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Synods to restructure, not disappear

The number of synods across the denomination will be cut from 16 to between 10 and 12. The 221st General Assembly rejected a minority report and a substitute recommendation, opting to approve the recommendation of the Mid Councils Committee that will require the restructure to be enacted and reported by the 2016 General Assembly.

The Mid Councils Committee was the last standing committee — the last to wrap up its work — at this year’s assembly in Detroit. Most of its work and conversation revolved around the Mid Council Commission II (MC2) report. As the moderator moved the motion, an amendment was presented by a commissioner on the floor that read:

“Move that the process of determining the number and boundaries of synods with focus on mission priorities is to be led by a meeting facilitator who has experience in mediation and conflict resolution. There will be a total of 4 face-to-face meetings over 2 years, unless the business can be concluded sooner. These meetings may be a part of already scheduled synod and presbytery executive meetings to reduce costs.”

The amendment was defeated.

A minority report was presented by Kay Baker and Greg Anable of Cascades Presbytery, essentially calling for one national synod with regional offices. Many of the commissioners on the floor who spoke in opposition to the minority report were members of the committee who expressed that all the work the MC2 did for their report and their own endeavor to faithfully consider the report was important.

Landon Whitsitt, Synod Executive of Mid- America, spoke in support of a substitute motion that arose after the minority report: “It is a much better way … a course of real impact rather than taking the next 2 years to figure out how to merge synods.” Whitsitt was on the original task force for the first mid council commission, and now standing before the body as someone standing against the MC2 proposal.

After a few more comments the commissioners voted the report down.

The original motion to move MC2’s report was voted on and passed by the assembly body. Likewise, a proposal on the consultation before possible reorganization of Synod or Presbytery Boundaries was also passed by vote.

Reflecting on the approved motion, Maryann McKibben Dana, a pastor from northern Virginia, explained, “The committee approved raising the number of new synods from 8 to 10-12 to allow more flexibility in the conversation. We don’t want to jeopardize the good work happening on the synod level in many places. But we also hope the wiggle room allows new partnerships to flourish in synods that may need an infusion of energy.”

The committee’s moderator, ruling elder commissioner Courtenay Wilcox of Philadelphia Presbytery, began her report by speaking to the vision of their work, “At the heart of this conversation is to discover and design how to best move forward in the denomination … Relevant and new forms of structures that allow for creative adaptive responses to changing times … Jeremiah 29’s words come to mind, ‘I know the plans I have for you, declares to the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ ”

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