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Presbyterian Mission Agency Board to reconsider its A Corp comments

Last-minute motion offers revised document for debate tomorrow

by Rick Jones and Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

PMA Board members vote to approve their comments on the joint AARC/WFC A Corp recommendation to General Assembly 223. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

CINCINNATI — Thursday morning’s plenary of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) meeting here focused much of its attention on a series of comments issued by the PMAB to General Assembly 223 in response to the joint recommendation of the Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee on the PC(USA) A Corp.

Under scrutiny is the form and leadership of the A Corp, the legal entity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and its function as what has been variously called a service provider or utility of the denomination’s Louisville-based agencies. As written, the comments document says the joint recommendations “fall short” of the General Assembly 222 mandate to “study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly agencies of the PC(USA).”

A late morning vote to submit the board’s comments to the General Assembly was cut short in the afternoon plenary when board member Marci Glass made a motion to reconsider submission of the report. Although she had voted in favor of the comments, she said a group of board members “have a number of questions” regarding the mood expressed in the report.

“Much of what we approved as questions had a tone of judgment, perceived by some as unhelpful,” she said. “There are things in recommendation one that are beyond the scope of what we considered… We want to keep our questions in the document [but] not list our opposition with separating the PMA board and the A Corp.”

The board voted 17-10 to reconsider revised comments to General Assembly tomorrow morning. Board chair Ken Godshall asked that board members receive the revised comments document tonight for study.

Worship and Plenary

The second day of the board’s meeting began with a devotion from Nancy Kahaian, General Presbyter of Cincinnati Presbytery, who brought greetings to the group.

“To change the world, we must change the church,” she said. “God can give us power to forgive one another, reconcile damaged trust with congregations in our 1.5 million-member denomination. What would we be without congregations? If we decide to work for the things that bring peace, then it will mean a change in the way we live our personal lives.”

“We desire to be free to focus on missional realities, we’re not sure that those can be ultimately separated. We are also clear that we do not seek to maintain the status quo,” said board member Chad Herring. “We have been clear that we are open to conversation about the makeup of the A Corp board. We were concerned that some of the conversations did not bear the fruit we had hoped. We also recognize that PMA does not need to be the one overseeing all of shared service responsibilities.”

Moving into the description of the comments on and potential counter-proposal for the deliverance – the defining legal documentation – of the A Corp, the board not only leveled objections to the joint recommendation but also raised concerns regarding the process and the perceived lack of due diligence in the formation of the recommendation.

Members of the Way Forward Commission, All Agency Review Committee and Committee on the General Assembly listen as the PMA Board debates its comments on the joint A Corp recommendation. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

“We believe Way Forward focused on technical change, but we believe more needs to be done with adapted change,” said board chair-elect Joe Morrow. “My concern is that technical changes, as currently structured, will unintentionally move us toward a more corporate structure with a lack of churchwide perspective.”

Conrad Rocha outlined the comments document to those present, saying questions remain over the level of control the A Corp will have over the PMA and how it will be funded.

“This needs to be addressed before we put this model into effect,” he said. “We believe the commission’s recommendations will make it harder because it adds an additional layer to our ability to do the things we believe need to be done.”

Another concern, according to Rocha, is what the Governance Task Force believes is a lack of due diligence and an incomplete understanding of the timeline for implementation.

“To implement this kind of change, there needs to be serious due diligence so we don’t have unintended consequences from the work that is being envisioned. We believe details do matter and we need some of that detail,” he said. “The other issue is timing. We’re not sure rushing into implementation of a particular model is in the best interest of the church.”

Rocha said the task force is not convinced that the proposal resolves conflicts that exist between agencies, specifically PMA and OGA.

“We recognize that as a board, we have erred in many respects and we have not been as collaborative as we could have and should have been with our siblings in OGA,” he said. “But we don’t see how this new model improves that. We think it exacerbates that issue rather than resolving it.”

Heath Rada, Moderator of General Assembly 222, speaks to the PMA Board comments to the General Assembly. (Photo by Gregg Brekk)

Board member Shannan Vance Ocampo said she’s concerned about the details of the proposal, comments and alternatives that will go to the General Assembly in St. Louis this summer.

“I’m not prepared to vote for this and send this to GA with its current setting,” she said. “I believe it will be detrimental. We need someone from the outside to help us figure this out.”

Board member Beverly Brewster claimed she was personally berated by a member of the Way Forward Commission and questioned the ability to move forward with the joint recommendation given the contentious nature of the discussion.

“The level of disrespect was so inappropriate that until we have a sense that this body is trusted and respected, the assurances are empty,” she said. “I don’t believe that trust would be well founded when I hear directly of complete lack of trust and respect for this group.”

Heath Rada, Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly, said he still receives calls from church members who feel the board has failed to do what it was supposed to do.

“People I know in the church who care have given up, saying they ‘don’t give a hoot’ what happens in the national church, adding it’s the local church that matters,” he said. “Folks say things have got to be different. It’s got to change. There is anger and distrust by the church. The unity we call for is critical and we, as a body, have to recognize that the system has failed.”

J. Herbert Nelson, II addresses the PMA Board prior to its vote on comments on a joint A Corp proposal to General Assembly 223. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II told the board he’s made 120 trips to churches, congregations and ecumenical groups over the past 18 months and found churches working in effective ministry and hopeful about the future.

“However, I’m deeply concerned about conversations we are holding, and I believe we are heavily disconnected from the church as we know it, the one struggling to do the best it can every day, with one telephone and one pastor serving three congregations,” he said. “Congregations have been forgotten in Smalltown U.S.A., but are still trudging along doing mission work, seeing hope in what they do, but doing it without the power and strength of what has been a significant support system.”

Nelson said the core of the board’s conversation is the fundamental issue of sharing power. He said that if the church isn’t willing to share the power, he’s convinced it would be “a farce to go to St. Louis” with the various proposals in contention.

“Is there going to be a redirection of the denomination and a willingness for some to give up power for others to have it and build a community at a common table and share in the communion of what God has prepared?” he asked. “We have to give up something in order to gain something because our lives don’t belong to us. Is it really about Jesus or is it something else?”

The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted following Nelson’s appeal, approving its amended comments – with only one verbal ‘no’ vote – to the Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee’s recommendation on A Corp. As noted above, a revised document is being submitted to board members for review tonight, which will be debated and considered during Friday morning’s plenary session.

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