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Way Forward Commission fine-tunes draft report


Joint recommendations with All Agency Review Committee likely for A Corp, ‘Moving Forward Commission’

by Leslie Scanlon | Presbyterian Outlook

LOUISVILLE — The Way Forward Commission is working its way through what’s currently a 46-page draft document with six recommendations to the 2018 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

On at least two recommendations, and perhaps more, it appears Way Forward likely is to make a joint proposal with the All Agency Review Committee.

While the commission won’t take a formal vote on the report until a conference call Feb. 15, it seems to have achieved consensus on the thrust of its recommendations. When Mark Hostetter, a minister from New York who serves as the commission’s moderator, asked during a Feb. 5 conference call if the commission members “feel like we’re getting to a place where we’re going to have a report that satisfies the open issues that people have in their hearts,” no one objected.

The draft report also includes a list of areas on which the commission is continuing to work and might act on its own between now and when the 2018 General Assembly convenes June 16 in St. Louis. While its recommendations to the assembly are due by Feb. 16, the commission has the power to take some actions on its own and has scheduled meetings through the spring.

The 2016 General Assembly created the commission, instructing it to “study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly entities of the PC(USA).”

Here’s some of what the recommendations may bring, based on a discussion of the draft report.

The commission discussed six possible recommendations, although it has not yet approved precise wording or taken a formal vote. Those recommendations involve:

PC(USA), A Corporation. The commission is considering a joint recommendation with the All Agency Review Committee regarding the composition of the board of the A Corporation, the corporate identity for the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA).

That proposed revision would change the size and configuration of the A Corporation board, and “the implications of it are very complex,” said Eileen Lindner, a minister from New Jersey who serves as one of two of the commission’s vice moderators. What’s now a 40-member board whose members all serve on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board would become a nine-member board with representation from each of the six PC(USA) agencies.

Hostetter said he wants the report to make it clear that the A Corporation would be “a utility” — and that decisions about policy would rest with the agencies. Hostetter said discussions with leaders at OGA and PMA will continue in an effort to resolve any concerns collaboratively.

One open question: whether the proposed changes might take place before June 2020 — possibly by having the 2018 General Assembly nominate people to serve on the reconfigured board if the process can be speeded up. “It’s an open issue of discussion,” Hostetter said.

Deborah Block, a pastor from Wisconsin who serves as moderator of All Agency Review, participated in the Way Forward’s call and said her committee “would happily go with the earlier date. Put wheels on this.”

Other questions still under discussion:

  • Would the PC(USA) Stated Clerk be an ex officio member of the A Corporation board, with voice but not vote? What about the executive director of PMA?
  • What will the additional cost be of the reconfiguration?
  • What reactions to the proposal will emerge at the meetings this week of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (in St. Louis Feb. 6–8) and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (Feb. 7–9)?

Inclusion and equity. The wording for this is still being worked on, but the ideas being considered include:

  • Mandating a position in the PC(USA) structure with the authority and responsibility for collaborating with all six agencies on issues involving inclusion and equity.
  • Requiring each PC(USA) agency to complete by Jan. 1, 2019 an organizational review of its practices and policies as they impact people of color and racial diversity (commonly referred to as a “race audit”). There was also discussion in the Feb. 5 call about creating an ongoing cycle for those reviews.
  • Addressing the needs for translation services within the PC(USA) — perhaps by requiring that all denominational materials be translated into other languages going forward (and some materials be translated into English from other languages).

Among the matters still requiring discernment regarding translation services, Hostetter asked:

  • What are the cost implications? Is this practical?
  • Will the six agencies support the proposal or have reservations?
  • Would translation services be moved to the A Corporation?

Role of the Stated Clerk. Commission members have said they want the Stated Clerk to be the clear voice of the PC(USA), and will ask the assembly to make changes in the Organization for Mission (the manual of the assembly) to make that clear. The Stated Clerk would also serve as an ex officio member (with voice but not vote) on the boards of all six PC(USA) agencies, and would be consulted before a candidate was nominated to serve as the chief officer or interim officer of one of the agencies.

Financial sustainability. The commission would ask the assembly to appoint a 12-person committee to provide a comprehensive analysis and projection of national church assets and income for a financial sustainability review, with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2019.

“This is broader than per capita,” Lindner said. No corporate body “would walk into the future without some reasonable attempt at projecting the resources they have available to them in the years ahead.” Lindner said what’s needed is “not just collecting the data and say ‘Here, best wishes with it,’ but to analyze it and make some informed predictions.” The work would be done in conjunction with the Presbyterian Foundation, Linder said, because the Foundation already is involved in doing some analysis of denominational resources beyond per capita.

These financial questions are percolating in other areas too. The All Agency Review Committee is working on language for a possible recommendation regarding a denomination-wide self-study of the per capita funding system. And the Presbytery of Newton in New Jersey has sent an overture asking the 2018 General Assembly to create a team to review the financial sustainability of the PC(USA)’s current per capita funding system.

Moving Forward Implementation Commission. Way Forward and All Agency Review appear ready to jointly recommend that the 2018 General Assembly create a Moving Forward Implementation Commission, with limited powers. That commission would have 12 members — four from Way Forward, four from All Agency Review and four others, possibly from the 2018 assembly.

That commission would work to track compliance and implementation of recommendations from Way Forward and All Agency Review that the assembly approves; to encourage continued collaboration in areas Way Forward and All Agency Review have identified; and to coordinate with the 2020 Vision Team, which will make a preliminary report to the 2018 assembly but is expected to continue working through 2020.

Agency review process. While language still is being worked out, Way Forward may concur with a recommendation from All Agency Review outlining proposed changes in the process for reviewing the PC(USA)’s six agencies.

During the Feb. 5 call, the commission also discussed areas of continuing work — places where it will remain active after submitting its report to the assembly.

Shared services. This is likely to include a review of policies and procedures; discussion of possible cost savings and efficiencies; and exploration regarding possible sharing or outsourcing of particular tasks.

Property. Discussions continue about the use of the national PC(USA) office building in downtown Louisville, including everything from deferred maintenance to how the building might be used for mission.

Institutional culture. What changes need to happen to make the institutional culture within PMA healthier?

Communications. Conversations continue in a range of areas, including developing a comprehensive communications strategy for the PC(USA); how data is shared or ought to be shared; and frustration with the denomination’s websites.

Inclusion and equity. Work continues with OGA and PMA to develop a Diverse Voices Table with representation from all six agencies to work on issues involving inclusion and equity.

Mid council ministries. That language in the report is still being worked on, but ideas have included finding ways to better understand the needs and creative work of mid councils and to establish a position in OGA of associate clerk for Mid Council Ministries. Sara Dingman, synod executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails, reiterated her concern that the focus not be on the future of synods — an issue she contends the assembly already has studied for four years and voted on. “I don’t want us to move back to the default of putting synods in the hot spot,” Dingman said, when the focus needs to be on what helps presbyteries thrive.

Seminary relations. The commission wants to continue discernment and conversation about theological education in the PC(USA).

Financial development analysis. The commission has discussed convening a working group of people involved in stewardship and fundraising in the six agencies, to identify areas of possible collaboration or duplication.

Logistics of the A Corporation transition. As Lindner said, this is complex. Both All Agency Review and Way Forward will continue conversations with representatives of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

One unresolved question, said Jo Stewart, an elder from North Carolina, involves risk management. What happens, for example, if PMA wants to send mission personnel into an area that some might consider dangerous — but risk management, presumably located in the A Corporation, was opposed?

“We haven’t found language to codify that,” Lindner said. “That’s absolutely essential to making that work.”

So, the drafting process — trying to find the right words and ideas — continues. Way Forward’s next conference call is scheduled for 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Feb. 13.

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