As I consider a review of the day I decided to take the three items that jumped out to me in reverse chronological order.
Let me begin with the committee meeting in the evening. I sat in on The Way Forward, Committee 04, this evening. Besides the fact that I expect to spend a lot of time tracking that committee over the next couple of days it was also a good committee to sit in on because they actually began work before GA convened and all the preliminaries were out of the way and they were deep in work.
This evening were the reports of the review committees of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). There were also questions from the commissioners on the committee and responses from the entities being reviewed.
The review of the PMA is strongly critical, some might even say scathing. In brief, and certainly not doing it justice, they found an agency that was not transparent, siloed and territorial and with trust and moral problems. They also found the board structure to be unwieldy. In the response from the board they emphasized that they know about the board being unwieldy and are already preparing proposals. They also felt many of the other criticisms might be too strong if you considered the agency over a broader period of time. They felt that the review was conducted at a particularly confusing and stressful point for the agency and is not reflective of the overall workings of the agency. The reviewers emphasized that the PMA does wonderful work but the processes by which is does the work is flawed and these are not one-off issues but system to the agency.
The review of the OGA was much different. They found the agency was doing satisfactory work and there were few issues. One of the few issues they did find is that as the structure in the mid-councils of the PC(USA) shrinks a significant amount of work they did is being picked up by the OGA without additional resources for the added workload.
The two review committees are jointly recommending that a committee be created to study whether merging the two entities would be an appropriate way to go. They emphasized that this is not a recommendation to merge but a recommendation to study it. Each of the agency respondents argued against it, in one case saying that if form follows function much more work needs to be done on function before we are ready to talk about form. And one of those reporting summed up that these entities, and the PC(USA) by extension, is not in crisis but at a cross roads.
One of the things that struck me watching the committee working this evening was that even though they have already been meeting, there is a lot of work and discernment ahead of them and they will be hard pressed to formulate well considered decisions in the time they have. They may be working late on Tuesday night just to get through the business in a cursory way.
Stepping back to the afternoon plenary, the big item of business there was the nomination of candidates for Stated Clerk. The Nominating Committee presented their work and put forth the name of J. Herbert Nelson as their clear consensus nominee for the position. In addition a second nomination for David Baker was made. Watching the presentations and talking with delegates afterwards the two nominations present an interesting choice. While Rev. Nelson is widely respected and known in the church, and has worked in a significant leadership capacity in the Washington office, more than one delegate I spoke with specifically considered that he had a lack of clerk experience. On the other hand, while Rev. Baker has the clerk experience his level of service has been more limited with primary experience on the presbytery level. It will be interesting to see how they each do in presentations and questions in the election process Friday morning. Based on past experience – which is admittedly limited – the Nominating Committee’s selected candidate will ultimately prevail.
Finally, I want to thank the saints at Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church, known locally as Old Scotch Church, for a wonderful morning of worship and fellowship. Our group was warmly welcomed into worship this morning and we got a great introduction to the history and facilities. First, they all acknowledge that the Old Scotch Church is linguistically awkward as it should be Old Scots or Old Scotland Church, but time has a way of making things permanent and so by now it is what it is. The church is one of the oldest Presbyterian Churches west of the Cascades, it was founded by Scottish immigrants and they brought their first pastor and their stained glass windows over from Scotland. Lots of fascinating stories that might find their way into the blog some time. In addition, wonderful stories from my fellow sojourners who make the trek together out to the church. It was a morning of connectionalism at its finest!
So good night. Tomorrow brings committee meetings and so running comments will be on Twitter. Will post on the blog as appropriate.
Good night from Portland