Commission opens door to ideas on changing church governance

Tod Bolsinger, a pastor from California and moderator of the commission, gave the General Assembly Mission Council a summary on March 31 of the commission’s work so far — and a vision for where it’s going.

The commission — which the General Assembly created in 2010 and which is to report back to the next assembly in Pittsburgh in 2012 — has met twice so far, with a third meeting scheduled in Seattle May 31-June 2.

At this stage, commission members are working hard to gather ideas of innovative ways presbyteries and synods organize and fund what they do, ideas that could suggest approaches the commission might recommend to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for broader use.

Bolsinger said the commission is currently in a “discerning and discovering mode” and is likely to suggest more than one model, what he described as “potential experiments,” for the denomination to consider.

The task force has set up three subgroups, all of which are working between the full commission’s meetings. Those subgroups are:

» Emerging models, which is gathering information on existing creative models for presbyteries and synods.

» Research strategy, consulting with sessions, presbyteries, synods and the wider church.

» Soil tilling, preparing the PC(USA) for responding to a changing culture and governing bodies that may be changing too.

As part of that work, commission members are visiting all 16 synods and holding conference calls with interested presbyteries.

They are also, with the help of Presbyterian Research Services, encouraging people to fill out online surveys that will inform the commission’s work. That includes surveys for sessions of congregations; for presbytery and synod leaders; and for individual Presbyterians.

The commission also is communicating with folks, and soliciting feedback, through Facebook, Twitter, its blog and its Web site, ( where resources the commission has used in its work are posted.

Its members are traveling to major events, such as Big Tent and Board of Pensions regional gatherings.

They are having conversations with representatives of the denomination’s five non-geographic presbyteries — Dakota, for Native American Presbyterians, and for Koreans the four presbyteries of Hamni, Mid-West Hamni, Eastern Korean and Atlantic-Korean.

Non-geographic synods are a hot topic in the PC(USA) these days. A group of pastors who issued a white paper in February declaring the denomination to be “deathly ill” also expressed interest in forming a non-geographic presbytery or a new 17th synod.

The commission is also convening focus groups of leaders from both particularly large and particularly small presbyteries; of young pastors; of African American, Hispanic, Native American and Middle Eastern pastors and congregational leaders; and of stated clerks.

Council members spent some time talking in small groups about ideas the commission might consider — about what things they’d want middle governing bodies to hold on to, and about what they’d like to see change.

Among their ideas: Stay connected. Support ministers. Spend less on traveling to meetings. Meet less often. Build trust.

Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the 218th General Assembly, said he hopes some of what the task force suggests won’t be “just trying to do it better, just trying to be more efficient,” but ideas for radical transformation.

In other words: Not tinkering. Big change.

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