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Setting the table

Coordinating Table uses its organizing meeting to decide how three PC(USA) entities can best pull together

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Coordinating Table, established just before General Assembly by the then-Moving Forward Implementation Commission (now a special committee), held its initial meeting Monday to learn what’s expected of its work and how that work can best be accomplished.

The two-hour Zoom meeting, which included representatives of the Presbyterian Church, A Corporation Board of Directors; the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly; and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board as well as senior staff from the three bodies, produced more light on expectations than on how to move forward.

The Coordinating Table’s purpose is straightforward: it includes discerning, collaborating on and coordinating responses to General Assembly actions and mandates; providing ongoing and emerging vision; and, most significantly, crafting a process for developing a unified budget for the three entities — and then completing that budget proposal in time for the next General Assembly.

Its first task will be to develop a memorandum of understanding among the three entities, with a target deadline of Dec. 31. Next, it’ll decide on that process for developing the unified budget, a process that will include these values: mutual focus, efficiencies, a movement toward a shared vision and the sharing of resources so that the financial needs of all three entities can be met. The proposed deadline to determine this process will be spring 2021, in time for the spring meetings of the boards of all three entities.

Finally, the Coordinating Table will implement a proposed unified budget for 2023-24, which will be considered by the 225th General Assembly in 2022. That process will begin during the summer of 2021 and should be completed by February 2022 in time for the 120-day deadline of the General Assembly.

“This is a day we have been waiting for for quite a while,” said the Rev. Debra Avery, a member of the Moving Forward Implementation Special Committee. “We are excited for the potential and promise of this team.”

Unity, she said, is “way more than coming to agreement about managing funds and the process that’s used. It’s about entering into that new openness the Book of Order calls us to have, about identifying a shared vision and shared purpose and the practices needed to lead the Church in that vision.”

Don’t focus on the numbers exclusively, suggested Mathew Eardley, another member of the special committee. “Focus on the process for getting to the numbers, for allocating the resources that meet the needs of today and a process that looks toward the future.”

Just how to accomplish the Coordinating Table’s mandate proved difficult to discern in just one two-hour Zoom meeting. Both COGA and the Presbyterian Mission Agency are in the early stages of visioning processes. In addition, as Chris Mason, co-chair of the A Corp Board pointed out, the three entities already managed to work together to present a unified budget to the 224th General Assembly, which met via Zoom in June. “That represents a good starting point,” Mason said. “It seems to have worked pretty well.”

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, said a “level of forbearance” will be important as the Coordinating Table begins its work.

“I am actually excited” about the work ahead, Nelson said, “but it will require a deep sense of faith for the multiple visions we have for the life of the Church. I don’t know who put together the passage for today (1 Cor. 12:12-25, Paul’s discussion of a body consisting of not one member, but of many), but I think it’s impactful. We are in a place where the Body of Christ was dealing with the same type of situation (as is present today). There was a calling to center on what really matters. That’s how we pull people in, in work and worship.”

“What we are going into is a place we haven’t been before,” Nelson said. “When we fall, we have to get up together. When we do a great job … we will have to receive the applause and then say, ‘Let’s move on.’”

How do we, Nelson wondered, innovate and reform the Church at the same time? The Church “is not (now) as viable as what we are yet to see. There are going to be a lot of tweaks, but I also believe this text reminds us where our centering is and how we form community in all this … No one is better than another. We work together for the same God, the same purpose — to lift up the name of Jesus Christ throughout all the world. There will be surprises and work that’s not listed on any of the papers (handed over to the Coordinating Table), but we’ve got to get it done.”

Representing COGA, the Rev. Eliana Maxim said that one requirement of a body that’s singular is intentionality. “How do we move from the aspirational level of operating to a concrete, data-coordinated collaboration?” Maxim said. “How are other vision projects being worked on to be folded into the work of this Coordinating Table?”

There may well be “some crossover” in those two visioning endeavors, said the Rev. Warren Lesane Jr., who chairs the PMA Board. “COGA and PMA each need to finish their processes,” he said. “What happens after that? How do we bring it together with the kind of leadership that will help us do something that represents what the church needs to move into?”

That effort might include asking people in the pews “about what they think,” Mason said, “not a top-down path we want to follow.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director, said the PMA’s consulting process involves mid council leaders, pastors, youth and colleges and universities, but “that doesn’t necessarily get to everybody.” Using the Matthew 25 invitation as a vision, “we are trying to go through discernment through listening,” she said. The eventual outcome, she said, will be a Presbyterian Mission Agency “that’s flexible and nimble and ready for the 21st century.”

“It’s kind of overwhelming and messy,” she said. “We are already seeing we might need more time.”

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the PMA Board’s chair-elect, said she wonders if the “marching order” from the Moving Forward Implementation Commission applies to the PMA, to the denomination, or to the Coordinating Table itself. “I’m curious how we fold the processes together and coordinate the good visioning already happening in the OGA and the PMA … It seems we have a big job in front of us with some tight deadlines.”

“This work will require a lot of intentionality,” said Kathy Lueckert, president of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation. “In our original plotting out of this first meeting, we were going to dive right into that — how often do we meet and what happens in between meetings. We thought we needed this broader conversation first so we can gain some clarity about what we are to be about.”

The Coordinating Table was to have met again in mid-December but decided to delay its second meeting. A new meeting date will be announced.

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