How small is too small?
The Church Polity and Ordered Ministry Committee of the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) decided Monday that some presbyteries may drop down below the 10-church minimum for sessions and pastors, so long as they have synod and General Assembly permission.
The committee voted 57-0, with two abstentions, to approve Overture 06-06, brought by the Presbytery of Eastern Oregon. The committee’s recommendation now goes to the General Assembly for consideration. Because of the size of the approval, it will first be placed on a consent agenda to be considered when the Assembly reconvenes in plenary session on Wednesday, although it could be removed for later consideration by any one commissioner.
Home to 15 churches – 10 of them with 57 members or fewer – the Presbytery of Eastern Oregon, with more than 41,000 square miles, is larger than 14 states.
If the presbytery were forced to combine with a neighboring presbytery – Boise or Central Washington, for example – the combination would be larger than 27 states.
But Eastern Oregon isn’t interested in merging with a neighbor anytime soon.
“Mission is most effective on the local level,” said presbytery Stated Clerk Pete Wells and an advocate for the overture, “and geography makes a difference.”
The presbytery, Wells said, “is able to provide mission to the communities it serves and, in the spirit of (the New Form of Government), believes that presbyteries should be evaluated on the basis of their missions – not necessarily on the number of congregations or teaching elders.”
Ruth Hicks, stated clerk of Presbytery of Boise, said that three contiguous presbyteries – Boise, Eastern Oregon and Kendall – used to be combined and known as the Snake River Mission Area. After many years together, the three presbyteries went back to being independent.
It was “almost impossible with one executive to do good local mission” and support pastors and churches, she said. “We have learned that bigger is not necessarily better, and that geography can be a huge challenge.”