Former Motorola lawyer Linda Bryant Valentine, the incoming executive director of the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s General Assembly Council, faces new challenges as tough as those she met in the volatile mobile-phone industry.

Beyond a downsized staff at the Louisville, Kentucky, headquarters, the lifelong Presbyterian must also grapple with long-term questions over the denomination's viability.

Valentine, scheduled to take office July 1, will guide the headquarters through reductions approved by the council in late April. The cuts include 74 jobs at headquarters and 55 overseas missionary positions.

Her predecessor, John Detterick, says the cuts—the fourth round since 1993—reflect a shift away from established, centralized programs toward conducting missions through churches and presbyteries.

The former executive director says there has been a 12 percent decline in funds flowing to the national office during the past decade, and he attributes it to members' desire for a larger say in missions spending.

"I think the fact that Presbyterians continue to care deeply about missions and are becoming more personally involved … is very positive for the denomination," says Detterick, who retired after eight years on the job.

Gifts to local churches have increased an inflation-adjusted 5 percent since 1996. Yet last year the headquarters' total receipts declined more than 6 percent, or $7.5 million.

The decrease spurred the General Assembly Council to approve $9.15 million in budget cuts for 2007-08. Accounting for the addition of several new positions—most related to staff restructuring—the headquarters workforce will lose 67 jobs by October 1, dropping to 465.

Officials will eliminate 40 missionaries through attrition, while hoping to retain funding for 15. If unable to salvage those jobs, the missionary force will decline to 220.

Critics have their own reasons for the denomination's tough sledding. Jim Berkley, director of Presbyterian Action for Faith and Freedom, a committee of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, says recent denominational decisions, such as divesting from companies that do business with Israel and supporting civil unions for homosexuals (both approved by the 2004 General Assembly), have offended many members.

"People feel good about the missions entity, but not about the other aspects of denominational life," says Berkley, who has been a pastor in several Presbyterian churches.

Presbyterians aren't alone in facing financial hardship, according to David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. He attributes the squeeze suffered by many mainline denominations to local churches keeping more money to deal with increased salary and operational costs, along with more local missions projects.

Roozen acknowledges such conflicts as gay marriage have also played a role. But the Hartford Seminary professor cautions against sounding the death knell for mainline denominations.

"They're going to be around a long time," Roozen says. "Look how long General Motors and Ford have [survived]."

Related Elsewhere:

Articles elsewhere include:

Former exec takes reins of Presbyterian Church | Valentine, whose family's Presbyterian roots trace back at least to the Revolutionary War, assumes the position at a tumultuous time for the organization.The church recently announced layoffs and budget cuts, as well as a reorganization of its mission program. (Daily Herald, Chicago suburbs, June 11, 2006)
Presbyterian Church HQ Announces Job Cuts | The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said Monday that 75 employees at its headquarters will lose their jobs as $9.15 million in budget cuts have forced the denomination to reorganize its mission program. (Associated Press, May. 2, 2006)
GAC adopts sweeping restructure of GA offices | $9.15 million budget cut costs 75 jobs, including top management (Presbyterian News Service, May 1, 2006)

CT reported on PC(USA) cuts in 2002.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.