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Unification Commission gets to the work of determining how and when the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Office of General Assembly will be one

The 12-member commission is empowered to act on behalf of the General Assembly

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The 12-member Commission to Unify the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency held its first meeting via Zoom on Saturday. Members — six of them pastors and the others ruling elders — discussed the scope of the task before them and some of the deadlines that will mark what could be a four-year journey together.

Members of what’s being called the Unification Commission — appointed last month by the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis and the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, the Co-Moderators of the 225th General Assembly, following GA action this past summer — spent more than an hour of their two-hour meeting in closed session. The agenda listed “team building” and “creating group norms” as items for discussion during the closed session. Commission Co-Chair the Rev. Dr. Felipe N. Martínez announced the commission had taken no action during its closed session.

“On behalf of both of us, we have to say, ‘thank you’ for your yes,” Santana-Grace told commissioners. “If ever there were people brought together with the opportunity to reimagine to rebuild boldly with hope and a vision, it is you all.”

“We trust so much that God is up to something in and amongst yourselves,” Starling-Louis said. “We trust we follow a God of abundance, a God who has consistently made a way out of no way.”

Kerry Rice, Deputy Stated Clerk in the Office of the General Assembly, led the commission through what it is and what it isn’t as well as what it can do and can’t do.

Essentially, the commission’s task is three-fold:

  • Oversee and facilitate the unification of OGA and PMA into a single agency
  • Revise the Organization for Mission, the document that governs how OGA and PMA are structured and operate
  • Work to align the entities, boards, commissions and constituent bodies of the General Assembly “toward long-term faithfulness and financial sustainability of its mission within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”

As instructed by the General Assembly, the commission also must “provide governance for and have the authority to assume all governance functions” of the PMA Board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly “as the commission deems necessary.” The commission will have to determine just what that means.

The commission must consult with OGA and PMA representatives and with other agencies, committees, staff and PC(USA) entities and their boards, including advocacy and advisory committees, as well as the denomination’s 16 synods and 166 presbyteries.

“If that’s not a mouthful,” Rice said, “I don’t know what is.”

The commission cannot change the boards or bylaws of five entities of the PC(USA): the Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, the Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program, the Presbyterian Foundation and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation. But it can “make recommendations to those agencies in an effort to better align the mission goals and priorities of the General Assembly,” according to a four-page document distributed to members of the commission and to journalists covering the meeting.

While the amount of information the commission receives will be at its discretion, “you will be getting some information about the [denomination’s] financial system,” Rice said, “in all its wonderfulness and complexities.”

Staff to the commission are Rice as well as Kathy Lueckert, president of the A Corporation, and Barry Creech, the PMA’s Deputy Executive Director for Administration.

Creech took the commission through some of the upcoming deadlines, starting with Feb. 26, 2024, the 120-day General Assembly deadline for submitting reports from committees and agencies. The 226th General Assembly is set for June 25 through July 4, 2024, with online committee meetings followed by in-person plenaries in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The new Organization for Mission will be presented to the 227th General Assembly in 2026.

“The only deadline enshrined is the submission of the Organization for Mission to the 227th General Assembly,” Rice said. “Everything else is up to you.”

The Rev. Scott Lumsden, a commissioner from Seattle Presbytery, asked if the commission’s work will be subject to possible changes at the committee level at General Assembly.

“You all definitely have the authority to make the changes you were given the authority to make,” Rice said. “You also have the ability not to use all the powers you were given.” The bottom line is this: “You have the authority to make changes and simply report them to the Assembly.”

“We can inundate you with all kinds of history, documents and stuff — more than you’d ever want to read,” Lueckert told commissioners. “You can be very granular and dig into a lot of history and context, or you can choose to look more forward.”

“Some context clearly is important, like understanding the financial system,” Lueckert said. “My advice is to think about how much history will be useful and how long you want to spend learning that.”

Commissioners decided their next online meeting will begin at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. They’ll meet in person at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky, March 9-11, 2023.

Martínez prayed to conclude Saturday’s meeting, imploring God to “let us run to catch up to where you are leading us.”

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