Life after synods

Mid-Council Commission approves enabling recommendations

February 2, 2012


In October, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Mid-Council Commission, recommended the elimination of synods as ecclesiastical units of the church’s governing structure by 2016.

Today (Feb. 2), the commission approved recommendations to the upcoming 220th General Assembly to implement that goal.

The proposal seeks appointment by the GA moderator of two special committees:

  • To come up with needed changes in the Manual of the General Assembly and the Book of Order to create regional administrative commissions “to facilitate churches and presbyteries to fulfill their missional objectives” and “to continue to facilitate and support the racial ethnic ministries that have historically been supported by the Synods.”
  • To come up with needed changes to create regional judicial commissions to replace current synod Permanent Judicial Commissions. 

The group ― appointed by authority of the 219th General Assembly (2010) ― is also recommending that another GA commission be appointed to deal with any realignment of existing presbyteries and synods between 2012 and 2016, when the proposed phase-out of synods is scheduled to be completed.

“This process is modeled after what we did in 2002 when we voted to go to biennial General Assemblies,” said General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons. “At that time we went down a whole bunch of rabbit holes to see what tweaks we had to make to implement biennials. We took that experience to help you [the commission] get where you want to go.”

Parsons said three key questions need to be answered in the creation of the proposed regional administrative and judicial commissions: 

  • How are they peopled?
  • How are they staffed?
  • How will they be paid for? 
  1. As of late, I have become more and more disillusioned by the "institution" of the church, and see that far too much energy is put into maintaining the institution, rather than living out our faith in Jesus Christ. I believe that as a denomination we are going about the process of making "changes" in a rather haphazard way. The changes the are proposed or or sought after are usually motivated by budget issues, not how can we more faithfully follow Jesus and encourage our congregations and members. What is needed is transformation not change. I have spent my entire ordained ministry in the Synod of Lincoln Trails, where I have had the privilege to serve as a commissioner on more than one occasion, and on behalf of more than one presbytery. Certainly this Synod has had its challenges as an institution, but one of the things it has always maintained is how can we help the congregations within our bounds minister better. This has not been a Synod that is just about Judicial Commissions and oversight - it is about faithful ministry. It saddens me greatly at the thought of all the different ministries and programs that will no longer exist because the Synod will no longer exist. One program in particular is the New Pastor Program. A three year retreat format program of support, nurture, and information for newly ordained pastors. Some might say that COM could take this responsibility over. Well it is my experience having served in three presbyteries and on two COM's, and now as a disabled pastor, that COM is simply too overwhelmed with the amount of responsibilities that it already has, is under staffed to fulfill its current responsibilities that there is little chance that a New Pastor Program would happen. Plus, one of the benefits of the Synod running it, is that the new pastors get to meet with others outside of their presbytery and there is not the sense that COM is monitoring you. Two other valuable programs are the training of Interim Pastors and Training of Lay Pastors. Each of these programs are about strengthening ministry and faithfulness to one's call to fallow Jesus. Again, what our denomination needs is transformation, not change of structure or new new names for committees or new titles for positions, or motivations by budgets. I am not about maintaining the status quo - lets just not through the baby out with the bathwater.

    by Michael E Landon

    February 10, 2012

  2. It is still confusing as to how synods who are currently supporting higher education ministries/church related colleges will move in transition to not discontinue this support, especially when a synod, ie. Synod of Mid-America has 4 major institutions of higher education in one presbytery and students come from both states and beyond...presbyteries can not support and even though campus ministries are pushing to have increased development outside of synod, etc. , it seems the same lack of attention to young adults and campus ministry is occuring..hope I am wrong? Thad Holcombe, Campus Minister for Presbyterian Church and other denominations at Ecumenical Campus Ministries - University of Kansas

    by Thad Holcombe

    February 3, 2012