By Leslie Scanlon, The Presbyterian Outlook.
It’s the melody wafting through so many conversations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) these days – and is virtually certain to be one of the refrains of the 2016 General Assembly. Overtures are pending about potentially merging the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Church folks are talking about possibly reducing the number of synods, about what recent endeavors to sample opinions across the church will reveal about “Presbyterian identity” and about the impact denominational budget-cutting will have on programs and mission.
Why so much talk about restructuring now? And for Presbyterians, why does it matter – what’s at stake?
Ask those foundational questions first (rather than getting snagged in the specifics of the proposals), and Presbyterians have a lot to say – some of it looking back to history, some looking forward.
Two committees – both part of the regular review cycle of PCUSA agencies, one reviewing the work of the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and another the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) – are expected to release reports in early January. It’s likely those committees will recommend that the 2016 General Assembly consider setting up a task force with specific representation to discuss the idea of a possible merger of OGA and PMA – not necessarily recommending merger, but creating a process to investigate that possibility. Presbyteries have submitted at least two overtures regarding the possibility of merger.
Restructuring conversations seem to be bubbling up in many places. “It’s just across the church, isn’t it?” said Cliff Lyda, a pastor from Illinois who chairs the OGA review committee.
“There is this sense of change, upheaval and everyone’s talking about it,” said Eliana Maxim, who is associate executive director of multicultural ministries for Seattle Presbytery and chair of the PMA review committee.
Why is that? Over the years, the PCUSA and its predecessor denominations have gone through a series of restructurings, and both OGA and PMA have endured downsizings because of declining budgets. The Presbyterian Mission Agency board is expected to implement another significant budget cut in April.