In an effort to look outward — to do ministry more effectively in a time of declining resources — people are looking inward, at the structures of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and are asking what’s working well and what needs to change.
This conversation is taking place:
» In presbyteries, which are discussing the proposed new Form of Government for the PC(USA). Presbyteries will vote over the next several months on the proposed constitutional amendment – and the discussions leading up to that vote involve questions about accountability, flexibility and connectionalism. Not to mention trust.
» At the Moderators Conference, where presbytery and synod moderators from around the denomination gathered in Louisville in mid-November and talked about how can presbyteries and synods be places where people support and encourage one another, worship together and dream up new approaches to ministry, rather than be simply places to vote on (and disagree about) controversial issues?
» In the new General Assembly Commission on Middle Governing Bodies, which is asking questions such as “what’s the function of a middle governing body?” – in other words, what are presbyteries and synods like now, and what should they be like?
One reason these questions are particularly pertinent is because some funding that has been used to support presbyteries, at least in some regions, is coming to an end. The General Assembly voted last summer that the PC(USA)’s Mission Partnership Fund, created in the 1980s, will end on Dec. 31, 2013.
The Mission Partnership Fund has been used to fund four areas of mission: campus ministry, racial ethnic ministries, new church development, and support for the staff of middle governing bodies. The fund was financed by taking just over 10 percent of total unrestricted giving to the denomination, an amount that’s been decreasing, as membership in the PC(USA) has dropped and more Presbyterians are choosing to restrict their donations for a particular purpose.
A task force is working to consider what the impact will be of eliminating that funding – talking to Presbyterians around the country about what the PC(USA)’s domestic mission priorities are and ought to be. That task force is to report back to the General Assembly in 2012 regarding the ramifications of ending the Mission Partnership Fund, about what needs to change, and about finding alternate ways to pay for ministry priorities.
“I can’t think of a more important time to be a moderator (of a presbytery or synod) than right now,” Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the 219th General Assembly, said at the Moderator’s Conference, held in Louisville Nov. 12-14. “Perhaps there have been better times, but not a more important time.”
Bolbach spoke of the significant issues coming up for consideration in the next six months in the denomination’s 173 presbyteries – including the new Form of Government proposal; the Belhar Confession from South Africa; and a proposal to change the PC(USA)’s ordination standards involving sexual practice.
Bolbach described this as a “hinge time” for the denomination and said she senses both anxiety and hope.
“There is very little that needs to be preserved,” wrote Clark Cowden, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of San Diego. “Many things we do are simply done because `that’s the way we’ve always done them before’. We need to cultivate imagination and creativity and entrepreneurship and new experiments on how best to do our ministry together.