A proposal to the 219th General Assembly this week in Minneapolis to create a commission to address a host of issues facing middle governing bodies in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is "essential" because so many presbyteries and synods are in crisis, says the Rev. Gradye Parsons, General Assembly stated clerk.
The proposed 21-member commission — which is recommended by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and strongly pushed by Parsons — would have the power to act between now and the 2012 General Assembly at the request of middle governing bodies that need to make changes within the next two years.
"The timing for some middle governing bodies is critical," Parsons told the Presbyterian News Service in a June 29 interview. "With diminishing resources and other stresses, two years may be too long for some of our governing bodies to last in their current configuration."
The proposed mandate for the commission, which would be appointed by the moderators of the 2008 and 2010 Assemblies, would include consultation "with sessions, presbyteries, synods and the wider church on the mission and function of middle governing bodies." It would also develop models for ministry that might aid struggling governing bodies.
At the request of presbyteries and synods — and in conformity with G-13.0103m and G-13.0103n of the Book of Order, the commission could act "as the General Assembly" to "organize new synods and divide, unite or otherwise combine synods or portions of synods previously existing" and "approve the organization, division, uniting or combining of presbyteries or portions of presbyteries by synods."
Of course, vesting that much power in a commission makes some Presbyterians nervous, Parsons acknowledged, noting that the last time such a middle governing body commission was created was in 1972. "People should ask the hard questions and the General Assembly should add language to the proposal if it thinks it's wise," he said, "but the gravity of the situation requires that the commission be given the power to act."
General Assemblies are ill-equipped to deal with such complicated minutae in just a week, Parsons said. "Some of our presbyteries and synods are incredibly healthy and innovative. Others are really hurting for financial and other reasons.
A number of overtures have also been submitted to the Assembly addressing some of the issues that the commission would tackle. "Lots of churches and middle governing bodies are having conversations about how we can be one church together," Parsons said. "The issues are not just financial. Ministry contexts have changed a lot and we really need a group that can take a concentrated, comprehensive look at the whole governing body system and act quickly if need be.
"[The commission] has no authority to act unilaterally," Parsons said, "but it has to have the authority to act. This commission is important because our governing bodies are so important to the church."