A decision two years ago that would have reconfigured and reduced the number of synods in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was rescinded Thursday by a 421-158 vote of the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
The 221st General Assembly (2014) directed synods and presbyteries to work together on a new configuration of synod boundaries that would reduce their number to between 10 and 12. By a 380-196 vote, commissioners rejected a minority report calling for the appointment of a special committee to move the synod-reconfiguration process.
Mary Dahs, a commissioner from Scioto Valley Presbytery, one of the authors of the minority report, said its intent was “to preserve the hard work two commissions have done to create vibrant synods for the church.”
Others supporting the minority report argued that synods should not be exempt from wrestling with adjustments going on at all other levels of the church to deal with the realities of declining membership and resources.
However, Todd Freeman, moderator of the GA committee on Mid Councils, said his committee heard evidence that synods are already actively exploring mission partnerships and shared functions. “What we discovered is that the second Mid Council Commission’s report was like a big swift kick in the pants for synods.”
Of all the recommendations from the committee, several related to women, children, and families generated the lengthiest debate.
These included a resolution on dependent care, the first item brought to the assembly by the committee. Rather than adding language to the Book of Order calling for all church councils to develop dependent-care policies, the committee recommended directing the Presbyterian Mission Agency “to develop resources for councils at all levels to provide for dependent-care policies.”
Some commissioners expressed frustration over the lack of a comprehensive church-wide policy on dependent care. “We have been discussing dependent care for too long without concrete actions from this body,” said Lisa Miller, a commissioner from National Capital Presbytery. She tried unsuccessfully to amend the action to call for the creation of a task force to develop sample policies and bring recommendations to the 223rd General Assembly(2018).
Ultimately, commissioners voted to approve the committee’s recommendation.
In response to a resolution from the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, commissioners approved an amended resolution urging “the six agencies of the General Assembly to evaluate leaves of absence, considering at least six weeks paid leave as a minimum” for various types of care-giving needs. It also urges all synods, presbyteries, and sessions to evaluate their leave policies.
The action followed several unsuccessful attempts to strengthen the recommendation to require that the six agencies provide at least six weeks of paid leave and an additional six weeks of unpaid leave.
An amended version of another resolution from ACWC, adding language to the Book of Order requiring councils to adopt and implement both a child-and-youth protection policy and a sexual-misconduct policy, was approved.
Commissioners declined to approve an overture urging development of a national child protection policy manual and training resources for presbyteries and congregations, noting that such resources are already available.
A report recommending efforts to strengthen Korean-American congregations sailed through the assembly with no debate. The report, submitted by the Task Force for Korean-speaking Congregations, was amended to ask the synods of the western United States (Alaska-Northwest, Pacific, Southern California/Hawaii, Southwest, Rocky Mountain, and Sun) to consider creating a new Korean non-geographic presbytery in the western United States.
Task force members told the committee that non- geographic presbyteries would help Korean-speaking Presbyterians feel more empowered and freer to talk about church issues.
However, commissioners retained a requirement that a congregation that seeks dismissal to a non-geographic presbytery must be dismissed to one within its own synod or a synod with contiguous boundaries. By doing so, they heeded the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution: “Wider distances between congregations and the presbyteries of which they are members increase the potential for isolation of the congregation. It makes more difficult development and maintenance of relationships of accountability and nurture.”
The assembly also approved an amended recommendation in an overture providing that “no presbytery shall start ministries within the geographic bounds of other presbyteries and synods without the approval of those councils.”