The 219th General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to create a 21-member middle governing body commission with authority to act on the Assembly’s behalf in responding to realignment requests from synods and presbyteries. The vote was 566-104.
The commission, with authority to “act as the General Assembly,” is needed, said Cliff Lyda of Chicago Presbytery, moderator of the Assembly Committee on Middle Governing Body Issues, “because of rapid cultural shifts … that have created the need to make our structures more functional.”
In response to concerns that the commission might be able to act unilaterally to change synod and presbytery structures, the Assembly adopted just one amendment to the proposal from its Assembly Committee on Middle Governing Body Issues.
The amendment makes explicit that the commission can only act “upon a majority affirmative vote of the affected presbytery or presbyteries or a majority affirmative vote of the presbyteries in the affected synod or synods.”
The Assembly’s action also requires that all decisions of the commission must be approved by a two-thirds majority.
The commission will have the authority granted to the General Assembly in G-13.0103m and n “to organize new synods and to divide, unite or otherwise combine synods or portions of synods previously existing” and “to approve the organization, division, uniting or combining of presbyteries or portions of presbyteries by synods.”
Also assigned to the new commission is supervision of the work of the Assembly’s Special Committee on Administrative Review of the Synod of Boriquen in Puerto Rico and Its Constituent Presbyteries (SCARB).
The special committee, appointed by the 2008 Assembly, reported that the synod “is rife with power struggles among individuals, groups, and the middle governing bodies of the synod … that undermine the ability of the church in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to focus on Christ’s Great Commission…”
The Assembly voted to continue SCARB for two more years, expand it to include more members from Puerto Rico, and to be supervised by the middle governing body commission, which will be appointed by the General Assembly Moderator and immediate past Moderator.
Commissioner Gerardo Lopez-Viga of Presbiterio del Noroeste in Puerto Rico said, “At first we were somewhat upset with SCARB and its composition and were highly disappointed with its report.” But now, he continued, “seeking peace and justice in the church, we receive this recommendation with hope and compromise.”
In other middle governing body-related actions, the Assembly:
- Rejected an overture to eliminate synods;
- Rejected an overture to create a new synod based on theological affinity rather than geography;
- Rejected an overture seeking to give congregations “flexibility” to join presbyteries outside their geographical area based on theological affinity;
- Rejected creation of a Korean-language presbytery within the Synod of South Atlantic.