Tasked with a gargantuan mandate, the PC(USA)’s Unification Commission chooses teamwork

Commissioners create four teams to help them through the big job of unifying the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Sierra Koder via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — It took commissioners all day Friday, but by the end of the second day of Unification Commission meetings, the 12-member group had spread the considerable work it must complete over four teams: Governance, Financials, Common Mission and Consultations. Two or three commissioners volunteered themselves for each of the four teams.

All that’s now left of their agenda is a closing three-hour session scheduled for Saturday morning at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Watch those proceedings beginning at 9 o’clock Eastern Time here.

“We understand it’s time for some transformative change. That’s not in question,” the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), told commissioners near the end of their time together on Friday. Their challenge will be “to sit down together and take in everything we have heard and figure out what that means, and I don’t think we’re there yet.”

After Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation President Kathy Lueckert took commissioners through a lengthy list of consultations they’re encouraged to make (the Friday presentations can be found here, with proposed consultations accessed by clicking the “Unification Commission Consultations” button), the commission was ready to adopt the divide-and-conquer strategy suggested by its co-moderators, the Rev. Dr. Felipe Martínez and Cristi Scott Ligon.

“It feels like the work we’re doing is foundational,” said Commissioner Francis Lin. “Sometimes the foundational work takes the longest.”

Cabbage and fruit

Commissioners spent the morning learning about both the dollars and cents of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and what might be considered low-hanging fruit in the pursuit of their mandate of unifying the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

The low-hanging fruit was served up by Kerry Rice, Deputy Stated Clerk in the OGA, and Barry Creech, Deputy Executive Director for Administration in the PMA. Because the commission’s mandate is to unify PMA and OGA, commissioners were eager Friday to learn about collaborative efforts already underway. Those efforts are listed here. Click on “OGA and PMA Collaboration/Previous and Current.”

Among them is the Coordinating Table, a dozen people including senior management from OGA, PMA and the Administrative Services Group who meet every two weeks and go on retreats every three months. “We are trying to make that group a force for change,” Rice said. “We are hopeful we can be a partner with you about how we can make all of this happen.”

“It’s time we are investing in relationships. It’s an experiment,” said Creech of the group that first convened in January. “It’s practically unification happening right before our eyes.”

Together with Controller Denise Hampton, Ian Hall, the A Corp’s Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, explained denominational finances in terms so clear that commissioners praised their presentation afterward. Look for their presentation here under “PCUSA Financial History.”

“I am a fan of trying to make it as simple as possible,” Hall said. While denominational finances can indeed look complicated, “the biggest complication is the restrictions on how we can use funds,” Hall said. Indeed, the PMA’s budget for 2023 projects that 71% of the funds will be restricted, with 29% unrestricted.

The OGA is using per capita reserves to balance its budget — about $1.3 million in 2023 and about $2.2 million in 2024, Hall said. The OGA has $4.8 million in per capita reserves. “This shines a light on the fact that this is not long-term sustainable,” Hall said.

With a budget about four times as large as the OGA’s, PMA has about $14 million in unrestricted reserves, Hampton said.

A second listening session

As they did Thursday, commissioners made themselves available via Zoom to OGA and PMA staff members who wanted to share ideas and concerns with the Unification Commission. That listening session was held during the first of two closed sessions on Friday.

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