Leaders of presbyteries gathered for a brief respite from the business of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Thursday evening for the annual Association of Executive Presbyters (AEPs) dinner.

“We exist to offer networking and support to presbytery leaders,” said the Rev. Chaz Ruark, president-elect of the organization. “And yes, we do need to change our name, which means Association of Executive Presbyters.” He drew a chuckle from the crowd when he admitted a major block to a name change is the tradition of decorating the table with stuffed apes at AEPs events.

The group has recently opened membership to those who lead presbyteries in the role of executive or associate executive presbyters, or as stated clerks.

The challenge of coming up with a name is a good example of the adaptive changes these leaders face. “When we started, we were like a guild. We didn’t let anybody in but executives,” said the Rev. Graham Hart, who led the group in considering a new collaborative network model for connecting and resourcing presbyteries.

Now, he said, it’s like presbyteries are driving concept cars only imagined 35 years ago when the group got its start. The church is going through deconstruction and massive adaptive change.

“There is incredible giftedness in this room. How do you figure out your presbytery, and how do we share our work with each other?”

Hart and other presbytery leaders have been working on that new name. “What if we call it the Equipping Presbytery Network?” he wondered. The proposal calls for the group to develop ways to share resources and influence based on a distributive network model rather than a system of centralized control.

Emphasizing the importance of committed leadership, the EP network is planning to develop ways to ensure that “someone is paying attention to making sure presbyteries function with health. “Presbyteries are the ligaments that bind us together in sacred covenant,” Hart said.