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The PC(USA)’s Unification Commission hears from the two people who will be most responsible for PMA and OGA unity

Day one of a three-day conversation includes a look back at the groundwork laid by previous committees and commissions

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by James Lee via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — On Thursday during the first day of what will be a three-day session in the conference center at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky, the Unification Commission heard from the two people who will be most responsible for what a unified Office of the General Assembly and Presbyterian Mission Agency will be: the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, and the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett.

“We are on a trajectory to becoming better than we are,” said Nelson, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “It’s not going to be easy. Internal struggles will come. That’s the challenge when we get ready to do some household cleaning, and that’s where we are now.”

“Thanks for saying ‘yes’ to what I believe is a divine assignment. It’s large and challenging, but I believe we serve a God who is large,” Moffett, president and executive director of the PMA, told the 12-member commission meeting in person for the first time. “I am doing all I can to prepare the PMA to live into our stated values in preparation for unification, and I encourage PMA employees to think about the whole church and its well-being. I’m praying that our ministry will grow and it will be better because we’re together and unified. Jesus is large and in charge, and I’m glad.”

Also joining commissioners for their three days of meetings are the co-moderators of another special committee, the Funding Model Development Team: the Rev. Dr. Michael Wilson, stated clerk for both the Presbytery of Donegal and Synod of the Trinity, and the Rev. Erica Rader, stated clerk for the Presbytery of San Jose.

At mid-afternoon, commission members took more than an hour to meet privately with OGA and PMA staff to listen to their concerns and their ideas. In order to accommodate deployed staff, commissioners plan to hold another private session with staff via Zoom on Friday.

‘There’s no excuse except the ones we give ourselves’

“It’s time to recalibrate, to come together and recognize the work before us is not PMA or OGA. We are one body in Christ,” Nelson told the commission. “We have everything we need, and there’s no excuse except the ones we give ourselves.”

Commissioners learned about the function and structures of both the OGA and the PMA. Kerry Rice, the deputy stated clerk in the OGA, identified OGA’s three ministry areas: Mid Council Ministries, which has 16 employees; the Office of the Stated Clerk, with its 15 employees; and the Presbyterian Historical Society, which has 23 employees.

Moffett and Sara Lisherness, the PMA’s Deputy Executive Director for Mission Program, took commissioners through the work of the PMA, which has about 225 employees. “I think the fundamental question is, who is God calling the church to be?” Lisherness said.

“A question we are dealing with is, what is core and essential?” Moffett said. That question needs to be answered not only for national staff working for the OGA and PMA, but for “pastors and other leaders, those people on the ground doing the heavy lifting,” she said. “How can we create something that’s life-giving? That’s a tough question to talk about, but we’re looking at tackling that and studying it in the PMA.”

For Nelson, another important question is, “How do we get the greatest core work done as fast as we can?”

“We lose members and opportunities, and the world continues to turn while we think about it,” he said. “We have a great opportunity to begin a new process and at the same time to rethink ministry. … I do think we need an overhaul. We need to figure out how to recalibrate.”

Kathy Lueckert, president of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, which is not being considered in the unification discussion, said it’s nonetheless a temptation “to wait until you finish your work to undertake major projects. There are some major things that need to move forward, particularly in the area of technology.” More on the possible timeline for unification is scheduled for Saturday’s discussion.

The Unification Commission met in person for the first time Thursday. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Looking ahead by looking back

After dinner, commissioners took input from four of their members who served on previous committees and commissions: the Rev. Debra Avery of the Moving Forward Implementation Committee (earlier a commission), the Rev. Scott Lumsden and Ruling Elder José Rosa-Rivera of the Per Capita and Financial Sustainability Special Committee, and the Rev. Dave Davis, a member of the All-Agency Review Committee.

“The recommendations of all these working groups were very strong, and I say without judgement that the system was unable to adjust itself,” Davis said. Committee recommendations “became stronger and stronger until this most recent Assembly, which approved this commission.”

Lumsden said that for OGA, “I think it is about the money running out. The way we’re currently structured, OGA is not going to be able to do what it’s doing now in three years. That to me is one of the advantages to do the exercise of saying, ‘we are all in this together.’”

Commissioners went into closed session shortly before 8 p.m. Eastern Time to do discuss personnel matters.

The Unification Commission begins its Friday meeting at 9 a.m. Eastern Time. Watch the proceedings here. Find the agenda and other meeting papers here.

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