The General Assembly Commission on Mid Councils ― which has been meeting intensively since its creation by the 2010 Assembly ― is calling for a sweeping reorganization of the PC(USA)’s governing structures. Two of its proposals are particularly controversial: the elimination of synods as ecclesiastical units of the church and the creation of non-geographic presbyteries “for particular missional purposes.”
The Commission proposal would, by 2016, replace the current 16 synods with five regional administrative commissions and an unspecified number of regional judicial commissions. The purpose of the administrative commissions would be “to facilitate churches and presbyteries to fulfill their missional objectives when realignment is necessary and also to support the presbyteries and regions in promoting the full expression of rich diversity in membership, participation, and decision-making.
The regional judicial commissions would “serve as courts of appeal to decisions of presbytery permanent judicial commissions (PJCs) and as courts of original jurisdiction in remedial cases against presbyteries or upon reference from presbytery PJCs.”
Non-geographic presbyteries could be formed by “ten or more congregations and ten or more teaching elders … with the concurrence of existing presbyteries.” The provision, which would expire at the end of 2021, exempts all property issues from consideration by the non-geographic presbyteries.
Congregations could be dismissed “to another presbytery within the synod or to another geographically contiguous synod” under the condition that the congregation “shall continue to affiliate with the presbytery of origin for the purpose of mutual blessing, and shall have voice at presbytery meetings, except in matters related to” property issues and the dissolution, division or dismissal of congregations.
The commission is also recommending that two task forces be named: the first to “review the nature and function of the General Assembly Mission Council and the Office of the General Assembly … with respect to their relationship with and support of mid councils…”; and a National Racial Ethnic Ministries Task Force to “review, assess, and explore the call to, responsibility in, and vision for racial ethnic ministry within the PC(USA), reporting its findings for implementation to the 221st General Assembly (2014).”
Several overtures have been submitted in response to the Mid Councils Commission recommendations.
The Presbytery of San Diego has submitted an overture based on a proposal by 13 presbytery executives representing eight synods that for two years, 2012-2014, would allow congregations to become “affiliate” members of their geographic presbyteries while becoming voting members of other presbyteries “within their geographic regions for ecclesiastical oversight, Committee on Ministry and Committee on Preparation for Ministry authority and spiritual/missional/relational support.” Congregations would split their per capita giving between the two presbyteries. The overture also asks that the Commission be continued or another created to continue to explore the issues raised in the Commission’s report.
An overture from Baltimore Presbytery asks that actions related to the creation of non-geographic presbyteries be delayed “until at least 2016.” An overture from Santa Barbara Presbytery would allow a congregation to join any presbytery it chooses, subject to approval by the receiving presbytery.
Nearly identical overtures from the presbyteries of Stockton and Santa Barbara address union congregations (those affiliated with more than one denomination) and union presbyteries. They propose that “wherever the constitutions of the denominations hold conflicting mandatory provisions, it remains the express right of the congregation/presbytery to determine which of these provisions will be held to be the authoritative and ruling standard for that congregation/presbytery.”
The Presbytery of St. Andrew has submitted an overture calling for synods to be continued but that a task force be created to reduce their number from 16 to between six and eight. And overture from the Presbytery of Mississippi seeks greater autonomy for synods from the General Assembly, arguing “it is unnecessary to discontinue synods as councils in order to bring more flexibility to the way that presbyteries relate to one another.”
Matters surrounding the report of the Mid Councils Commission and related overtures will be considered by Assembly Committee 5 ― Mid Councils Review.