DALLAS (PNS) Determined that their report be viewed as a newer, more collaborative way of being the church and not as a synod downsizing proposal, members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Mid Councils Commission (MCC) spent their last meeting together here tweaking their recommendations and refining the rationale for them.
The substance of the recommendations remains ― to reduce the number of PC(USA) synods from the current 16 to eight by 2016 ― but the revised language approved by the MCC at its Jan. 13-15 meeting here reflects a vision of “eight larger regional synods, each with an emerging sense of purpose, partnership, context and call.”
A recommendation from a previous Mid Council Commission to the 220th General Assembly (2012) that synods be eliminated “as ecclesiastical bodies” was rejected and this second MCC was authorized to take another look at the role and function of synods in the PC(USA).
“It isn’t enough to simply reduce the number of synods,” said MCC member Jim Wilson of Scioto Valley Presbytery, “but to streamline the mid council system. “We’re not just talking about cutting costs but of finding a way the church can be more fully expressive of its mission and ecclesiology.”
Added the Rev. Landon Whitsitt, executive for the Synod of Mid-America: “We’re talking about reimagining the church and how it engages in mission ― to create structures that enable us to be more missional at all levels of the church.”
Borrowing from presentations that MCC member Liza Hendricks, who recently retired as executive of the Presbytery of Western Reserve, has made on behalf of the commission, the MCC approved a new introduction to its report “inviting” the upcoming 221st General Assembly next summer in Detroit “to envision:
- A church whose existing mid-councils come together at a bigger table or multiple tables to aspire to what God is calling them to do to aspire to what God is calling us to be.
- A church with mid-councils that engage in conversations about collaborating, partnering and networking, as they define their purpose and the best way to live out a new identity.
- A church whose mid-councils may focus on relationships or mission, leadership development, administrative support or essential ecclesiastical functions as the glue that helps presbyteries be in covenantal community with one another.
- A church whose mid-councils are prepared to engage in significant structural change for the sake of enabling adaptive and creative change within broader borders?”
Collaboration between synods and their presbyteries for the sake of healthy congregations is key to the success of the restructuring proposal, MCC members agreed. The revised recommendations explicitly call for “a collaborative process between the synods and presbyteries” and informs them that “designated members of MCC2 will be available for conversation, clarification and collaboration during the synods’ and presbyteries’ two-year process of reconfiguring synods.”
And time is of the essence, the MCC agreed. Its recommendations call for the reconfigured synod boundaries to be in place by the 222nd General Assembly (2016) and for that Assembly to create another administrative commission “to assist synods and presbyteries who have been engaged in a substantive plan for reconfiguration but have been unable to resolve particular issues in their process.” That commission would propose final boundaries to the 2018 Assembly.
“If we don’t establish deadlines, the whole proposal falls apart,” Wilson said. “History shows that without deadlines needed change doesn’t happen ― we’ve been at this [issue of synods] for 20 years or more.”
At the end of the day, commission members were insistent that the number of synods and their boundaries is not the real issue. “When synods and presbyteries engage in this collaborative process of transformation we trust that new partnerships will emerge and all levels of the Church will find new sources of vitality,” the revised rationale states.
The MCC report, Jane D. Smith of Riverside Presbytery said, “expresses our desire to move from simple downsizing to a new way of thinking and doing ministry.”