Not in all respects. I still speak at the speed of a typical Jerseyite. I still prefer Broadway over the rodeo. White Christmases over warm.
But I now go to the beach, not the shore. Being cool has been displaced by exuding warmth. Formal has given way to casual.
And top-down governance has given way to states’ rights. At least some of the time.
When the two major branches of Presbyterianism reunited in 1983, the two traditions melded well in some ways, but they clashed in others. Their divergent approaches to governance have performed like a nonstop demolition derby.
That derby is fixin’ for another big crashathon as the two competing styles face off over the Mid Councils Commission proposals coming to the 220th General Assembly, which will convene June 30 in Pittsburgh.
In principle, we Presbyterians long have insisted that that all church authority — except where specifically stated — falls to the presbytery. Sometimes the constitution delegates authority to local churches (e.g., electing officers, setting terms of call). Sometimes it overrules by seating the authority in the national church (e.g., exercising final judicial oversight, defining confessional standards). But mostly, presbyteries rule.
Then again, in pre-reunion days, the former United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which operated mostly in the North with headquarters in Manhattan, pretty much expected all policies to be formed by the General Assembly and all programs to be guided by the national staff. The former Presbyterian Church (U.S.), which operated mostly in the South with headquarters in Atlanta, pretty much expected policies to be formed and programs organized by each presbytery, operating autonomously.
Result: UPCUSA members toted big Books of Order. The PCUS book fit in one’s shirt pocket.
Prior to reunion, many in the South worried that their church would get gobbled up by the Yankee church. In matters of governance, it did. The reunited church’s Book of Order grew rapidly, as Presbyterians of all stripes sought to regulate the policies and programs of all other Presbyterians.
And, contrary to all the talk about partisanship, those with rightward as well as leftward ideological leanings have opted for national controls when that has been expedient (prohibiting LGBT ordination, requiring women’s ordination), and for local option when that has been expedient (deciding whether or not to pay per capita funds, allowing scrupling for LGBT ordination candidates).
As in national governance, so in denominational: the assignment of authority is always fluid, driven by lofty, principled rhetoric — but fueled by political expedience.
Which brings us to the Mid Councils Commission report. Like the recommendations of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church, adopted in 2006, and the revisions of the New Form of Government Task Force, ratified last year, the MCC proposal promotes greater delegation of authority. It allows presbyteries to experiment with the possibility of reinventing themselves in ways heretofore prohibited. It suggests that the greater common good can be accomplished as governance becomes more decentralized.
Then again, opponents express dismay that some of the proposed options risk snapping the sinews that hold us together.
This, the first of four pre-GA editions of the Outlook, introduces the candidates for moderator of the GA. It also presents an Outlook forum on the MCC report and a report on innovations being tested in some creative presbyteries. These analyses and arguments dispel some misconceptions and shed light on how we Presbyterians might live in community as Yankees, Southerners and a host of other categories by which we may self-identify.
A letter in the May 14 edition, responding to the review of Thomas Long’s book, was mistakenly attributed to Greg Zurakowski. It actually was written by Richard Guthrie of Dublin, Va. We apologize for the error.