Way Forward Commission looks to September meeting in Louisville

Conference call addresses shared services, publishing and church loans

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Way Forward Commission members Eileen Lindner, moderator Mark Hostetter and Eliana Maxim at the group’s March 5–7 meeting at Columbia Theological Seminary. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

LOUISVILLE – The Way Forward Commission met Aug. 9 via conference call to hear updates on the commission’s progress and the work of various subgroups. As the commission works to form its recommendations to General Assembly 223 (2018), it is considering changes to how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) administers and deploys shared services, publishing operations and church building loans.

Before receiving working group updates, the Rev. Mark Hostetter, commission moderator, provided an update. He noted that the coordinating committee — which serves as a conduit of information between the Way Forward Commission, the All Agency Review Committee and the 2020 Vision Team — is meeting “almost every two weeks to keep each other up to date on what’s happening and what’s being proposed by each group.”

Hostetter and commission member Jo Stewart also reported on their attendance at the Executive Committee retreat of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) in St. Paul, Minnesota. Saying it was a “constructive meeting with board members and senior staff of the PMA,” Hostetter said the commission had arranged in-person meetings with several of these senior staff and other constituent groups in the PMA following the gathering.

The Joint Working Group on Administrative Support, chaired by Stewart, reported that they are investigating how administrative work is distributed among the five agencies of the PC(USA), but most specifically at those utilized by the PMA and the Office of the General Assembly, and administered by PMA via the “A Corp.”

Working with the All Agency Review Committee, the joint working group issued the following guidelines:

Project Scope

The scope of this joint project will be limited to shared/common services delivered under the A Corporation. The group will look at services currently or historically provided by PMA for both PMA and OGA.

We will address the following:

  1. Are there services not currently being shared that would be less expensive or more efficiently delivered than each agency is currently paying for those services?
  2. If so, are there non-economic reasons for not sharing such services?
  3. What is the root cause of the current decisions not to share such services?
  4. Is the cost allocation for the services shared between PMA and OGA reasonable?
  5. If cost allocation is preventing the sharing of services, is there a better way to establish cost allocations going forward?
  6. What roles should PMA and OGA have in setting and monitoring service delivery?
  7. What roles should PMA and OGA have with regard to policy decisions impacting shared services?

The project will include the following action items:

  • Compile existing information collected by both Way Forward and the All Agency Review to ensure a common starting point and eliminate duplication of informational requests.
  • Working with PMA and OGA, develop standard definition of administrative, shared and common services.
  • Complete analysis of the A Corporation foundational documents with a focus on understanding the relationship of PMA and OGA, the decision-making process, and whether the current relationship and decision-making process is an impediment to sharing services.
  • Complete “as is” analysis to understand the current situation, including critical points of conflict and overlap as well as areas that are working well. Through this process mapping, interview selected staff at all levels to gain balanced perspective of the current situation.
  • Document current shared service arrangement — cost, services.
  • Identify critical areas of concern (as highlighted by OGA, PMA or our review as it relates to shared services between PMA and OGA).
  • Identify functions, if any, where immediate change is possible and areas where further analysis is needed.
  • Develop recommendations regarding implementation of any changes recommended.

Way Forward Commission members Sam Bonner (left), Cliff Lyda and Julie Cox at the group’s May 16 meeting in Chicago. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

Other inter-agency efficiencies are being explored as well. Commission member Samuel Bonner noted the commission has “provided a method or channel to break down silos between agencies,” saying two areas have come into clearer focus.

The first area is publishing — specifically the possible consolidation of functions between the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) and the Congregational Ministries Publishing (CMP) area of the PMA.

“There’s a desire for consolidated publishing and a streamlined communications strategy,” Bonner said. “The publishing group has agreed there are efficiencies to be made by integrating some of the activities of CMP and Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.”

Noting a December 2009 study that had asked the publishing areas to consider consolidation, Hostetter recommended a more goal-oriented recommendation for the agencies to work on a solution. “We’re putting pressure on them, not just encouraging them, but asking them to come up with a plan,” he said.

The commission anticipates receiving this plan sooner than later. At its Executive Committee retreat, the PMAB authorized Tony De La Rosa, interim executive director of the PMA, to work with CMP and PPC to provide a proposal for consolidation by the board’s next scheduled meeting Sept. 21–23.

The second area of efficiency listed by Bonner was the administration of the Church Loan Program. The program — a legacy investment from the mid-1800s designated for helping churches construct new buildings — is supported by a $270 million fund. The fiduciary responsibility for this investment resides at the Presbyterian Foundation although the distribution and underwriting of the funds is administered through the PC(USA) A Corp. A General Assembly committee sets the interest rate and other program criteria.

Bonner’s team advocated positioning the underwriting, interest setting and program details with the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP), rather than splitting these functions between two groups in the A Corp. PILP was founded in 1995, nine years after the Church Loan Program took root in its current configuration.

“The fund has grown substantially,” Bonner said. “It’s [currently] run by a committee selected by the General Assembly, but the professional lenders reside in PILP. Both [groups] felt it was a good idea for PILP to take on the professional practices of the fund. The foundation will continue in its fiduciary responsibility, but PILP will set lending rates, policies and underwriting. … It will provide a professional and modern process to make sure loans are being done the way the denomination wants them done.”

Following the discussion of logistics for the commission’s Sept. 17-19 meeting in Louisville, the group went into closed session for the remainder of its call.

Actions taken by the Way Forward Commission during the call include:

  1. The commission commends the conversations between PPC and PMA that have taken place to date regarding the consolidation of publishing activities, encourages the active and prompt continuation of such conversations, and requests a report to the commission by its January 2018 meeting, including a timeline for implementation.
  2. The commission requests that PILP and the Presbyterian Foundation update the commission at its October or November meeting on issues and possibilities related to the Church Loan Program and the Mission Development Resource Committee, after soliciting comment from PMA and OGA.
  3. The Commission empowers the Way Forward–All Agency Review coordination committee to create a joint WFC-AAR joint statement regarding a PMA-OGA matter.

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