The PC(USA)’s Unification Commission takes in reports, including efforts to join communications ministries

Other updates include the consultant search, finance and governance

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Markus Spiske via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — During the first of two days of in-person meetings Thursday, the Unification Commission heard an update from Acting Stated Clerk the Rev. Bronwen Boswell on how a pilot program unifying communications ministries in the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency is proceeding.

Boswell and Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, the PMA’s Deputy Executive Director for Vision and Innovation, are leading the three-stage process: Reflect and Review through Feb. 5, Revise and Re-Envision through March 15 and Rebuilding a New Ministry through April 15.

The two have been meeting individually with the 30 or so employees in both ministry areas. “Most of the team says they are excited to work together and to have more skills and talents available,” Boswell said. “We have heard about turf wars and other things that happened in the past. One said, ‘We have heard those stories, but most of us haven’t experienced those stories.’”

Boswell and Schlosser-Hall are considering writing those stories down, placing them in a book and then literally closing the book on them. “It’s time for this to close,” she said, “and a new chapter written.”

The Rev. Bronwen Boswell

The two hope to name a new director or an interim director by April. “I think I speak for Corey when I say, we are feeling positive about this whole process,” Boswell said. “I think there is still some fear of change and fear of the unknown, but we’re all going into the unknown together.”

Kathy Lueckert, the president of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, said she’s part of the team developing a new denominational website, which is planned for a rollout before the 226th General Assembly begins on June 25. “I have been encouraged and hopeful around the spirit of cooperation around the project,” she said.

The Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper, a member of the commission, said she feared from the start of the commission’s work “that all the dead horses would be brought into the room, and we would beat on them one more time.” But “people are being heard, and then we move forward … there’s an invitation here for learning. It’s listening and giving space, and then it’s time to move forward.”

Analyzing two cultures

Commissioners want to bring on a consultant to “help the Commission understand the existing cultures of the two agencies that will be unified, make recommendations to address the cultural issues that may hinder unification and establish expectations for a new culture for the merged agencies,” according to a report from the Consultations Workgroup.

The commission has set the summer 2025 as the goal for unification and plans for the consultant’s cultural analysis to take place this year.

Cooper said four consultants are being considered for conversations. “We know we have a short turnaround,” she said.

Finance Workgroup

Commissioner the Rev. Scott Lumsden calls learning about denominational finances “a very important part of unifying and streamlining the financial structures that undergird all the areas of mission and ministry we’re working on as a commission.”

The Rev. Scott Lumsden

In its report, the Finance Workgroup said it’s also important “that we know not just the financial implications of unification, but the programmatic aspects as well.” The workgroup is learning all it can about the mission and ministry of the OGA, PMA and Administrative Services Group “as we also report on their finances, so that we can all get a better idea how changes to financial operations might impact their collective work.”

The Rev. Dr. David Davis, a fellow member of the Finance Workgroup, said the complexity of such categories as what are restricted and unrestricted funds “comes together to make a unified budget transformation really, really challenging” and predicted it will take two or three years “to transform the budget and the budget process” into one that’s completely unified.

“We as a workgroup want to acknowledge the complexity without judgment of those who have been involved,” Davis said.

Governance Workgroup

The Rev. Debra Avery said the workgroup’s efforts have been centered on three conversations: a new agency structure, a new governing body structure and new agency and governing body leadership.

The Rev. Debra Avery

According to its report, under the new agency structure, the workgroup envisions four roles “that will help us begin to organize and create a map” that will “guide us in the formation of the new agency.”

Those roles include:

  • Internal strategies, focused on support for mid councils and congregations and engagements between agencies and entities of the PC(USA).
  • External strategies, “centered on how the PC(USA) shows up in the wider world.”
  • Visioning and strategic planning.
  • Operations.

Work on the new governing body structure has included this working purpose statement: “NewGov (the term for the new governing body structure) sets the vision for the NewAg (the new agency), providing the resources and wisdom to assess emerging needs, develop program priorities, evaluate agency effectiveness, and serve as a bridge between General Assembly directives and the NewAg.”

Roles for the NewAg will include:

  • Visioning/discernment
  • Strategic/analytic
  • Fiduciary/operational
  • Structural/technical
  • External/ambassadorial

As the structure begins to take shape, “we will move toward determining what kind of leadership is needed, both through the time of transition and as the NewGov and NewAg are fully implemented,” the workgroup’s report states. “Determining executive leadership requirements, NewGov composition and NewAg staffing needs will flow from this work.”

Next steps will include determining the roles for leadership of the new governing body structure and the new agency, including the role of the Stated Clerk, and determining whether the new governing body structure will be a board, commission, council or committee.

For most of its Thursday meeting, the Unification Commission met in closed session as a committee of the whole. The commission has set aside time Friday morning in open session to announce possible action items.

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