The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) has issued a church-wide letter assuring members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that “no per capita dollars are being spent for attorney fees or anything related to this case, including the independent investigation.”
The letter is referring to the PMAB’s $850,000 investigation into how $100,000 grant was routed from the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 1001 Worshiping Communities area to an outside organization. All of the grant money was returned to the PCUSA and Linda Valentine, executive director of the PMA, said that there was no indication that any of the four employees involved were trying to benefit personally from the plan.
The six month, $850,000 investigation yielded a report that the PMAB refuses to make public. What they have disclosed is that the 850K does not include all the fees from the PMAB’s current lawyer, John Shellar. Further, now that two of the four former employees have filed defamation suits against the denomination the legal fees will continue to mount.
Working in silence
The PMAB’s letter began by quoting from I Kings 19:11-12 – a text wherein the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, and following the fire there was silence.
“We open this letter with the scriptural witness of Elijah’s encounter with God at Horeb to remind ourselves – and to assure you – that silence does not mean inactivity,” the letter read. “Even in the ‘sound of sheer silence,’ God is still at work. As are we.”
The letter continues that the PMAB wishes it could share the “many ways we are at work in the service of Christ Jesus on behalf of the church in our present circumstances of defending ourselves in two separate defamation suits, we are unable to release any further information at this time except for this one assurance: no per capita dollars are being spent for attorney fees or anything related to this case, including the independent investigation.”
Not per capita, so who will pay legal fees?
Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, commented, “It’s fine to tell people where the money is not coming from but it would be much more helpful to tell the church which of its funds are being used. If it’s mission dollars or investment income or reserve accounts, it all ultimately came from the same people in the pews.”
Per-capita funds are requested from each congregation based on its membership. Presbyteries collect and then pass along per capita to the General Assembly. For the year 2015, the General Assembly per-capita rate is $7.07 per member.
Following payment of the deductible, the letter says that insurance will pay for the defense of the two defamation lawsuits.
“Often, embracing our calling entails difficult decisions, which we reach prayerfully and through due diligence. With the humility of recognizing our human fallibility, we stand behind our actions, with prayers for God’s grace, and for yours.”
‘No longer with’ the PMAB
On a conference call held June 1, PMA Board Chair Marilyn S. Gamm announced that four employees were “no longer with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.”
Those four include:
- Roger Dermody, deputy executive director for mission
- Eric Hoey, director of Evangelism and Church Growth;
- Philip Lotspeich, coordinator for church growth, and
- Craig S. Williams, staff person for the western regional office of the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development
Two of the four – Dermody and Hoey – have filed defamation suits against the denomination’s corporate identity The Presbyterian Church (USA) A Corporation. Each contend that the PCUSA has repeatedly published reports that they had engaged in “unethical” conduct while a PCUSA employee.
During the June 1 conference call, Gamm said that the legal fees would be paid from the unrestricted reserve fund, or the Presbyterian Mission Program Fund (PMPF). That account, however, is an area of concern for the board’s financial committee. Projections by the committee indicate that the PMPF will total less than $1 million over the required minimum by the end of the year and that by 2017, there may not be enough money in the reserve account to balance the PMAB’s budget. Depletion of the reserve account is already having a negative impact on World Missions.
Since that phone call, Valentine has announced her resignation as executive director of the PMAB effective July 10, and the PMAB has merged two ministry areas – the Evangelism and Church Growth, which Hoey headed, and Theology, Worship and Education to form Theology, Formation and Evangelism.