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Three of the PC(USA)’s top officials discuss the value and the challenge of developing a unified budget proposal

Three governing bodies are set to consider the historic proposal Tuesday during a joint meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — In just a few weeks, three PC(USA) entities with different areas of ministry focus had to develop a unified budget proposal for 2025 and 2026. “It is a real opportunity for us to reform, to make ourselves a stronger and possibly more vibrant denomination going forward,” said the Rev. Bronwen Boswell, Acting Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Last week, together with the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and Kathy Lueckert, president of the Administrative Services Group, Boswell met with Presbyterian News Service via Zoom to discuss the process used to develop the unified budget proposal, a requirement of the Unification Commission. They also discussed the benefits that the budget could produce and some of the anxieties expressed to them by national staff members who could lose their jobs or see them altered as part of the $5 million “reduction objective” included in the proposed budget.

Meeting together Tuesday in Salt Lake City, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the PMA Board will learn more about the unified budget proposal and then vote on its adoption. The A Corp Board will join the meeting via Zoom and also vote on the proposal, which then goes on to the Unification Commission, the group charged with unifying OGA and PMA. The Commission will present the proposal to the 226th General Assembly, which meets next month at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City. General Assembly commissioners have the final say over the adoption of the unified budget proposal.

“I agree with Bronwen while acknowledging this is a tough time, particularly for employees at the national level,” Moffett said. “We’re talking about people’s livelihoods” and the possibility some or even many employees will need to learn “new skills” as unification is completed by the Unification Commission’s target date — July 1, 2025.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett

“All the newness will create a share of anxiety. But there is an invitation to lean into something good,” Moffett said. “God is re-forming us as soft clay. What we are seeking to do is be that soft clay and do it in a way that honors the dignity and the work of what’s been done, but there are things we will have to let go of. Our approach has to be totally aligned with the relevant and felt needs of the people we serve.”

“I know folks are frustrated there are not more details, and I get that,” Lueckert said. “We had a very short timeframe to put this together. A lot of ideas came forward, and most of them required a lot more thought with less time pressure.”

“That’s why you see the reduction objectives in the budget,” Lueckert said. “It gives us time to consider the options we came up with in April, which may be different in the fall [when senior leaders from ASG, PMA and OGA will report to the Unification Commission their plans for meeting the reduction objective].”

“We also didn’t want to take any actions that would preclude the Unification Commission from doing its thing,” Lueckert said. “We’re trying not to get too far out ahead of them, and that has been a real tension with this process — not having clear signals from them. It gives us more time to be in dialogue with the Commission.”

Lueckert called the cooperation that’s required for producing a unified budget proposal “a real learning process for all of us. Budget by consensus is different. At different points, we wished there was one decider. It forced us to interact with each other in new and different ways.”

Vision and values

The proposed unified budget’s narrative portion includes both vision and values. The vision includes these words: “This budget equips the PC(USA) to be formed and re-formed as a covenant community of vibrant and growing disciples who embody a fresh expression of a Reformed witness to Christ’s love and justice in the world, present and responsive to the challenges of this time.”

The values are these: “Led by the Spirit, we will be …

  • Open to discerning and embracing new ways of embodying our work
  • Courageous, willing to risk failure as we pursue new possibilities
  • Centered in equity and justice
  • Trustworthy colleagues and partners in ministry

As we are sent outward in service to church and world.”

The proposal includes 35% of the budget being spent on operations, 15% on leadership development, 14% on life of the communion, 12% on reparative justice, 10% on support of mid councils, 9% on strategic partnerships, 2% on unifying, and 2% on additional work.

Revenue is expected to be about $94.2 million in 2025 and about $94.3 million in 2026. Expenditures are projected at $91.2 million for 2025 and $93.8 million in 2026. The $5 million allocated to the reduction objective allows the 2025-26 budget to be balanced.

“We still have work to do,” Moffett said. “A big piece has been learning to work together — how to listen, to move, what to say and when — that has taken a lot of time. … The ability to see things differently and holistically — that’s not what has been handed to us” as two-year budgets were crafted by the individual entities in the past. “That’s what’s beautiful about this budget: It’s the body working to steward the gifts God has given us.”

“The work and witness of Jesus Christ takes place in local settings across the globe,” Moffett said. “We have been trying to make sure it will ultimately strengthen the work and witness of the denomination, and we think we can do that together.”

Several directors in the PMA, OGA and ASG had been working on a unified budget “for a year or more, and that helped us when we joined the crew,” Boswell said. “There was this found piece that was already there. It also helped we were willing and committed to doing this.”

Kathy Lueckert

“A real benefit,” Lueckert said, “has been learning what each other does. PMA and OGA have learned a lot about each other’s work and where there are overlaps.” The process for developing the proposal “has opened up lines of dialogue that were difficult before,” she said. “We are on a path and we have moved down that path a little farther.”

“We now have insights,” she said, “into how our bodies of work can complement each other.”

Moffett said another lesson learned is how working on the budget together can help address the priorities of the Unification Commission, including both support of mid councils and leadership development, especially among young people and members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities.

“What we’ve learned is how these ministries intersect with one another, and how coming together can bless that intersectionality,” Moffett said. Lueckert said the Unification Commission “prodded us to look at those two ministries that are carried out in two different places more holistically.”

Surprise, surprise

Surprisingly, when the Unification Commission asked Boswell and Moffett to reveal their top budget priorities without first consulting one another, the lists they produced were remarkably similar.

“I think that was the Holy Spirit working to confirm” the joint process, Moffett said. “We are already thinking the same things. Let’s just see how this thing turns out.”

“We were pleasantly surprised we had overlap in that,” Boswell said.

“We think it’s extremely important to lead with vision and values,” Moffett said. “That’s what creates the buy-in. If we struck a chord, the vision will be compelling. It will help people say, ‘That’s the vision. What’s the provision?’”

“The numbers don’t mean anything,” Moffett said, “unless they’re attached to the dream or vision of what they’re trying to accomplish.”

“Everyone has different learning styles,” Boswell said, and for that reason the budget includes narration, color-coding, charts and numbers.

“I think it’s more flexible this way than it has been in the past,” Lueckert said. “The action the A Corp Board took to approve the reserve policy positions us well for the future. Going into unification, we have strong reserves.”

“God forbid we have another pandemic, but even now, we are in better position to weather that than we were back then,” Lueckert said. “I think [the proposed unified budget] is flexible in terms of how programs will roll out and flexible in having some financial stability that’s more accessible than it has been in the past. It’s a wonderful place to be.”

Financial staff in the Administrative Services Group “had to turn on a dime, and they really rose to the occasion and have produced a document that will provide that flexibility,” Lueckert said. “Things will be more streamlined in the future.”

The Rev. Bronwen Boswell

“They worked a lot of Saturdays and Sundays,” Boswell said. “People don’t understand all the work that’s been put into it.”

Part of the deep dive included further evaluation of the approximately 3,000 funds that have donor restrictions attached, Lueckert explained, calling the restricted gifts “funds given by faithful Presbyterians over the years.”

“That’s a big deal,” Moffett said. In the past, proceeds from restricted funds went mostly toward PMA programs. “We have to honor the donor’s intent, and when it’s specific, we can’t spend the money,” Moffett said. “There are a lot of little funds like that.” Some of those places and spaces no longer exist, Moffett noted.

The use of per capita funds has been “redistributed throughout the whole organization,” Boswell said. “We want to make sure folks understand that.”

Choices on how to allocate restricted funds and per capita dollars “were made years ago, and those choices were never re-evaluated,” Lueckert said. “That’s part of the shock to the system. Program areas have always assumed they would have those funds. This process has blown that up. Making choices is iterative and not set in stone.”

“We have broken the mold of how we have always done it,” Lueckert said. “We don’t know what the Unification Commission will do. The pain in this process has been breaking apart how we have always done things.”

Check back with to read about the actions taken by the three governing bodies during this week’s joint meeting.

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