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The PC(USA)’s Unification Commission appoints a task force to help it prepare for the upcoming General Assembly

Working with staff, the three-member group will help commissioners with standing rules and procedures in the lead-up to GA226 in Salt Lake City

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Meeting Saturday via Zoom, the Unification Commission voted to approve the formation a small task force to work with staff to review its charter “and all polity, process and procedural issues” related to the commission’s upcoming report to the 226th General Assembly next year and make recommendations to the Unification Commission at its next meeting, set for Jan. 18-20, 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Commissioners the Rev. Scott Lumsden, the Rev. Dr. Dave Davis and Carson Brown volunteered for the task force, which will be bolstered by help from commission co-chairs Cristi Scott Ligon and the Rev. Dr. Felipe N. Martínez.

The motion came from the commission’s Finance Work Group, which said in a rationale explaining its motion there are “a number of ideas floating around about what powers the Commission has and what it can and can’t do at this next General Assembly meeting,” set for June 25-July 4, 2024. “It is critical that the Commission fully review all of the polity and standing rules relating to the work of the General Assembly commissions and its unique charge so that we can be prepared to address any polity and procedure questions about our work thus far.”

“This is particularly important to the Finance Work Group in relation to the approval of the budget,” the rationale states, “but it may touch on other areas of our work or potential recommendations. It’s best to do this work now before we get to ‘writing’ mode,” a reference to the report the commission will submit to the 226th General Assembly about its work to date and the work it plans to accomplish leading up to the date the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly are to be unified: July 1, 2025.

“It will be helpful to identify what needs to be in the report and what doesn’t,” Lumsden said. “There’s nothing worse than being told you’ve missed something” on the day the report is being presented to commissioners and advisory delegates at the assembly.

In addition to a 45-minute closed session to discuss personnel and property matters — during which commissioners took no action — commissioners heard reports from the commission’s three work groups.

Meeting weekly, the Finance Work Group has been working with executives from the PMA, OGA and Administrative Services group on producing a 2025 unified budget, a job the work group has now decided to step back from. It named four “unifying priorities,” including completing an information technology roadmap, unifying communications ministries, providing mid council support in their support of congregations, and developing leaders in all levels of the church, especially among young people and members of the BIPOC community. The work group also named two other unifying priorities: ASG’s intention to maintain services across “all their lines of business” and PMA’s commitment to restorative ministries.

José Rosa-Rivera presented the report of the Governance Work Group. The group continues its work developing roles for the new agency in three areas:

  • Strategic-analytic, supporting the denomination through leadership development, development and support of mid council and congregational relations, and the General Assembly
  • External-ambassadorial, or “how the PC(USA) shows up in the world.” This includes ecumenical, interfaith and international partnerships, along with justice and advocacy programs.
  • Visioning-fiduciary, including board support and operational coordination; strategic planning, vision and evaluation; and communication.

Next steps include determining the role of executive leadership under unification, including the role of the Stated Clerk, who’s set to be approved by commissioners elected to serve at the upcoming General Assembly. Another next step is to determine whether, once unification is achieved, the governing body will be a board, commission, council or committee.

Reporting on behalf of the Consultations Work Group, the Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper said only two more consultations remain. Cooper thanked the president of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, Kathy Lueckert, for organizing the consultations and “being the scribe.” The work group is also turning its attention to looking at consulting firms that can help the commission with its work. A list of possible firms to contact should be ready by the commission January meeting, Cooper said.

Other reports

On behalf Acting Stated Clerk the Rev. Bronwen Boswell and Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, deputy executive director in the PMA, who are shepherding the unification of communications teams in the OGA and PMA, Lueckert described a three-stage process: reflect and review, revise and re-envision, and rebuild a new ministry.

Communicators were selected to be the first teams to be unified, a process slated for completion by April 2024. Two task forces have been named to guide the first and second steps of the work. Their work involves articulating “a preferred future including vision, mission and organizational culture for communications ministry” as well as testing it with stakeholders.

“I think you can look for a significant new look in how we do communications at the national level later this spring,” Lueckert said.

The Rev. Kathleen Henrion, pastor of Glendale Presbyterian Church in Glendale, Missouri, is providing communications support for the Unification Commission. Her strategy includes furthering “collective understanding within the greater PC(USA) about the transformative possibilities of unification and the future it affords the denomination for thriving ministry and service, utilizing the gifts and resources of our partners.”

Her work will include providing “routine communications” to stakeholders including mid council leaders, sharing information from meetings “as relevant to their ministries.” She’ll also consult with Ligon and Martínez “as they create relational/pastoral communications from the commission. This communication follows up on interactions and experiences in meetings.”

Davis pointed out that even though it’s getting close to Christmas, all 12 commissioners were present for Saturday’s meeting. “That shows a level of commitment I think we ought to take note of,” Davis said.

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