DETROIT, Mich. — Commissioners for the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) gave their approval to the report of the Mid-Council Commission 2 (MCC-2) calling for the reduction of synods after voting down three substitute motions.
The assembly voted 449-128 to accept the report, which was amended by the Mid-Councils Issues Committee to call for a reduction to no more than 10-12 synods instead of eight as proposed originally.
The Mid-Councils Issues Committee went through seven different motions to amend the opening recommendation for Business Item 05-04 during a lengthy meeting Tuesday, finally voting 65-1 to make the recommendation for GA approval during Friday’s plenary session at the Cobo Center.
“Each of us recognized that maybe it would be easier to do nothing, but our current synod structure is not serving our congregations,” said Courtenay Willcox, moderator of the Mid-Councils Issues Committee. “We see hope for the future of the church in this report.”
Willcox added a reading from Jeremiah 29:11 in reference to such hope.
Commissioners entertained three substitute motions on the matter but turned down each of them.
One of them called for a national synod with all presbyteries having equal standing and support of resources. It suggested current synod offices becoming regional offices.
Greg Anable of Cascades Presbytery introduced the motion, saying that he felt it “was an acceptable proposal” that he did not think would be costly and divisive as he indicated the MCC-2 report would be. Commissioners voted down the proposal 504-66, and also defeated with a decisive hand vote a motion from Diane Easley calling for a conflict resolution mediator to handle the process at a cost of more than $60,000, more than the financial implication of $44,540 over three years to implement the MCC-2 proposal.
A third and very lengthy proposal from Jennifer Burns Lewis was defeated 365-212. Her proposal called for the development of mutually accountable missional goals to be developed by synods and presbyteries, to repurpose synods as missional councils and engaging synods and presbyteries annually in a common assessment of mission strengths, needs and opportunities, with the process to be reported biennially to the GA.
Synod Executive Landon Whitsitt (Synod of Mid-America), a member of MCC-2, spoke in favor of Lewis’ proposal and against the report offered by his colleagues on MCC-2.
“When I voted in January for the report it was because it was the best option we had at the time,” he said. “I was never convinced the report submitted would have substantive, transformative work for our synods and didn’t feel we should waste time the next two years figuring out how to merge.”
Jim Wilson, a member of MCC-2, noted that both commissions (MCC- 1 created in 2010 and MCC-2 created in 2012) studied the matter with great care, and both determined a need to consolidate the current mid-council structure, with both groups voting unanimously that the status quo is not working.
In approving Item 05-04, the Mid-Councils Issues Committee rejected an overture from Homestead Presbytery asking that there be consultation before possible reorganization of synod or presbytery boundaries (Business Item 05-01).
The motion was defeated 38-14 in committee, based primarily on the approval of 05-04. Thus, Willcox asked the full assembly to disapprove the item.
“We found the overture to be redundant, and we answered that overture with our response to 05-04,” she said.
The assembly agreed, voting with red flags raised in support of the motion to disapprove.
The MCC-2 report approved by the General Assembly, reads as follows:
The Mid Council Commission 2 (MCC-2) recommends that the 221st General Assembly (2014) do the following:
1. Direct that a new configuration of synod boundaries be established [based on an emerging sense of purpose, partnership, context, and call through a collaborative process] between the synods and presbyteries resulting in no more than 10-12 synods. The synods shall report to the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
2. Inform all synods and presbyteries that designated members of MCC 2 will be available for conversation, clarification, and collaboration during the synods’ and presbyteries’ two-year process of reconfiguring synods.
3. Recommend that the 222nd General Assembly (2016) direct its Moderator, in consultation with the Stated Clerk, to appoint an administrative commission for the following purposes:
a. To assist synods and presbyteries who have been engaged in a substantive plan for reconfiguration but have been unable to resolve particular issues in their process.
b. To recommend to the 223rd General Assembly (2018) the boundary changes necessary to achieve a total of no more than 10-12 synods, if there remain synods and presbyteries that have been unable or unwilling to engage in a collaborative process of reconfiguration.
4. In order to ensure that the responsibilities listed in G-3.0502 are fulfilled, establish a “Committee on Mid-Councils” and charge it to engage in a process for the ongoing strengthening and nurturing of the mid-councils of the Presbyterian Church (USA), with particular emphasis on collaborating with the synods of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to support clarity as to their ecclesial and missional identity, purpose, structure, and strategies by amending Standing Rule C.1.a. as follows: [Text to be added is shown as italic.]
“a. The Stated Clerk shall propose the number and designation of assembly committees to the General Assembly, which shall include a Committee on Mid Councils. The Stated Clerk shall present the proposed committee structure to the General Assembly for consideration and ratification at the first assembly meeting at which business is transacted. In making these proposals, the Stated Clerk shall consult with the appropriate General Assembly entity or entities, and may consult with other persons.”
5. Continue the Mid Council Commission II through the meeting of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) with the following authority:
a. Pursuant to G-3.0502d, to organize new synods, or divide, unite, or otherwise combine previously existing synods or portions of synods upon request of the synods; and
b. Pursuant to G-3.0502e, to approve the acts of synods to organize, divide, unite, or combine presbyteries or portions of presbyteries.
6. Accept this report as the commission’s answer to the items referred to it by the 220th General Assembly (2012).