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The PC(USA)’s Unification Commission is hard at work, but looming deadlines will require coordinated and prodigious effort

Gathering online Saturday, commissioners updated one another on the progress of two of their work groups

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Pixabay

LOUISVILLE — Meeting Saturday for the sixth time, the 12-member Commission on the Unification of the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency — the Unification Commission for short — learned during an online gathering the timeline for the work ahead and shared some of the progress made by a pair of the commission’s four work groups.

The commission has five more online meetings scheduled this year and two in-person meetings: June 22-25 at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky, and Oct. 11-14, when commissioners will consult with mid council leaders in St. Louis.

As Commission Co-Chair the Rev. Dr. Felipe N. Martínez reported, staff responsible for developing a unified budget for the OGA and PMA for 2025-26 — which must be approved by the 226th General Assembly meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, next summer — will need guidance from the commission in the months to come in order to inform their work.

The Rev. Dr. Felipe N. Martínez

“Our goal,” Martínez said, “is to have narrative for a budget by November to offer staff guidance.” He said he and Commission Co-Chair Cristi Scott Ligon “wanted to put this on our radar to dive deeply during the June in-person meeting.”

“It will be helpful to know what your priorities are in November or early December,” said Kathy Lueckert, president of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation and one of three staff members to the commission. “It’s also important for the commission to hear from these consultations, especially the mid council consultation in October.”

“The Assembly and the Church will want some sense of the work you’ve done by that February deadline,” Lueckert said.

Barry Creech, another staff member to the commission who’s the PMA’s Deputy Executive Director for Administration, told commissioners that producing a proposed unified budget will require extra work among partners in both PMA and OGA. “We are trying to get a quicker start this year,” he said, including securing revenue projections for both 2025 and 2026 by June of this year. “We hope to get guidance from the commission by fall to give us six months or so to pull the numbers together” for the unified budget.

The 120-day deadline for General Assembly business is Feb. 26, 2024. The 60-day deadline for overtures with financial implications is April 26, 2024. The 45-day deadline for budgets and comments is May 11, 2024. General Assembly committees will meet online in June 2024, with the in-person plenary set for Salt Lake City the following month.

The Unification Commission will present an interim report to the 226th General Assembly and its final report to the 227th General Assembly in July 2026.

Of the commission’s four work groups — Consultations, Financial, Common Mission and Governance — only the first two had reports to share on Saturday. The latter two plan to meet later this month.

The Rev. Scott Lumsden

The Financial Work Group is meeting weekly to learn more about the denomination’s financial operations, according to the Rev. Scott Lumsden, adding that “understanding the big picture will take some time” because those operations are “broad, deep and complex.” Work Group members seek to understand restricted and unrestricted funds, realized and unrealized gains, the Presbyterian Foundation’s spending formula and how fundraising works across the PC(USA). Members are also in touch with the Funding Model Development Team, Lumsden said. The work group plans to make a presentation to the entire commission during the June in-person meeting.

The Consultations Work Group has met with several groups already, said the Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper, including the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, the A Corp Board and with mission co-workers. Meetings with the Presbyterian Foundation, the Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment and the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee are upcoming.

The Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper

“For the most part, we have received a great deal of information,” Cooper said. “We have received some guidance and we are aware that anxiety is there, and we are sensitive to that.”

Martínez said the A Corp Board told commissioners that “there was a lot of anxiety before it was formed, and they are a living expression of a brand-new structure brought into place.” Indeed, the Administrative Services Group “brings many gifts and wonderful ways of doing ministry. It’s a hands-on expression that in the midst of anxiety and the unknown, God provides.”

The Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly (2022), the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, said one of the most difficult realities facing the commission is “that there is so much good we’re doing” across both the OGA and the PMA. “One of the deepest discernments will be why this entity exists and who it is they are serving.”

The Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace

“We are in a place where we can’t do all things for all people,” she said. “That’s going to be the hard framing at the end of the day.”

As for a question on whether the commission has the authority to amend the Book of Order, Lueckert reminded commissioners that it’s part of their mandate to rewrite the Organization for Mission, which she called “the marching orders for how mission is done far more than the Book of Order.” She recommended focusing “your efforts on being creative for what a new Organization for Mission could be.”

Before commissioners voted to enter executive (closed) session to discuss personnel matters, Ligon announced that Ruling Elder Carson Brown, a member of the commission, has volunteered to send monthly messages to national staff in the PMA and OGA and to mid council leaders, updating them on the commission’s progress.

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