Five years later (1988), a new headquarters was dedicated in Louisville on the banks of the Ohio River. Staff members from New York, Atlanta and elsewhere converged on the rehabilitated riverfront warehouse made available by a local Presbyterian corporate executive.
The slogan for the event was “New Beginnings,” and a beautiful poster bearing that inscription was distributed widely. Again, the speeches were hopeful; there was a sense that after all the years of struggling to get reunion between Northern and Southern streams approved, now was the moment to move forward in confidence.
Yet the move forward in confidence did not take place, or at least not in the way planners of the mission design had anticipated. The basic structure, one supreme governing group — the General Assembly Council, with all other previously independent national entities reporting through it to the annual meeting of the General Assembly — soon foundered on the realities of deeply entrenched bureaucratic interests.
The plan to bring two national staffs together in Louisville, a place that many at the time believed to be a bit out of the way (Kansas City had been proposed to the GA by a selection committee), meant years of upheaval before anything new could emerge.
Within five years (1993), the first major organizational overhaul under the title “Shape and Form” was approved by the General Assembly. The GA went from nine ministry units under the GAC and five so-called related bodies to the current structure of Worldwide, National and Congregational ministries divisions plus Mission Support Services. Within a very few years we had six national entities reporting directly to GA each year: GAC, Office of the General Assembly (Stated Clerk’s office), Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Publishing Corp. and Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program Inc.
With the transition from the original GAC elected at reunion and serving until the early 1990s, and the retirement of certain long-term holdover high-level officials, the organization began to take on a new cast, though there was much unfinished business. There still is, in terms of creating a lean General Assembly organizational structure that represents well the church at large, under God. It should focus on those areas of ministry in which its limited resources can best achieve results.
Added to the organizational, political issues is the whole matter of mission of the GA: What should the GA bureaucracy do? What is its purpose? Some are questioning whether we need much of a national organizational establishment at all in these days of the decentralized, decentralizing denomination.
In the coming weeks, various aspects of “new beginnings,” the title of a new editorial series will be explored, with some ideas for the future presented.
Robert H. Bullock Jr., Outlook editor for the past 15 years, is retiring as of Oct. 31.
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