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Commission advises trial period for nongeographic presbyteries

The Mid-Councils Commission advises that nongeographic presbyteries be given a trial run and that that synods be stripped of ecclesiastical authority.

The commission voted 17-1 to approve its final report to the 2012 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

That report includes eight recommendations to the assembly, among them:

Permit non-geographic, “provisional presbyteries” as part of a “designated season of reflective experimentation” in the PC(USA). The commission calls for the season of experimentation to expire in 2021, unless a General Assembly acts to change that.

Recommend that synods would no longer exist in the PC(USA) as councils with ecclesiastical responsibility.

To take effect, both of those changes to the PC(USA)’s Book of Order would require approval from both the General Assembly and a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries.

The commission approved all its key recommendations in votes during previous meetings, but delayed approval of its final report until a Feb. 13 conference call.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said the commission’s moderator, Tod Bolsinger, in thanking the commission’s members for their work over the past 18 months. The 2010 General Assembly created the commission to examine the denomination’s middle governing body structure and to make recommendations for change.

The report states that at the heart of its proposals is an effort to flatten the denominational hierarchy and bureaucracy and set up regional administrative commissions. Those commissions are to serve multiple presbyteries through missional partnerships and by providing safe environments for collaboration and experimentation.

The commission also wants to reinvigorate presbyteries “as a locus of support for missional congregations by allowing more flexibility in the formation of connectional relationships,” the report states.

The report also offers lessons gleaned from voices from around the church, and from investigating creative approaches being used in the PC(USA) and other denominations.

“Christianity is like a river with many branches,” the report states. “Like others before it, the Presbyterian stream could run its course. It could disperse into nothing. Its water could run dry. But, it is just as likely that this stream will experience a resurgence of living water. For many, this is a time of hope and new life. It is a time of emergence and the birthing of new ways of being Christian – perhaps even new ways of being Presbyterian.”