GA 2010: New MGB commission recommendation approved by committee

MINNEAPOLIS — After discussing the issue in detail and making some amendments, the Middle Governing Bodies Issues Committee of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a recommendation for a new commission to work with middle governing bodies. The full General Assembly will consider the recommendation to create the new commission in plenary session later this week.

The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly is recommending that the assembly form a 21-person commission to work with existing presbyteries and synods, upon their request. This commission would have the power to act when the General Assembly is not in session. That proposal is one of the most significant this assembly will consider, according to some observers.

Some presbyteries and synods across the denomination struggle financially to meet their ministry and judicial responsibilities. The commission would have the ability, at the request of such a governing body, to allow that presbytery or synod to unite with another governing body or otherwise reconfigure itself. These shifts in the make-up of governing bodies would be the result of “the prayerful deliberations of presbyteries and synods struggling to be more faithful, more missional, and more effective stewards of their resources,” the proposal states.

Much of the discussion of the committee centered on the powers to be given to such a commission. There were some concerns that such a commission would have too much power, with an ability to manipulate presbyteries or synods at will. However, the final proposal sent to the assembly for consideration makes clear that the commission may act only at the request of, and in consultation with, a middle governing body. A presbytery, for example, would have to vote upon, and approve, the request for the commission to act on its behalf.

As Dick Wolters, an elder from Greater Atlanta Presbytery, put it when speaking in favor of the recommendation: “Commissions can get things done. We need to trust each other.”

One of the amendments to the original recommendation changes the majority needed for the commission to act. A motion from Vincent Kolb, a minister from St. Augustine Presbytery, and then reworded with help from Jeff Myers, a minister from Scioto Valley Presbytery, proposed that the commission must have a two-thirds majority in order to act. This motion passed.

This amendment, from Kolb and Myers, also addressed issues raised in the overture from the Synod of the Southwest that requested the formation of such a committee to explore the roles and relationships of synods and presbyteries.

The committee also raised concerns about the precise make-up of the commission and its diversity. The commission will be appointed by the moderator of the 218th General Assembly, Bruce Reyes-Chow, and by Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the 219th General Assembly, in consultation with the General Assembly Nominating Committee. They will be required to meet representational guidelines as outlined in the current Book of Order.

Still, there was concern that the commission be theologically diverse as well. Julia Leeth, a minister from Santa Barbara Presbytery, was especially concerned about this issue. “I am all about building bridges. How can we ensure that there is broad theological representation on this commission?” Leeth asked. She proposed an amendment that would ensure diverse theological perspectives on the commission, which passed.