence is in the United States came home or already were home.

Lisherness also discussed grant programs through ministries including Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, and the Offices of Public Witness and Racial and Intercultural Justice’s efforts to address issues of race and income inequality illuminated by the pandemic.

“A lot of our ecumenical work has been focusing in on the racism that’s directed towards the Asian American community,” said the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, coordinator of the Office of Public Witness.

Committee Chair the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo highlighted resilience training webinars PDA has been conducting with groups around the country and resources produced by the Presbyterian Mental Health Ministry.

The conversation turned to how COVID-19 is impacting committee members and their churches. Kathy Maurer of Birch Run, Michigan, said that in her area the internet is not broadly available. But her church’s session members call church members for mini-worship services each week.

“The young man that calls me, he’s 19 years old,” she said, “and it just moves me to tears because it’s very much worship connectional and I think it’s been a very, very powerful tool for our little bitty congregation to still stay connected with each other.”

The meeting opened with the committee voting to send to the full PMA Board proxy voting recommendations from the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment that includes recommending divestment from three fossil fuel companies: ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum and Valero Energy. The committee also unanimously approved overtures on a number of issues including treatment of refugees, reducing the PC(USA)’s carbon footprint and gun violence prevention.

It was the last committee meeting for several members who will be rotating off, including Vance-Ocampo, who will become the PMA Board Chair in 2022-24. Ruling Elder James Parks of Baltimore will be the committee’s new chair.

Vance-Ocampo said the post was “such a joy and such an easy joy because these are some of the best pieces of work of the mission agency … this will always near and dear to my heart.”

Nurture the Body Committee

The Nurture the Body Committee recommended the approval of the 2020 Sam & Helen R. Walton Award recipients. The committee recommended that the PMA Board approve two new worshiping communities as award recipients. The organizations were selected and recommended by the Mission Development Resources Committee (MDRC) at its meeting in March. The groups will each receive awards of $50,000.

The selected new worshiping communities are The Sweaty Sheep Ministries, Santa Cruz, California, in  San Jose Presbytery, and the Matters to Mission-Charlotte Presbytery in North Carolina.

Ryan Althaus, leader of Sweaty Sheep, said in his application, “As we dive into a decade defined by a juxtaposition of social-disconnect and digital-overconnectivity, opportunities to experience the communal essence of authentic worship and Christian community can be few and far between.

“Our ‘Sweatiness’ alludes to a passion for participation that seeks to reverse that trend — a metaphorical and literal movement from passive to deliberative faith utilizing inclusive art and recreation as a common-unifier in the cultivation of a cohesive community.”

Ken Fuquay, leader of Matters to Mission, said, “M2M currently gathers in rented space, an iconic bar and concert venue in the city of Charlotte.  An eclectic group of travelers gather for community and outreach; ‘boomers’ and ‘Millennials,’ interfaith couples, recovering addicts and evangelicals, traditionalists and progressives, affluent and homeless.”

Both ministries intend to use the funding for site acquisition. It is not known at this point how the coronavirus outbreak will impact the goals of these groups.

The committee also voted to recommend Board approval on modifications to the Mission Program Grants Policies.

The approved recommendation will require that prior to applying for an investment grant, new worshiping community leaders be required to participate in training opportunities offered at no cost by the 1001 New Worshiping Communities staff. The trainings would include in-person accelerator training, planned to be offered twice annually; online accelerator training, which is in development and will be ready to launch this summer in both English and Spanish; and participation in the apprenticeship or residency program, which is application-based and includes 9-12 months of weekly cohort training via Zoom.

Another committee recommendation to the PMAB for approval concerns an overture regarding worship resources for ministering to veterans. The committee said the Office of Theology & Worship is eager to undertake this project in consultation and collaboration with the partners identified in the overture, as well as theological scholars, pastoral leaders and intercultural constituencies.

The work proposed would fill a gap in currently available resources and would respond to a critical need among those experiencing the effects of trauma and moral injury. If it sees wide distribution, the resulting resource could be of great use and benefit in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and beyond, committee members said.

Mid Councils Committee

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director, gave insight into why she wanted to make $300,000 available to fund Matthew 25 Continuity of Ministry Grants to help congregations placed in a precarious position by COVID-19. 

Moffett said she was particularly concerned about congregations that normally do great work to serve marginalized communities but might not have large budgets or ready access to technology to overcome challenges resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.  

The crisis is “impacting so many congregations,” she said. For example, some “weren’t able to pay the pastor because they missed a couple of Sundays or just emergency things. I wanted to make sure that we were there for them as they have been for so many in their community.” 

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is administering the Matthew 25 grants to churches and mid councils, which are up to $7,500. Some funds already have been dispersed and “we’ll use them until we run out,” Moffett said.  

The goal is to make it possible for recipients to “continue to move forward and do the work that is so necessary during this time,” she said. 

PDA Director the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus provided an update on that ministry’s COVID-19 grants, which were made possible by pulling more than $2 million out of reserves. The money is being distributed both nationally and internationally.  

“With Diane’s $300,000, we are programming $3 million for COVID response right now,” keeping in mind the needs of “historically dispossessed and disadvantaged communities,” Kraus said. 

“We have received 200 grant requests from presbyteries for a variety of programs, ranging from food security, food banks, outreach, sanitation, hygiene — all those kinds of things about how congregations can show up for their neighbors in the middle of this COVID emergency,” she said. 

The Rev. Tricia Dykers Koenig provided an update from Mid Council Ministries, noting that this period of crisis also has been “a time of fantastic Presbyterian connectionalism,” with mid council leaders “stepping up to help their congregations and pastors to get through this time.” 

In a recent survey, “Ninety percent of those who were responding on behalf of congregations have said that they felt supported by their mid council leader,” she noted. “I think that’s pretty impressive.” 

In other matters, committee Chair-Elect Judith Wellington raised concern about an issue involving the sale of Santa Fe property, formerly part of the Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center in New Mexico. Wellington would like to see some proceeds redirected to support ministry among the indigenous people of the Southwest, where key leaders need better access to communication technology. 

After a short discussion in which some members expressed support for Wellington’s position, Chairman the Rev. Warren Lesane Jr. said he would explore the matter further and collaborate with her to put together a statement on the matter from the committee. “This is something compelling,” he said. 

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