Leaders of 14 of the 16 synods in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are speaking out against a recommendation from the Mid Councils Commission that the denomination’s synods be reconfigured into eight large regional synods.
That kind of opposition could pose a significant challenge to the commission’s recommendations, as happened in 2012, when the assembly voted down a series of recommendations from a previous commission – including eliminating synods as ecclesiastical bodies and the idea of non-geographic presbyteries.
The 2012 assembly voted to create another Mid Councils Commission to come back with new recommendations – and now many of the synod executives want the assembly to reject key recommendations from that new commission as well.
In a statement titled “A View From the Field,” the synod leaders write that they support a recommendation from the commission that the assembly create a Committee on Mid Councils to strengthen and nurture the work of mid councils, “with particular emphasis on collaborating with the synods . . . ”
But the synod leaders say they oppose two other recommendations from the commission, including one to reconfigure the current 16 synods to eight larger regional synods by 2016, “each with an emerging sense of purpose, partnership, context and call.”
The leaders say they share with the Mid Council Commission “a vision for the repurposing of synods” and for greater accountability and for working together to pursue “contextually developed mission goals.” But those leaders voice concerns that some of the commission’s recommendations could “impede the transformation of synods as missional communities by replacing the organic process that is currently working with an imposed structure and process.”
The statement also states that the recommendations falsely assume “that having larger synods will reinvigorate mission.”
Ariel Mink and Byron Wade, co-moderators of the Mid Councils Commission, could not immediately be reached for comment about the synod leaders’ statement or their criticisms of the commission’s recommendations.
Among the points the synod leaders make in their statement:
- The commission’s recommendations would misdirect resources. “Mergers redirect time, energy, and resources inwardly rather than outwardly . . . The history of such mergers at both presbytery and synod levels suggest that even a simple merger would require several years and tens of thousands of dollars to complete successfully.”
- The recommendations could lead to forced partnerships. Trust and relationships take time to develop, while “mergers created under time constraint or by fiat of the General Assembly are not conducive to developing vital partnerships with a shared purpose.”
- The first Mid Councils Commission “served the purpose of igniting conversations within and among synods, resulting in significant transformation of existing synods. This is not the same PC(USA) as existed in 2010 . . . Artificially disrupting this with mergers and new discernment processes undercuts the very intent of the recommendations and drains enthusiasm and inertia from these initiatives.
- Some contiguous synods have little in common regarding theology and the culture of mission.
- Mergers could raise issues of parity – with some synods becoming geographically large with relatively few members, while others would be physically smaller but with concentrated membership.
Leaders signing the statement come from 14 of the 16 synods. Those who signed were:
Covenant: Raafat Zaki; Lakes and Prairies: David Crittenden; Lincoln Trails: Carol McDonald; Living Waters: Terry Newland; Mid-America: Landon Whitsitt; Mid-Atlantic: Warren Lesane; Northeast: Harold Delhagen; Pacific: Jane Odell; Rocky Mountains: David Ezekiel; South Atlantic: Heahwan Rim; Southern California & Hawaii: Doska Ross; Southwest: Conrad Rocha; Sun: Dan Saperstein, Valerie Young; Trinity: Bruce Stevens. Synods are listed for identification purposes only, according to the statement.
No one signed from the Synod of Alaska-Northwest or the Synod in Boriquén (Puerto Rico).