The future of the 16 synods in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will once again be on the docket when the 222nd General Assembly (2016) meets June 18–25 in Portland, Oregon.
The 221st General Assembly (2014) directed synods and presbyteries to collaborate on establishing a new configuration of synod boundaries that would reduce the number of synods from 16 to between 10 and 12. This year’s Assembly Committee on Mid Councils will consider responses from synods and presbyteries to the 2014 action.
A report from the 16 synods (05-13) calls for rescinding the 2014 Assembly action on synod boundaries and urges synods to continue exploring mission partnerships and shared functions. The report is based on feedback from synod representatives who met in various configurations over the past two years to discuss the Assembly’s action.
An overture (05-01) from the Presbytery of Santa Fe also calls for rescinding the 2014 Assembly action, contending that reducing the number of synods is not likely to enhance mission endeavors or to save money.
Requiring fewer synods, the rationale says, imposes “an onerous burden upon the synods in the western half of the United States because of our vast geographic reality.” Concurrences with overture 05-01 have been filed by 14 presbyteries, all in the western half of the country.
In contrast, two more presbyteries note the lack of progress since 2014 in the reconfiguration of synod boundaries and call for appointment of an administrative commission to move the process forward.
Overture 05-03 from the Presbytery of Scioto Valley asserts, “Further delay in addressing the boundaries of the synods will not serve the church’s needs in the 21st century.” Overture 05-04 from the Presbytery of Maumee Valley recommends creating seven synods corresponding with the seven regions of the Association of Stated Clerks: Northwest, Southwest, North Central, South Central, Northeast, East Central and Southeast.
PC(USA) mid councils (currently 172 presbyteries and 16 synods) have been under scrutiny since the first of two Mid Councils Commissions began its work in 2010. The 220th General Assembly (2012) rejected a commission proposal that synods be eliminated.
Responding to recommendations from the second Mid Council Commission, the 2014 Assembly affirmed “synods continue to have a vital role within our life as a denomination,” but called for a reduction in the number of synods.
Family leave, child and youth protection, dependent care
The committee will also consider issues related to women, children and families. The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC) has submitted two resolutions. One of them (05-10) urges congregations, presbyteries and the six General Assembly agencies to create family leave policies for employees to care for a newborn or adopted child or “other family members, such as seniors or those requiring health assistance.”
The other ACWC resolution (05-09) calls for amending the fourth paragraph of G-3.0106 in the Book of Order to clarify an action taken by the 2014 General Assembly. The amended paragraph would require councils to adopt and implement both a child and youth protection policy and a sexual misconduct policy. The resolution stresses that these “shall be two different policies with differentiated intents.”
An overture (05-06) from the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley urges development of a national child protection policy manual and training resources for presbyteries and congregations. The presbytery states that though the 2014 Assembly called for all church councils to adopt a child protection policy, many congregations do not have the expertise or resources to develop such a policy on their own.
An overture (05-05) from the Presbytery of Great Rivers proposes an amendment to G-3.0106 of the Book of Order requiring all councils of the church to adopt and implement a dependent care policy. Churchwide policies supporting caregivers of children, the elderly and people with disabilities are necessary, the presbytery says, “to create settings of full inclusion that honor the humanity and dignity of all God’s children.”
The Assembly Committee on Mid Councils will also consider the following:
- A report from the Task Force for Korean-Speaking Congregations, created by the 2014 Assembly, offers recommendations for strengthening ministry with Korean Americans.
- Eastern Korean Presbytery has submitted two overtures (05-07 and 05-08) calling for revisions to the guidelines for nongeographic presbyteries that would allow a racial ethnic or immigrant congregation—no matter where it is located—to request transfer to a non-geographic presbytery.
- An overture (05-02) from the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii calls for restoration of the boundaries of the Presbytery of the Pacific, which were changed in 2012 to allow two churches to become members of neighboring presbyteries. Both congregations have since left the denomination.