LOUISVILLE — Smaller, leaner, more focused on the big picture.
That’s the hope for the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the years ahead — as the council voted on Feb. 10 to restructure itself and downsize from 71 members to 48.
Before voting, council members asked plenty of questions — among them, how the changes would affect the council’s relationship with other groups in the church. Some of those groups have sent “corresponding members” to General Assembly Council meetings; the council has also assigned some of its members to be liaisons to these groups.
The council did amend the restructuring proposal from its Governance Task Force to continue to give the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly “corresponding member” status on the council — which means that a COGA representative will continue to have voice at the council meetings, but not a vote.
Those losing corresponding member status on the council are: the Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Foundation, the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program and the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
The council also made a few other changes in the task force’s proposal. The number of young adult representatives (considered to be someone 18 to 35 years old) increased from three to four. The number of presbytery executives was raised from two to three and the number of synod executives from one to two — an effort to intensify the sense of connection between the national church and the grass roots. Two council members would have to be persons with disabilities.
But fewer General Assembly commissioners would be appointed to the council than first proposed — six instead of nine.
The council approved the new structure by a 38-23 vote.
The council also unanimously approved the Mission Work Plan for 2007 and 2008 — basically, a blueprint for deciding what work is most important and where scarce resources should be applied.
That plan organizes the efforts of the PC(USA) around four major goals: evangelism and witness; justice and compassion; spirituality and discipleship; and leadership and vocation.
At the council’s next meeting, at the end of April, the council’s executive director, John Detterick, will present a budget for 2007 and 2008 that will be organized around the Mission Work Plan and will, it’s already been made clear, involve another round of budget cuts.
Council member Jim Kirk of Baltimore, who formerly served on the PC(USA)’s national staff, said that when he did “I was constantly told we were restructuring. And each time I heard that, it took about a year and a half out of my life” in stress and anxiety.
Kirk asked if any more could be said now about what the budget cutbacks and restructuring will bring, but Detterick said those decisions still are being made.
Kirk said he understood, but “be cognizant of the toll it takes on the national staff every time you talk about restructuring” and layoffs.