Way Forward plans to vote on recommendations this week


Concerns voiced by PMA Governance Task Force

by Leslie Scanlon | Presbyterian Outlook

LOUISVILLE — On Feb. 15, the Way Forward Commission is expected to formally vote to approve its recommendations to the 2018 General Assembly — sprinting to meet a Feb. 16 deadline for submitting those recommendations to the Office of the General Assembly.

On Feb. 13, the commission held a nearly three-hour conference call to further refine those recommendations — which cover territory from the role of the stated clerk to asking the assembly to create a committee to analyze the financial sustainability of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) system.

Six recommendations are expected (some of them multipart), with three likely to be joint recommendations of Way Forward and the All Agency Review Committee. There also are sections describing ongoing work — involving inclusion and equity, mid council ministries, creating a strategic communications plan for the denomination and more.

And here’s the wild card: The Governance Task Force of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board has concerns.

The Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review are each expected to vote Feb. 15 on a complex set of recommendations regarding the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) A Corporation. The A Corporation is the corporate entity serving the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA).

The Governance Task Force, while committed to collaboration, also is concerned about the details of what’s being proposed — things the task force leaders say need to be clarified in advance, not worked out along the way. The board has scheduled a conference call meeting for Feb. 16 — the 120-day deadline before the 2018 General Assembly convenes June 16 in St. Louis – and may have recommendations of its own regarding the A Corporation.

If agreement is not reached by Feb. 16, the board may opt for what Melinda Sanders, co-chair of the Governance Task Force, has described as the “nuclear” option: to ask the General Assembly for a deliverance, or permission for PMA to create its own corporation.

Mark Hostetter, a minister from New York who serves as moderator of the Way Forward Commission, said the Governance Task Force gave Way Forward and All Agency Review language late on Feb. 12 that it wants included in the A Corporation recommendation. There are “many common areas of agreement,” but some of it is new material, Hostetter said during the Feb. 13 conference call.

The Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review are considering a joint recommendation that would change how the A Corporation functions and the structure of its board — making it a nine-member board with representation from each of the PC(USA)’s six agencies, plus three at-large members. Currently the A Corporation board consists of the 40 voting members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

Hostetter told the board that the revised A Corporation would have a “utility function” but that PMA would make the mission decisions for the denomination. “You still control the assets related to mission,” Hostetter told the board.

By and large, Way Forward and All Agency Review have reached a common understanding regarding the A Corporation recommendation, said Eileen Lindner, a minister from New Jersey who serves as one of two vice moderators of Way Forward. Hostetter said conversations with Governance Task Force leaders “are continuing” — so time will tell whether they can reach agreement.

Some other issues discussed during Way Forward’s Feb. 13 conference call included these.

Translation services. The commission is considering recommending that all translation services in the PC(USA) be moved to the A Corporation and be “staffed appropriately” to translate all materials going forward from English into other languages (typically Spanish and Korean); with historical or existing records to be translated on request; and with prioritization of the work done by an inclusive group, such as the Diverse Voices Table that’s being convened.

Commission member Jo Stewart, a ruling elder from North Carolina, asked how much that will cost.

“The goal is for us to translate everything,” said Eliana Maxim, a minister from Seattle who serves as the commission’s other vice moderator. Cost projections may be determined as the commission continues its work between now and the assembly, she said.

Inclusion and equity. The commission is planning to recommend that the Presbyterian Mission Agency have a manager for diversity and reconciliation (the position currently exists, but with short-term funding), and for that person to coordinate inclusion and diversity collaboration within the six PC(USA) agencies.

In this deadline week, the 2020 Vision Team also is meeting Feb. 15 regarding its report to the 2018 General Assembly. In January, 2020 Vision released a draft of its guiding statement.

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