Louisville

In a rapidly changing denominational landscape – faced with both financial and ecclesiastical challenges – Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons is committed to helping the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) envision a new future in service to Christ’s church.

Driven by the current economic climate and the larger context of the 21st century church’s leadership needs, members of the OGA staff and its board – the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) – have initiated a proactive process to redefine the agency’s vision, mission, and strategic direction.    

“The Office of the General Assembly is by no means exempted from the financial crunch that is being felt by every part of the church,” Parsons said. “Planning ahead responsibly requires getting a balcony view of the OGA’s ministry.”

Parsons said that members of the OGA leadership team spent time during the summer praying, discerning, and discussing future challenges and opportunities for both the agency and the denomination. “We wrestled with such questions as how we best serve and partner with our mid councils and congregations, how we plan and execute General Assemblies that witness to our unity in Christ amidst our diversity, and how we become relevant to people of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities in the midst of a changing church,” he said.

The agency’s current financial challenges come as a result of the PC(USA)’s decline in membership – which equates to a decline in per capita contributions – and an increase in unpaid per capita from 2% to 8.5% over the last decade.

“While these two forces have put us into the position of having to cut the budget, they also give us an opportunity to realign our mission with the larger shift in denominational leadership,” said Tom Hay, director of operations for the OGA.

To assist with its organizational restructuring, the OGA has retained Dudley Hamilton Associates, a New Jersey-based global management consulting firm.                                                          

“Joyce Dudley of Dudley Hamilton Associates first came to our attention when she provided outstanding help to the National Council of Churches in some leadership transitions they faced,” Hay said. “Her work across religious and secular environments, along with a commitment to custom solutions to tough issues, has made her a good choice.”

Dudley and her associate, Reynolds Anthony Harris, have been conducting extensive interviews with staff, volunteers and a variety of stakeholders across the country. 

“Several times they have remarked that if their only job was to save money, that could be accomplished in a few weeks of work reviewing budgets and organizational charts,” said Hay. “But their task is to help the Office of the General Assembly organize in the most appropriate way to serve its mission as a part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”

At the fall meeting of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA), held from October 16-18 in Philadelphia, members of the board had an opportunity to confer with Dudley Hamilton Associates in executive session.

“My objective for our meeting with Ms. Dudley and Mr. Harris was for us to provide them with information and perspective that would materially contribute to their progress,” said Vince Thomas, COGA’s moderator and a ruling elder from Minneapolis, Minn. “In our time together, we were able to accomplish that objective.”

Marcia Mount Shoop, a teaching elder from Chapel Hill, N.C., who serves as COGA’s vice moderator, said that after spending a few hours with Dudley Hamilton Associates she had a lot of confidence in the quality of the discernment process in which COGA is currently engaged. “We were able to go deep in a way that the church needs to go these days,” said Shoop. “And all of the listening, sharing, and wondering is being done within a spiritual framework.  I feel like they will do a lot to help us listen to how God is calling the church toward a new vitality.”  

In moving forward with the process of reorganization, Thomas said that he envisions two distinct but related roles for COGA. “It is my twofold charge to the members of COGA to contribute our best thinking on the question of how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can best make its unique contribution to the world in this time of change and controversy, and to support the OGA staff publicly and privately as it receives and acts upon the consultant's recommendations,” he said.