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General Assembly backgrounder: mid councils issues

Role of synods, Korean Presbyterian churches on GA221 docket

June 2, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont.

The Assembly Committee on Mid Councils Issues of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 221st General Assembly will begin shaping the future of the denomination’s mid-level governing bodies – currently 172 presbyteries and 16 synods.

The Assembly runs June 14-21 at Detroit’s COBO Center. 

At the heart of the committee’s work is the report (05-04) of a Mid Council Commission authorized by the 2012 Assembly after it turned down a recommendation from a previous Mid Council Commission that synods be eliminated as ecclesiastical units of the PC(USA).

Instead, the Assembly asked the current commission to “further discuss, refine and bring to the 221st General Assembly recommendations that consider the composition and organization of the mid councils in ways that reinvigorate their capacity to support missional congregations…”

Among the commission’s recommendations: 

  • Establishing a new configuration of synod boundaries “through a collaborative process between the synods and presbyteries resulting in no more than eight larger regional synods.”
  • Asking the 222nd General Assembly to direct its moderator to appoint an administrative commission to help create new boundaries and help presbyteries and synods unable to resolve issues.
  • Creating an Assembly Committee on Mid Councils for ensuing General Assemblies. 

The commission says it finds that synods continue to have a vital role within the life of the denomination. “However,” its report states, “the time has come for fewer synods within a structure of mutual accountability that encourages each synod to discern God’s call to find its unique role in affirming the creativity that already resides in our mid council system.”

In a statement titled “A View from the Field,” leaders of 14 of the 16 synods say they oppose three of the four Commission recommendations ― they favor the Assembly Committee proposal ― on the grounds that they “impede the transformation of synods as missional communities by replacing the organic process that is currently working with an imposed structure and process” and that “they operate on a false assumption that having larger synods will invigorate mission.” 

Homestead Presbytery has submitted a related overture (05-01) calls for the Assembly to “respond to any plan for reorganization of synod or presbytery boundaries by encouraging presbyteries to consult with their synod or surrounding presbyteries over how synod or presbytery functions should change to meet the needs of congregations in the affected region.”

An overture (05-02) from the Synod Boriquen of Puerto Rico requests that synod to remain intact no matter how synods are reconfigured.

An overture (05-07) from the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii seeks to dissolve Hanmi Presbytery ― a Korean language, nongeographic presbytery ― and dismiss its congregations to existing geographic presbyteries or to other Reformed bodies.

An overture (05-05) from Hanmi Presbytery seeks to delay the synod’s action and create a new administrative commission and make a final report, by spring 2016, to the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii.

An overture (05-06) from Midwest Hanmi Presbytery calls for a task force to study how Korean-speaking churches can grow and develop into “whole and healthy members of the PC(USA).” About 55,000 members of PC(USA) churches are active members of Korean congregations, including about 500 teaching elders and about 1,200 ruling elders.

The challenge the Korean church is facing, according to the overture,  is “the fact that it is not fully connected to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Though it is true that the Korean church symbolizes the diversity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and plays important roles, it is still marginalized.”

Issues surrounding mid councils will be considered by Assembly Committee 5 ― Mid Councils Issues. Mike Ferguson, a Presbyterian ruling elder and reporter for The Billings (Montana) Gazette, will cover Assembly Committee 5 for the General Assembly Communication Center.

  1. For decades I've heard arguments for and against synods and seen various proposals on how to restructure the entire congregation to make it more effective. I'm reminded of a story I heard once...a minister took an elder with her to a presbytery sponsored training on church growth. At the end of the morning session the preacher asked the elder what he thought of it. He said, "well, when we pig farmers get together to talk about how to raise pigs we don't talk much about the size and shape of the stalls. We talk about the best feed." Maybe there's a lesson there for us.

    by james p. shuman

    June 3, 2014

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