Portland, Ore. – So great was the interest in what will happen to synod boundaries, that the mid council committee meeting room had to be expanded in order to accommodate the observers crowding to watch the committee at work on June 20-21.
Synod boundaries. The committee considered item 05-01, “On Rescinding the Actions of the 221st General Assembly (2014) That Directed the Establishment of a New Configuration of Synod Boundaries,” which – if approved – would remove the requirement to reduce the number of synods to 10-12 as prescribed by the previous assembly. This committee was reminded that the actions of the previous assembly were not binding on this assembly.
Sallie Watson, overture advocate and general presbyter of Mission Presbytery in Texas, spoke to the perceived pressure to combine the synods in the western regions of the U.S. She addressed the immense region such a combined synod would create and spoke of the unmanageability that would result from such a “super-sized” synod.
Commissioners asked about the implications of cost, however specific costs were unavailable until it was known, with specificity, which synods would be merged.
After much debate, the committee voted to approve 28-15 – meaning, that the committee voted in favor of leaving the current synod boundaries as currently set. A comment was attached to the overture asking synods to “Continue conversation and collaboration of ministry and mission between and among synods” and encourage “intentional system of review and self-study.”
A minority report has also been submitted, requesting a special commission of eight members from the Mid Council Commissions I and II be appointed “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” and if no substantive plan is agreed up within eight months, to recommend to the next assembly the “the boundary changes necessary to achieve a total of no more than” 10-12 synods.
Task force for Korean Speaking Congregations. The committee also received the report of this task force (item 05-11). Irene Pak Lee, a teaching elder from San Jose Presbytery and a member of the task force, shared her perspective on the importance of advising the western synods to consider forming a non-geographic Korean-language presbytery. Pak Lee said that while non-geographic presbyteries are not ideal, real possibilities can come out of them. She spoke of many Korean congregations wanting to stay in the PC(USA), and shared her belief that such a presbytery would give them the resources they need to stay while honoring their language and gifts. The task force report with approved unanimously (as amended with comments) 44-0.
Dependent care policy. The committee also considered an overture to amend G-3.0106 to require all councils to adopt a dependent care policy (item 05-05). Kathy Stoner-Lasala, an overture advocate from Monmouth, Illinois, addressed the committee and said the goal of the overture was to ask “every council to seek God’s will in discernment about what their policy” will be. “It is not prescriptive,” she noted and emphasized that there were no costs to councils to put a policy in place. During open hearings, Robert Lowry, stated clerk of the Presbytery of Arkansas, spoke against the overture saying, “I urge you to heed the advice of the” Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) and said approving this item would contribute in turning the PC(USA) constitution into a manual of operations. Because this is a constitutional amendment, it would have to be ratified by the presbyteries.
The committee approved an alternate resolution (20-17) to disapprove 05-05 and answer it with the recommendation that the assembly direct the Presbyterian Mission Agency board to develop resources for councils to use in creating dependent care policies. The committee received the financial implications of approximately $26,000 to create this resources. Kimmy Stokesbary, teaching elder commissioner from Greater Atlanta Presbytery, addressed the committee’s voiced concerns about the cost and shared how she felt this initiative aligned with the great ends of the church. She said, “The PC(USA) is drastically behind the times in being a prophetic witness. And it’s time that we … lead the way into the future that God intends for us. I realize there are drastic implications to the approval of this motion, however I also urge you to consider what your ‘yes’ means for the future of the church. We need to take seriously this recommendation.”