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Let mid-councils determine role of synods, commission told in consultations

Mid-Council Commission continues to mull recommendations to next GA

September 9, 2013


As the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Mid-Council Commission tries to decide what to recommend to next summer’s 221st General Assembly about the future of synods, leaders of 13 of the 16 synods have delivered a fairly consistent message.

“There can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution,” said commission member Ariel Mink of Redwoods Presbytery, summarizing a series of consultations with synod leaders conducted by the commission earlier this summer.

“The solution to the synod question needs to be flexible, based on the needs of the presbyteries,” she told her fellow commission members at the group’s meeting here Sept. 9.

“We heard consensus on the desire for a discernment process between synods and their presbyteries,” Mink added.

The 2010 General Assembly referred a recommendation from a previous Mid-Council Commission that synods be eliminated as ecclesiastical units to the current commission for more deliberation and subsequent recommendations. The synod consultations were part of this commission’s data-gathering.

One option this commission is considering is reducing the number of synods from 16 to “no more than eight.” Some synods told the commission that they are already collaborating with others, said commission member Byron Wade of New Hope Presbytery. Probably the most highly-developed is a partnership between the synods of Lincoln Trails, Lakes and Prairies and Mid-America.

Most synods are already reevaluating and rethinking their roles and functions, Mink said, “and say its hard to do when they’re being evaluated at a higher level. They want a clearly expressed rationale for whatever the commission recommends.

“And they want to figure it out for themselves rather than have a solution imposed.”

But that’s problematic, said Christopher McCloskey of Southern New England Presbytery and a student at Princeton Theological Seminary. “Some synods told us they want the process to be ‘organic,’ but too often ‘organic’ means ‘slow.’ Some in the Synod the Northeast expressed a sense of health that I haven’t seen at synod meetings.”

Eileen Lindner of Palisades Presbytery agreed, noting that interviewing synod leaders about their synods “sometimes felt like asking the fox how things are going in the henhouse.”

Liza Hendricks of the Presbytery of the Western Reserve said it was “hard for some synods to talk about this because they were coming to it from a sense of loss. The church hasn’t been very articulate about what’s on the other side of this change.”

Any recommendations about the future of synods, Mink said, “must be based on missional needs and priorities.”

Fewer larger synods also seem to be problematic, commissioners said they heard in the consultations. “Larger synods might expand networks of Presbyterians,” Mink said, “but there’s the perception that connections would be loosened.”

Travel costs and staff time would also have to increase, Mink added. “The perceived losses outweigh perceived benefits.”

Jason Ko of Los Ranchos Presbytery he heard that “some synods who say they are functioning well don’t want to have to merge with synods they consider dysfunctional.”

Factors such as geography (urban, suburban, rural), demographics and diversity and political outlook may make combining synods more problematic, Mink added.

Lemuel Garcia of Salem Presbytery said synods also have a history “of assuring that racial ethnic voices are not lost.”

Ko said, “There are others who simply believe there are bigger fish to fry in the Presbyterian Church than the question of synods.”

The commission meets through Wednesday (Sept. 11) and will meet again in mid-January. It’s report to the 221st General Assembly is due Feb. 14.

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