Further, if local churches chose commissioners the way presbyteries choose GA commissioners, a typical church with two commissioners would send different ones to each meeting until everyone ever ordained an elder rotated through the pool.
Commissioners to presbytery meetings would rarely understand what was to be voted. Quickly, only those elders who savored presbytery work would attend. Minister members might be able to vote in only one presbytery meeting a year.
Further, if the stated clerks organized meetings the way General Assembly does, they would be fired in a year or two. Presbytery moderators would be people who were new to the job.
Finally, no one at General Assembly has the authority that exists at the presbytery level to set priorities or derail bad ideas. For the GA, all proposals are equal. There is no editor or “speaker of the house” to direct traffic.
Based on attendance at five assemblies, I would suggest the following ideas, several of which were proposed to the 219th General Assembly and “killed” in committee:
» Provide that any proposal that fails in committee dies there unless voted onto the docket by the plenary. This would require a floor motion when the first plenary convenes.
» Cut the number of commissioners in half. The size of the plenary and all GA committees is outrageous and unworkable. I’d recommend that each of the 173 presbyteries get one minister and one elder-commissioner, for a total of 346. The largest presbyteries would get one more, up to a total of no more than 400.
» A committee would set priorities.
» Some sort of “executive committee” should be established to screen business and make recommendations to the moderator. Such a committee might consist of:
– The GA stated clerk and GAMC executive director (two);
– One presbytery executive or stated clerk from each synod (13);
– Each committee chair from the previous GA (19); and
– Former moderators willing to participate (about six)
Total: About 40. This number would ensure diversity.
» Ecumenical, theological and missionary advisory delegates should be eliminated. Young adult advisory delegates (YAADs) should be retained, but without voice at plenaries. They should have voice but no vote in committees.
» Presbytery executives and stated clerks and their synod counterparts should have an advisory vote, but no voice. This proposal was rejected by the General Assembly Procedures committees in 2008.
» If the General Assembly were reduced in size, it should be held at one of our numerous Presbyterian colleges, rather than in a convention center in a major city. Commissioners, staff and other “official” participants could be housed in dormitories. “Observers” could fend for themselves or stay home and watch the GA on video streaming.
» General Assembly administrative (per capita) and mission budgets should be approved annually at a joint meeting of the General Assembly Mission Council and the Committee on the Office of General Assembly. At present, the budgets are approved by GA commissioners – who may have little idea what’s in them – on the final morning, when their brains are focused on getting to the airport and heading home.
Finally, General Assembly should be held every five years rather than every two. The Methodists and Episcopalians do it this way. We should, too.
Reid K. Beveridge is stated clerk of New Castle Presbytery in Delaware and Eastern Maryland. He formerly was stated clerk of National Capital Presbytery.