DETROIT, Mich. — Open hearings on overtures regarding proposed realignment of the synod structure dominated Monday night’s assembly of the Mid-Councils Issues Committee.
The report from the Mid-Council Commission 2 (Business Item 05-04) recommending the reduction of the number of synods from 16 to eight drew the most attention, with more than a dozen people speaking on the issue to be considered by the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The committee will consider its business on Tuesday, determining the recommendations it will make for consideration by the full assembly later this week. It also will decide on proposals regarding consultation before possible reorganization of synod or presbytery boundaries (Business Item 05-01) and the reconfiguration of the boundaries for the Synod of Puerto Rico (Business Item 05-02).
Many of those sharing comments about theMCC-2 proposal were from Synod of the Pacific, already one of the largest in the nation, but there was a mix of support for and against the measure.
“I rise to speak in favor of the Mid-Council report. This is a very modest, conservative movement for the church that will result in better discussion of stewardship of our resources,” said Susan Myer of Maumee Valley Presbytery. “It provides for a clear, two-year accountability system that will enforce and encourage collaborative relationships.”
Jayne Smith, a member of both Mid-Council commissions, shared information that revealed members of presbyteries and synods across the country pointed to synods as a weakness in the governing body system of the PCUSA.
“Seventy-seven percent of presbytery and synod leaders (in face-to-face consultations and other forms of communication) said too much money was going to synods with little return in ministry and mission,” she said. “We no longer have the resources to support a structure that is not giving back. It’s time to stop studying and talking, and look carefully at the recommendation to reduce the number of synods.”
But there were opposing views to the report as well.
John Kelso, stated clerk for San Jose Presbytery, said the MCC-2 paid almost no attention to the geography of the western United States and how much larger synods could become if reduced to eight.
“The notion that creating synods that large will bring us together in missional opportunities is nonsense,” Kelso claimed, observing that Synod of the Pacific covers 420,000 square miles now and would grow to almost a million square miles if paired with Synod of the Rocky Mountains. “We’re not afraid of change, but we’re very much afraid of irresponsible, thoughtless change.”
John Hicks of Boise Presbytery noted that the Synod of the Pacific returns $100,000 annually to each of its presbyteries, something that may not happen if the MCC-2 report is approved.
“It’s very top down,” he said of the report. “We don’t feel it’s collaborative. We’re being mandated, and you don’t get things done when you’re top down. I urge you to vote against the MCC-2 report.”
Russ Brant of Synod of the Covenant said larger synods are less personal, don’t reduce costs and will lead to the hiring of more staff to cover a larger territory.
“I thought the report was supposed to help us relate better to our presbyteries rather than reduce the number of synods,” Brant said. “I disagree with reducing the number of synods from 16 to 8. There are too many unintended consequences.”
Neal Presa, moderator of the 220th General Assembly, suggested that the church needs to move, and the MCC-2 report is a way to do that.
“It offers a prudent and measured proposal to lift the 16 anchors and have the church move in a measured pace,” Presa said. “This MCC report, along with the first MCC report came to the same conclusion: The status quo is not acceptable. We need to move forward.”
While the MCC-2 report garnered most of the attention, only one comment was made about Homestead Presbytery’s overture regarding consultation before possible reorganization of synod or presbytery boundaries.
Kelso spoke in favor of the recommendation, noting that there needs to be input from presbyteries and congregations in order to have any possible consolidation in an orderly way, adding that more time would be needed to adequately address the situation, and the work should proceed without threat of an Administrative Commission’s involvement.
Four people spoke on behalf of the Synod of Puerto Rico’s overture to keep its synod boundaries intact no matter what restructuring takes place with the current system.
One person commented that the concerns and opinions of Puerto Rico were not heard regarding any restructuring plans.
“We would have liked to be part of the conversation,” he said. “The presbyteries should have had an honest chance to express themselves when governing bodies to which they belong are examined.”