The assembly committee on The Way Forward voted overwhelmingly Tuesday evening to ask the 222nd General Assembly (2016) to create an administrative commission of 12 or fewer members to explore what national structural changes may be needed to carry the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through the next part of the 21st century.
The commission would be charged “to study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly agencies of the PC(USA).”
It would have sweeping powers, including the authority to “describe and implement a General Assembly-level staffing pattern that will accomplish its vision.” The proposal calls for the commission to “engage a qualified examination team to assess institutional performance both internally among the agencies and externally as they interface with the congregations.”
The proposal, approved 51-17, comes as extensive conversations are going on all around the PC(USA) – including listening sessions hosted by immediate past moderator Heath Rada, research conducted under the auspices of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and future-themed conferences hosted by groups such as NEXT Church.
The proposal also responds to the reports of two assembly-authorized committees that in the last two years have reviewed the work of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly. The PMA review, in particular, was so harshly critical of the operations and culture of the mission agency that it has fomented calls for a merger between the agencies.
Both review committees, in fact, called for creation of a committee “to explore the possibility of a merger” between the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly. The oversight boards of the two agencies – the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly – oppose a merger.
The Way Forward committee’s proposal states: “That [commission’s] vision shall take into account the ministries of the PMA and OGA, but shall not be bound by the current configuration of those ministries, except where mandated by the church’s Constitution.”
The PMA and OGA review committees are scheduled to be followed in the next two years by an All-Agency Review committee that will look at all six national agencies of the PC(USA) plus their interrelationships with mid-councils and congregations. The PMA Review Committee had called for the All-Agency Review to be delayed for two years while the “merger” did its work.
The Way Forward proposal calls for the All-Agency Review to proceed, with the commission directed “to integrate the recommendations of the All-Agency Review Committee as well as the PMA and OGA Review committees.”
To address its desire to take a longer-range look at the denomination’s future, The Way Forward Committee also called for creation of a 15-member 2020 Vision Team “to develop a guiding statement for the denomination and make a plan for its implementation with all deliberate speed.”
The team’s report would be the only item of business for 2018 General Assembly’s The Way Forward Committee. “This will help us name and claim our denominational identity,” said the small group of the committee that developed the proposal. “We don’t want to tinker with structure until we have done the work of visioning. We want to tap into the bottom-up energy in the church today.”
With one motion, the Way Forward Committee recommended that the assembly disapprove a package of seven overtures from Foothills Presbytery that would change the way business is brought to the General Assembly and the frequency with which the assembly deals with social-witness policy proposals. They would also have set stricter requirements for bringing business to the Assembly and for amending The Book of Order.
At the same time, the committee attached a comment to its disapproval recommendation thanking Foothills – and de Cristo and Grand Canyon presbyteries, who submitted similar overtures – “for opening the conversation” and urging the church at all levels “to continue to explore ways of better engaging the whole church in important decisions.”