Over the years, disagreements between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation and the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) have sometimes made the gulf between the two agencies seem far wider than the one-mile-across Ohio River that separates them.

The disputes have usually centered around the appropriate use of restricted funds — over which the foundation has fiduciary responsibility but which the GAMC is charged to spend in accordance with the mission priorities established by the General Assembly.

Now, after two years of intense work by a joint working group, the two entities are nearing agreement on a vision, strategy and plan they hope will resolve, if not eliminate, conflicts in the future.

At its recent meeting here, the Foundation’s Board of Directors approved a vision statement for the two entities and praised a series of recommendations addressing “trust, accountability, service quality, communication and conflict resolution.”

The GAMC is expected to act on the vision statement and recommendations by its September meeting in Louisville.

The proposed vision statement reads: “As partners in Christ’s mission and servants of the Church, the Presbyterian Foundation and General Assembly Mission Council shall work together to advance God’s Kingdom and glorify Christ. They shall engage in a program of stewardship that is consistent with the directives of the General Assembly and donors’ expressed intent.

“The General Assembly Mission Council and the trustees of the Presbyterian Foundation covenant to require the leadership and staff of both entities to operate in an environment of cooperation.”

The recommendations call for:

  • Executive leadership of the two agencies to “model and require staff to model Christ-like relationships presuming positive intent, acting with civility and mutual respect, and speaking the truth in love”;
  • a written joint action plan to implement the recommendations;
  • development of a “common understanding … of expectations for the provision of high quality service to one another, donors and beneficiaries in order to protect donor intent and deliver timely distributions to beneficiaries”;
  • creation and implementation of “a timely process for identifying, tracking, managing, resolving and reporting” on all matters relating to the distribution of restricted funds “so that both mission focus and donor intent are respected and funds are made available on a timely basis”: and
  • development by executive leadership of “cooperative strategies of conflict resolution for those occasions when there are disagreements between the entities.”

Foundation trustee Scott Weimer, pastor of Atlanta’s North Avenue Presbyterian Church, said, “I am so encouraged by this report. A new spirit of cooperation is already born — now it needs to be nurtured and mechanisms put in place to make sure it continues.”

GAMC Executive Director Linda Valentine told the board: “We can work things out when CEOs, staff and boards are committed to working together for the benefit of the whole church. We have all we need to lift up and fund the mission of the whole church,” she said. “We just need to organize ourselves properly to do it.” 

A linchpin of the covenant is the ongoing Restricted Funds Resolution Committee, a joint Foundation-GAMC group that tries to iron out wrinkles in the use of disputed restricted funds. Foundation interim CEO Richard Clay — who resigned from the resolution committee upon being named to the interim CEO post — said he hoped “we reach the point where the committee will have nothing to resolve.”

One step in that direction is a recent agreement to improve restricted funds reporting. The agreement provides greater access to restricted funds information by both agencies and a joint staff team to fully implement the reporting agreement. The Foundation’s Audit Committee commended the team “on the tremendous progress and collaborative nature of the project.”

Foundation board member Karen Garrett of Kansas City, KS, cautioned that “restricted funds are part of the issue but not the whole issue. Communication is really an important part of what we’re trying to do,” she said, “and this agreement is more a mechanism for tracking these issues.”

Valentine agreed. “This is really very encouraging,” she said, “but obviously we have lots of work to do together.”

The Foundation board approved all the recommendations of the joint working group, including its continuation for two more years to “monitor compliance with vision and recommendations” and to make any other recommendations it feels are needed.