by Rev. Scott Lumsden, Executive Presbyter
We’ve been talking about change for a while. In previous articles I’ve mainly talked about changes within our own presbytery and congregations. Recently however there’s been increasing dialogue about changes within the national church (PCUSA).
One good example happened this summer when the Mid Council Commission of General Assembly voted to recommend that synods be eliminated and replaced with larger regional groupings for judicial purposes only. This change (if acted upon) effectively makes presbyteries the only governing body structure that serves congregations. It’s likely that by 2016 the three-tiered system of governing bodies (General Assembly, synods and presbyteries) will be down to two-teirs (presbyteries and GA). In fact, in our own synod (Alaska-Northwest) there’s a plan being developed to make this our reality by 2013.
Another big topic of discussion in the PC(USA) recently is affiliation. This is similar to some of the ideas of the Fellowship of Presbyterians with a major difference being that affiliation is about defining mission pathways for congregations within the PC(USA)--not outside it.
The idea goes something like this. For the purpose of providing greater clarity of mission within the PC(USA), congregations through their councils (sessions) may affiliate with a national body approved by General Assembly. In other words, if the Fellowship of Presbyterians declared essential tenets of the Reformed faith and a session felt led to adopt them or make them their own, they could formally affiliate with that national body. In addition, if a congregation felt led to affiliate with the Covenant Network or similar body, its council (session) could formally affiliate with that body. Presbyteries would be encouraged to develop ways to honor those affiliations while also maintaining a missional identity of the whole in all its work.
The thought here is that we’ve reached a place in the church where differentiation in some key areas of ministry within the PC(USA) is a helpful way to maintain unity and mission within the larger church. This works for the current stalemate on human sexuality but also for other areas of mission such as immigrant fellowship. Currently there is little real on the ground, national support for immigrant ministries within the PC(USA). A national body (let’s call this group Presbyterians International) could resource and support immigrant fellowships and presbyteries within the PC(USA) for greater witness and effectiveness.
This is just a short introduction to yet another idea being talked about within the national church. We’re reserving some time at the next presbytery meeting to talk about it so please come with your ideas. Feel free to jump start the conversation by commenting or emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org.