In this time of change and uncertainty for the denomination, Grace Presbytery in central and northeast Texas has decided to invest in the future of the church by donating $2.85 million to Presbyterian World Mission. The presbytery met and voted Thursday afternoon on a comprehensive proposal to strengthen mission through leadership development, seminary education, Hispanic outreach, the Young Adult Volunteer program and mission co-workers.
The gift will fund in perpetuity half the cost of two mission co-worker positions and fully fund 20 Young Adult Volunteer scholarships. Other presbyteries and congregations will be challenged to complete the funding for the mission co-worker positions.
The money came from a legal settlement in September 2014 in which Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas agreed to pay Grace Presbytery $7.8 million in exchange for a release from the PC(USA)’s trust clause and for ecclesiastical dismissal from the denomination.
“It was an unexpected gift to us,” says general presbyter Jan DeVries. “We felt strongly that the money should be used to strengthen ministry and not just our operating budget. We felt the responsibility to be involved in supporting the larger church and in growing our young adult leaders.”
The subcommittee that reviewed and made the recommendations included the Rev. Stuart Baskin, the Rev. Susan Sytsma Bratt, ruling elder Kathy Jones, ruling elder Dan Klein, the Rev. Karl Travis, ruling elder Charles Weaver, Barbara Arnett, and staff Jan DeVries, Mike Thompson (associate general presbyter) and Ken Johnson (treasurer). “It was an amazing, energetic group that made this recommendation, one that believes in the power of mission,” says DeVries. Like several others in the group, she is a life-long Presbyterian, and she knows that “money and mission go together,” she says. “It’s in my bones.”
"The older I get, the clearer I am," said Karl Travis. "Mission is who we are and why we matter. So its refreshing to see a judicatory lead the way in sacrificial generosity."
While Grace Presbytery has traditionally been one of the denomination’s top 10 presbyteries supporting the Presbyterian Mission Agency, Thursday’s gift was noteworthy as it is the equivalent of three times the presbytery’s annual budget. By partially funding two mission co-workers in perpetuity, the donation enables the presbytery to build long-term relationships with mission co-workers and helps the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) keep global mission a priority at a time of budget shortfalls and the reconsideration of mission priorities.
World Mission Director Hunter Farrell adds, “Grace Presbytery’s action today is the result of visionary leadership committed to engaging their congregations in faithful and effective mission. Grace has opened up a model for other presbyteries to transform the pain of congregational departures and closures into the joy of engaging together in Christ’s mission.”
In addition to the funds for World Mission and the Young Adult Volunteer program, the designated monies will be used:
- To fund a Master of Divinity fellowship to pay full seminary costs (up to three years) for one inquirer or candidate from Grace Presbytery by donating $600,000 for an endowment at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The recipient of the Grace Presbytery Scholarship will be selected in a joint process including Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and presbytery leadership of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry.
- To fund half of the total amount necessary to endow Austin College’s ACtivators program by donating $250,000. At the Presbyterian-related college, students become ACtivators by working with the college chaplain to plan and lead regional PC(USA) youth ministry events.
- To pay the expenses for two presbytery-wide leadership-development events each year sponsored by the Grace Center for Leadership Innovation by creating a $750,000 Grace Presbytery endowment with the Texas Presbyterian Foundation. Based on the recommendation of the Texas Presbyterian Foundation, this should provide approximately $30,000 per year.
- To provide $1,175,000 to fund the following programs and ministries on an annual basis:
- $175,000 for mission study trips (providing partial underwriting of costs and scholarships for three years at two trips per year)
- $375,000 for a small church mission specialist for congregations with fewer than one hundred members, employed by Grace Presbytery ($125,000/year for three years)
- $625,000 for a program called the ast Texas Hispanic mission probe ($125,000 for five years).