DETROIT – As the General Assembly prepares to take up the recommendations this week of the Mid Council Commission II – which includes proposing that the current 16 synods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) be reconfigured into eight large regional synods – the commission has issued a response to a critique of its recommendations made recently by the synod executives.
Late in May, 14 of the 16 synod executives prepared a statement called “A View From the Field” opposing some of the Mid Council Commission’s recommendations – including the one that the number of synods be cut in half.
Now, the commission has responded with its own statement – stating that neither the current commission nor its predecessor, which reported to the 2012 General Assembly, “believes that maintaining the status quo is a viable option for the PC(USA). Indeed, outside of the existing synod leadership, it heard from no one in the church that believed maintaining the status quo was a serious option. The church is living with a structure established for a larger church that does not serve the church’s needs in the 21st century.”
The commission’s response to the synod executives also states that:
- Either by choice or because of diminished resources, “the mission being conducted by many synods is less than in most presbyteries, and even of many congregations.”
- Reconfiguring the synods “opens the door to new possibilities” and for making the most of the limited resources of mid councils – and amounts to good stewardship.
- Reconfiguring the synods “will strengthen diversity in the denomination by increasing the diversity, and diverse points of view, in each of our synods.”
- Presbyteries are overwhelmed already and not in a position to initiate change in the overall mid council structure.
- Synods need to be big enough to fund and support mission. “The denomination is roughly half the size it was when existing synod boundaries were drawn.”
The Mid Council Commission II’s report to the assembly can be found here.
Below is the text of the statement from the Mid Council Commission II in response to the synod executives’ concerns.
Response to the Concerns Raised by Certain Synod Executives to Recommendations 1-3 of the Mid Council Commission II Report
The Mid Council Commission II sought to avoid making its report a detailed critique of the current work of the synods, but rather sought to envision a process which encourages, not detracts from, efforts to adapt to present and future ministry contexts and realities. However, neither it nor its predecessor Mid Council Commission believes that maintaining the status quo is a viable option for the PCUSA. Indeed, outside the existing synod leadership, it heard from no one in the church that believed maintaining the status quo a serious option. The church is living with a structure established for a larger church that does not serve the church’s needs in the 21st Century. Each of the points raised by the letter from some synod executives was considered with care by MCC2. While MCC2 will provide detailed responses to each of these points if the General Assembly wants such information, briefly:
Stewardship and mission: Continuing to maintain the status quo is poor stewardship. Of the sixteen synods, one has recently completed a process of special administrative review and this General Assembly faces a recommendation to place another synod under such review. Whether by choice or diminished resources, the mission being conducted by many synods is less than in most presbyteries, and even of many congregations. At the same time, many synods who assess per capita do not appear to be generating results proportionate to their cost. Reconfiguring the synods opens the door to new possibilities, new ways of understanding their ecclesial and missional role, and more efficient use of limited financial resources. Mission that is valued has a much better chance of surviving and thriving if it occurs in synods that are healthy and confident that they will exist as missional bodies into the future. In short, MCC2 believes reconfiguring outdated synod boundaries is good, not poor, stewardship.
Diversity: MCC2 believes that reconfiguration of the synods will strengthen diversity in the denomination by increasing the diversity, and diverse points of view, in each of our synods. Reconfiguration will require new assessment, and new honesty, as to how deep our commitment to diversity has been. Further, reconfiguration has the potential to open fresh conversations and means of networking, thereby to lead to a deeper commitment to diversity in each.
Why not let the presbyteries initiate change: Presbyteries have not sought this job, and are overwhelmed with the responsibilities already on their plates. Ultimately, the General Assembly is responsible for oversight of the Synods (F-3.0206, G-3.01, G-3.0502.b, G-3.0502.d). MCC2 recognized that such change should be collaborative, but believes the process of developing new boundaries needs a deadline, and that if that deadline is not met, the General Assembly in 2016 needs to act.
Will the reconfigured synods be too large: Larger, and more importantly, reconfigured, synods present a real possibility for maintaining four levels of councils within the denomination. The denomination is roughly half the size it was when existing synod boundaries were drawn. No synod has nearly the level of resources to carry out mission or ecclesial responsibilities today that it did when these boundaries were draw. If synods are to retain any missional function into the future, they need to be of a sufficient size to fund and support such mission. That will not come by maintaining the status quo. If a synod chooses to engage in minimal functions, broader boundaries should lead to efficiencies of scale.
Funding the process: The Stated Clerk has indicated that funds exist within the current proposed budget to facilitate convening a conversation among Synods regarding the recommendations. Funds also exist in the current budget to allow members of MCC2 to engage with the Synods by telephone as part of this recommendation.