LOUISVILLE — There’s a lot of talk at the General Assembly Council these days about new ways of thinking, new directions — creative ways of rearranging the furniture, maybe even remodeling the house. And one of the things the council is being asked to consider rearranging is itself.
In April 2006, the council will be asked to approve a new structure for the council itself. If that happens, the plan would be submitted to the General Assembly in Birmingham in June 2006 for final approval.
On March 30, at its meeting in Louisville, the council was given thumbnail presentations of several possible models — one of which would create a smaller council, one a bigger one–and could possibly change the way in which the council selects its members and structures its work and power relationships.
The members of the Governance Task Force who presented the blueprints for various approaches stressed that the entire enterprise is a “work in progress,” as Carol Adcock of Texas, who chairs the governance task force, put it. The governance task force was floating ideas, and plans in upcoming months to convene focus groups and use other mechanisms to get people talking about how the council should be structured and how it should do its work.
The task force handed out bright index cards to the council members and asked them to write down their own ideas.
And after the council had been given outlines of Plans A, B and C — cut the council to 50 members, leave it at the current 72 or grow it to 86 or 87 — they were also asked to consider Plan D.
Ken Newbold of North Carolina described that as “just as blank as it could be” — he encouraged the council members to think of some creative combination of Plans A, B and C, or something “we haven’t even thought of.”
The details of Plans A and C — making the council smaller or making it bigger — also provide some clues as to the kinds of issues about which the task force is thinking.
Should presbyteries have more representation? Under Plan C, half the 173 presbyteries would have a council representative at any time. What role should the General Assembly Nominating Committee play? Should presbyteries submit a slate of candidates and the nominating committee choose among them? Or should the presbytery have more voice — submitting only one candidate for consideration?
What requirements should there be for diversity — diversity of sex, race, age and geography? Who’s responsible for making sure that’s achieved?
Who on the council is accountable for what? What role should the denomination’s national staff play, and what are the responsibilities of the council’s elected members?
Susan Andrews, a former General Assembly moderator, said the answers to these questions have definite theological underpinnings, because “we are joyfully dependent on our sovereign God to lead us and to shape us.” And “individual discernment is tested within the life of community,” Andrews said.
Whatever plan is selected — A, B, C, or something yet unknown — Adcock said the intent is to end up with a council that better serves a more connected and cohesive denomination.
The council also heard reports involving other works-in-progress — including the Mission Funding Task Force. The denomination’s current funding system was devised in the 1950s and 1960s, and while “it worked very well for a long time,” there are problems with it now, said Paul Masquelier Jr. of California, its chair.
The council members talked in small groups about three questions — what works and what doesn’t work in the current mission funding system; if you could change three things, what would they be; and how does targeted fundraising affect your work area. They didn’t share their answers with the whole group, but the groups each turned in their comments for the task force to consider.
“We want this to be a very collaborative process,” Masquelier said. He wants the final recommendation to reflect the views not of “people holed up in a room and saying here it is,” but to be “a work that reflects the best thinking…throughout the whole Presbyterian church.”
Masquelier said; “We’re going to take seriously what we hear from you.”