The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) today (Feb. 6) approved a proposal from four key staff that they be allowed to develop a plan for the ongoing ministry of Stony Point Center in New York for the board’s consideration in April.

The agreement—temporarily, at least—gets the PMAB out of an acrimonious bind that threatened to derail its April 5-7 meeting here.

“We realized this was not going in a positive direction,” PMAB Executive Director Linda Valentine told the board’s Finance Committee. “So last week we initiated conversations, acknowledging there’s been misunderstandings which have affected people’s perceptions of each other. There has also been fundamental disagreement on some of the facts.”

Those issues include the clarity of various PMAB actions in recent years related to Stony Point, financial statements and projections, and the feasibility of Stony Point’s current business plan.

Since September 2011, the board has been considering separate incorporation of Stony Point, which has a history of financial instability that has been slowly improving under the leadership of co-directors Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase.

In 2012 the board voted to “affirm the path and process to establish Stony Point Center as a separate legal entity.” Though the action stated “this is not an incorporation proposal…” the board appointed a Transition Task Team (TTT) to develop a formal incorporation recommendation.

In 2013, the transition team made its recommendation, which was then referred to an Evaluation Team, a procedure mandated by the PMAB’s predecessor General Assembly Mission Council in 2007 after it considered a separate incorporation proposal for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

The Evaluation Team’s assessment of the TTT proposal was harshly critical and the growing tension between various parties has been palpable.

With the PMAB meeting looming, on Feb. 3 Valentine, the Ufford-Chases and Deputy Executive Director for Mission Roger Dermody wrote a letter to PMAB Chair Matthew Schramm proposing “that the four of us, together with our colleagues, will work together collaboratively to develop a proposal to bring to the April Mission Agency Board meeting.”

Specifically, their proposal will:

  • “affirm the mission of Stony Point”
  • “clarify roles, responsibilities, reporting relationships and accountabilities of staff, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and its committees and the Stony Point Governing Board” and
  • “set forth a plan for Stony Point that has the goal of attaining financial and operational sustainability of Stony Point within an agreed time (currently contemplated to be within four or five years).”

The four leaders spent considerable time with the Finance Committee, answering questions and expressing their desire for reconciliation.

“We purposely used the word reconciliation [in our letter],” said Kitty Ufford-Chase, “because it has a lot of meaning for Christians—truth telling and taking responsibility for our own actions that have produced the mistrust that has slowly been building and our commitment to rebuild that trust.

Dermody said it’s also necessary to look at the decision-making rubric of the PMAB. “Our very processes sometimes work against us, makes things too adversarial,” he said. “We’re on the same team—sometimes we forget that and get caught up in voting where someone wins and someone loses.”

Rick Ufford-Chase agreed. “Let us go back and do the work,” he asked. “We don’t want to just come back [in April] with another up-down vote, but to engage in a transparent, participative process.”

In their Feb. 3 letter, the four leaders wrote: “We realize that there is a lack of common understanding of some important facts and that addressing those are a critical first step toward developing a plan. We will seek to surface all such issues and to reach common agreement on facts.”

Valentine said the four have set aside three days in February to concentrate on their task. She said “input sessions” will be held for PMAB members as the plan is developed.

Many of the questions around Stony Point are its financial viability. According to Barry Creech, director of policy, administration and board support in Valentine’s office, Stony Point has operated at a cumulative loss of about $1.5 million in the last 10 years.

“Stony Point’s is a wonderful ministry,” said Evaluation Team member Conrad Rocha, synod executive for the Synod of the Southwest, “but question for us was where is this ministry best lodged so that in 10 years it will still be happening? How do we make it sustainable?”

Other questions addressed Stony Point’s mission as a growing center for multifaith dialogue and community-building.

“Does the Presbyterian Mission Agency want to be engaged in multifaith ministry and is it appropriate for the PMA,” asked Clark Cowden, executive for San Diego Presbytery. “That’s one of the really big questions that needs to be answered and which was raised by the Evaluation Committee.”

Melissa DeRosia of Rochester, N.Y., who chaired both the original Stony Point Task Force and the transition team, said she “thought that question had been answered. It was clearly articulated in business plan that was unanimously adopted by PMAB in 2012.” Others say the business plan was not part of what was approved at that time and that the issue of the importance of multifaith ministry has not been settled.

Wendy Tajima of Los Angeles said, “We need to be clear about our mission priorities and how Stony Point Center fits — the rest is just tools to get us to the mission.”

Kears Pollock of Bruin, Penn., agreed. “Incorporation isn’t the goal—mission is the goal, and that’s an issue that confronts the PC(USA) at every level,” he said. “There’s pressure everywhere all the time—tension between ‘business’ and ‘mission.’ We’re ambivalent about all of our camps and conference centers... We’ve lost a generation of young Presbyterians because we’ve been unclear about camps and conferences. This [Stony Point] is an investment.”