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The PC(USA)’s Unification Commission discusses what it’s learned through its extensive consultations

Commissioners also hear preliminary thoughts on what must be done before the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Office of the General Assembly are unified on July 1, 2025

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Nicole Baster via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — The Unification Commission had two main items for discussion during its Sunday meeting: what commissioners have learned after 17 consultations with various groups, boards and committees; and preliminary talks about what needs to happen ahead of the unification of the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency on July 1, 2025.

Another part of Sunday’s online discussion involved the in-person meeting commissioners have scheduled for Oct. 10-14 in St. Louis, part of the Polity, Benefits and Mission Conference. More on what commissioners plan for those meetings can be found here.


Commissioner the Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper thanked Dr. Susan Barnett, director of Research Services, for her report on the listening sessions the Consultations Work Group has been holding beginning in April.

Barnett wrote that each listening session was conducted with “a siloed group.” Groups shared the value of their silo, what they want for their silo in the new organization and “how important, expanded, prominent their silo should be in the new agency.”

“As each siloed staff left the consultation, they went back to their agency,” Barnett wrote. “They had not yet begun the process of unification. The question is when does it begin? Naming the new agency is one way to begin unification. It will assist in pointing staff toward the same goal.”

Themes on categories including structure, culture and finances emerged from the consultations, Barnett wrote, noting other common themes included polity, the basics and governance.

In the structure category, the themes Barnett noted include crafting a unified agency that’s flexible yet strategic, creating thematic work groups, eliminating redundancies and ministries and programs that are no longer relevant, dispensing with functions that do not support the new agency’s purpose, creating clearly identifiable work groups that are easy to navigate for those in and outside of the agency, and determining the balance of domestic and international work.

In the culture category, Barnett reported themes of coming up with an agency that’s diverse and vibrant; not maintaining the status quo; supporting people of color; increasing communication among staff, between agencies and aligned entities; promoting purposeful and bidirectional communication; supporting staff because some are fearful of this change; and accepting that some staff will not be retained.

The finances category included creating savings for congregations rather than increasing their costs, being efficient and reducing duplication, planning for funding that’s adequate to accomplish the new agency’s goals and the goals of the General Assembly, and offering competitive salaries to attract skilled staff and retain qualified staff.

Throughout the consultations, Cooper said people have said they’re grateful they’re being heard, that their input matters, and that the information “is being transmitted to this group.”

“I believe people are deeply appreciative we didn’t go off on our own and do this without talking to people about their hopes and concerns and their dreams,” Cooper said.

‘Backwards’ planning for the unification deadline

Building on work done by Human Resources Director Ruth Gardner and others, Kathy Lueckert, president of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, talked about “a number of behind-the-scenes system and process changes that must be undertaken to be ready” for July 1, 2025. “This is the first reading,” Lueckert noted, “and more discussion will be docketed for the Commission’s October meeting.”

Implementing a financial structure to reflect unification is expected to take 4-6 months. According to commission documents that can be viewed here, before creating a unified budget and establishing the mechanisms to oversee it, “a high-level organizational structure that aligns with identified ministry priorities should be established. A comprehensive understanding of the foundational ministries that will support the new structure should also be in place.”

The formation of a new fiscal year “should align with the commencement of the unified organization,” the document states.

The document presents a proposed timeline for determining how “Program X,” a body of work currently being done in both OGA and PMA, can be unified. A decision-making phase can take 3-6 months, with another 6-12 months to implement the unified body.

Among the decisions commissioners must make, according to the document:

  • Clarifying the extent and meaning of unification on July 1, 2025. “The high-level timeline assumes that July 1, 2025, is the date of a unified budget, a unified agency at least at the director level, and an interim governance structure to shepherd more specific unification activities” between July 2025 and the 227th General Assembly beginning in June 2026.
  • What is the appropriate level of structural decisions for the Commission? What can the Commission reasonably decide? Perhaps, the document suggests, “a reasonable level of decision is the executive level and then the director level and let the executive/directors implement the more detailed programmatic and staff decisions.” Lueckert said this question “can get really complicated really quickly.”
  • What type of consultants might be needed? What about the idea of a “Unification Director,” described as a project manager to help spearhead the work related to the Commission’s mandate.

Commissioners entered into closed session 70 minutes into their meeting to discuss personnel and property matters. Lueckert said they reconvened in regular session 50 minutes later and announced that no action had been taken. Commission Co-Moderator Cristi Scott Ligon drew the two-hour meeting to a close with prayer.

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