Discerning the future

Lakes and Prairies committee to respond to its ‘Future’ task force

May 9, 2014

FARMINGTON, Minn.

The Synod of Lakes and Prairies’ Steering Committee, following action by the synod when it met here last week (April 27-29), will respond this fall to a report from the synod’s Future of the Synod Task Force recommending the creation of an administrative commission that would have authority over the design of synod staffing. 

The task force was created last fall and was charged to “bring recommendations [to this spring’s synod meeting] regarding synod structure and function.”

The synod considered the seven recommendations from the task force, one of which calls for the “creation of an administrative commission of up to 12 persons to guide and take action on behalf of the synod regarding the current and future direction of the synod.”

The second recommendation offered two points: giving the commission “authority over the design of synod staffing” and recommending the synod “not immediately [fill] the positions as they currently exist upon retirements or the end of current contracts.” 

Most of the task force recommendations included reference to a discernment process described as a “social discernment cycle” by Teaching Elder Danial Wolpert, synod commissioner from the Presbytery of Northern Plains. The discernment process engages participants in “very deep listening” and seeks to remove bias. 

“We are biased, highly biased,” Wolpert said. “If we don’t tend to those biases and try to set them aside … we end up thinking that God wants and thinks exactly what we want and think.” 

But the report’s recommendation to create an administrative commission with authority over the synod’s staffing design caused some anxiety and confusion among synod commissioners. 

“The more I look at this and the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable I get,” said Ruling Elder James Payne, commissioner from the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area. “It looks like we’re setting up another body to do what I thought you all were going to do.” 

Synod moderator Bill Stafford pointed out potential ramifications from the second Mid-Council Commission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which is recommending a reduction in the number of synods from 16 to eight. However, Stafford said General Assembly actions “are not likely to have immediate impact for a number of reasons,” and added, “In the meantime, the synod has work to do.” 

He said the synod faces the upcoming retirement of senior staff who have been responsible for managing two strong synod functions: a successful Synod School and a financial services program for presbyteries and other church organizations. 

A motion to “dismiss the task force with thanks and refer its recommendations to the steering committee and instruct the steering committee to call a special meeting this summer to consider those recommendations and report back to the next synod assembly” passed 3-to-1.

Duane Sweep is associate for communications for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies. He is a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.

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