The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) met via conference call last evening to receive a first-month report from interim executive director Tony De La Rosa and to hear an update on the churchwide survey from moderator Heath Rada.
De La Rosa began his remarks noting he had now been at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville for exactly one month, saying the amount of information he has been presented in that time was like “drinking from a fire hose.”
Preliminary observations included progress on the transitional 2016–2018 Mission Work Plan, which he indicated is nearing completion. The two-year span of the plan—a diversion from the standard four-year cycle—was, he said, “in anticipation of some larger reorganizations of our agencies.”
Pointing out the centrality of the Mission Work Plan and its use in guiding the work and priorities of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, De La Rosa said, “We really need to recognize that we can no longer do everything that we once did or even that we are doing today.”
“We know we need to discern what the church needs and where God is leading us,” he continued. “That being said, the elements of the Mission Work Plan are still broad in scope and allow for a great deal of flexibility as we make the determination over what those priorities are and should be going forward.”
The completed Mission Work Plan will be presented to the board for approval at its February 3–5 meeting in Louisville. The Work Plan will then be used as a “strategic document” to create a budget that will be presented at the April meeting of the board and then forwarded to the 222nd General Assembly (2016) meeting in Portland in June.
Addressing cost-reduction measures, De La Rosa said, “Reduced budgets will inevitably result in reduced staffing and resourcing... I will continue to take every step possible to reduce the impact of these reductions on staffing.”
De La Rosa’s immediate measures for curbing spending include:
- Reducing travel, capital equipment, and technology expenses
- Elimination of performance-based and cost-of-living adjustment raises in 2016
- Implementation of a voluntary separation program
- Revisions to the 2016 budget in February
Concluding his remarks, De La Rosa acknowledged his staff’s anxiety over anticipated personnel and program cuts saying, “The board should take comfort in knowing there are many faithful servants that occupy the desks of this building.”
Rada, providing a report originally scheduled for last month but delayed due to travel complications, said the data collection phase of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) survey was complete and that PC(USA) Research Services staff were nearing completion of their data analysis and presentation.
Eileen Lindner, COGA representative to the board, said the survey had the largest response of any similar survey issued by a mainline denomination. The original target for responses was 1,800 to 1,900 completed surveys; 3,101 responses were received.
Rada encouraged board members to acknowledge and personally thank PC(USA) staff members for the work they are doing. “Everywhere I go I talk about the extraordinary number of wonderful people we have,” he said. “We keep expecting people to do more and more with less resources, and that’s not fair.”
Rada did not speculate regarding the results of the survey, saying the results would be in the hands of a General Assembly committee in Portland that will “come up with specific next steps and strategies for how we move forward.”
“We just don’t have the luxury of waiting for two more years before the next assembly meets to hear what a committee reports as to how we ought to start forming a plan and structure and idea, and then to go two years in developing it and then implementing it,” he said in response to a question from board member Joseph Morrow. “The time is now, but we certainly can’t do it all in 2016 in Portland.”
Rada is continuing conversations with Presbyterians around the country, saying he will be in San Diego to hear from the Fellowship Community and conservative congregations that have decided to stay in the denomination; in Iowa to hear from small and rural churches that comprise 80 percent of the denomination’s congregations; in Atlanta with groups concerned about diversity in the church; and in New York, which he says has diverse churches that are experimenting with alternative forms of ministry.
He is also offering a platform for these conversations to take place in other locations using a video message and a common format for response, though no details of the alternative meeting format were immediately available.
Rada was clear that decisions about going forward must be made collectively by the church. “As moderator, I don’t have the authority to do this. I’ve said it over and over again,” Rada said, referencing many people’s urgent call for changes. “Many people say the privilege of the platform is something I should [use to issue immediate changes], but I’ll use it ‘decently and in order;’ I want to be a good Presbyterian.”