Foundation acts to free up funds for 1001 New Worshiping Communities

July 16, 2021 by Robyn Davis Sekula

The Presbyterian Foundation plans to soon take action that could free up millions to support the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program.

The Foundation, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program and the Presbyterian Mission Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding on July 9 to help guide the process.

“This agreement is the joyous conclusion of years of work, identifying funds that could be available and the best uses of the proceeds from the funds,” says Tom Taylor, President and CEO of the Presbyterian Foundation. “As an organization that has existed for two centuries, fulfilling our fiduciary duty to hold and grow these funds and then disburse for ministry is core to who we are, and it gives us great joy to find ways to use these funds to serve Christ.”

The Foundation plans to file the legal actions as part of a cy-pres process. A cy-pres action seeks approval from a court or other government authority to use the funds for purposes that are “as near as possible” to original intent of the donor. Cy-pres actions are used by organizations that hold funds when the purposes of the funds become impossible, impractical, or illegal to enforce.

The Foundation’s Board of Trustees approved a draft of a Memorandum of Understanding between PMA, ILP, and the Foundation at the trustees’ meeting on June 18, held virtually.

The Foundation’s Board of Trustees approved a draft of a Memorandum of Understanding between PMA, ILP, and the Foundation at the trustees’ meeting on June 18, held virtually. The Memorandum of Understanding was finalized on July 10.

“This has been a significant amount of work by all three agencies,” said Jim Rissler, President and CEO of the Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program. “It has been a wonderful example of cross-agency efforts to discover new ways to promote the PC(USA) and our mission in the evolving landscape of being church in today’s world.”

New churches, but not new buildings

The church loan funds were originally intended to help create new buildings for churches and ministries in the PC(USA).

As demand for funds to build new churches waned, disbursements from the funds decreased. In the meantime, the funds have continued to grow. Since these funds are restricted for new church construction and similar purposes, finding a new use has been challenging, until the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program was created.

This program helps support new churches – but many are not creating new buildings. Some are meeting inside other existing churches, renting spaces, or meeting inside businesses or homes. The 1001 New Worshiping Communities program is developed in the same spirit as the intention of the church loan funds – to grow the church and share the good news of the gospel with more people.

“As we continue to explore new ways of being church, the 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative helps to form new disciples of Jesus Christ in creative ways for our changing culture,” said President and Executive Director of the PMA, Diane Moffett.  “More than 600 diverse new worshiping communities have already formed, with the Mission Agency, congregations and presbyteries coming alongside to fan the flames of this movement.”

Rev. Dr. Neal Presa, Chair of the Foundation Board of Trustees, says the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program is building the church.

“Hundreds of new worshipping communities and thousands of people have been worshipping in those communities since 1001 New Worshiping Communities’ inception many years ago,” Presa said. “This agreement is an important interagency effort to explore the legal questions of how might specific designated funds be utilized to support 1001 New Worshiping Communities.”

How the funding works

The Foundation previously agreed to provide funding for the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program through 2022 via distributions from board-designated funds held by the Foundation or its constituent corporations, which did not require court approval. However, because the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program does not generate enough income to sustain itself, PMA submitted a proposal identifying funds that could be used to sustain its church extension work—currently in the form of 1001 New Worshiping Communities—in perpetuity.

As part of the planning process to consider this action, PMA submitted a proposal to the Foundation indicating $6 million in annual funding is needed to sustain its church extension work. Submission of the proposal is part of the Foundation’s fiduciary duty, Taylor says, to ensure that funds are used properly by the recipient, and would be required of anyone receiving funds from the Foundation.

ILP staff reviewed church loan fund restrictions and uses to ensure that such distributions would not harm the church loan program.

The Memorandum of Understanding between the Foundation, ILP, and PMA, stipulates that the funds distributed in support of 1001 New Worshiping Communities will consist of two components: first, continued distributions of approximately $1 million from board-designated PMA funds held by the Foundation or its constituent corporations; and second, annual distributions of approximately $5 million from church loan funds.

The church loan funds will remain titled to the Foundation, and the principal of the funds will remain intact. Church loan fund principal not designated to support the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program will be more than sufficient for ILP to provide church loans that are consistent with the current use of those funds, according to ILP.

Robyn Davis Sekula serves as Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Presbyterian Foundation. Send comments on this article to her at robyn.sekula@presbyterianfoundation.org.