From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Biennial General Assemblies, Representation Plan

Date 04 May 1996 15:25:15


96059   Biennial General Assemblies, Representation Plan 
   For National Committees Still Undecided by Review Committee 
                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
DALLAS--A five-day marathon meeting of the General Assembly's Committee on 
Review (CR) produced widespread agreement on many issues, but left a couple 
of major ones unresolved. 
     The 18-member committee still has not decided whether to recommend a 
move to biennial meetings of the General Assembly or how to increase 
session and presbytery participation on Assembly-level committees. 
     At the conclusion of their Jan. 31-Feb. 5 meeting here, committee 
members set Feb. 22 (when they next convene in Louisville) as the date for 
completion of the first draft of their report.  Committee members 
tentatively agreed to include in their report proposals to 
       have the denomination's seven program initiatives reevaluated by a 
group of national staff members and middle governing body representatives: 
"Uncertainty about staff and middle-governing- body ownership of these 
matters appears to exist," stated the rationale to the committee from its 
Managerial Issues Work Group.  "There seems to be a need to either affirm 
these [initiatives] or create some new ones." 
       increase the membership of the General Assembly Council (GAC) from 
72 to 97 by adding 25 presbytery "slots" to the Council, thus raising 
presbyteries' representation from 25 to 50 seats. Earlier proposals to 
replace the 25 at-large slots with presbytery slots, thus leaving the GAC 
the same size, or to drastically reduce the Council to just 31 members with 
semi-autonomous division committees have been abandoned. 
        strengthen connections between members of national committees and 
their governing bodies by having sessions and presbyteries formally 
commission persons elected to national committees and by establishing 
formal channels for committee members to listen to and report to their 
governing bodies. 
       assign one General Assembly staff person to each presbytery "to 
listen and help facilitate/broker GA-level resources to the local level." 
Each person so assigned would be expected to spend at least two weeks each 
year itinerating in the presbytery, and other staff travel would be limited 
in order to compensate for the workload and financial demands of the plan. 
       establish a nine-member committee to forge new ties between middle 
governing bodies and the General Assembly.  "Relationships [among] the 
various governing bodies is the most enormous vacuum in the church," said 
the Rev. Robert Nicholson of the Synod of Alaska-Northwest, chair of the 
CR's Relational Issues Working Group.  The committee would include persons 
from presbyteries, synods, the GAC, the Committee on the Office of the 
General Assembly and the CR. 
        modify the job description of the GAC executive director: "The 
primary role of this office is to serve and not control the GAC and its 
related entities and staff," the managerial issues group stated. The CR 
report recommends that "the administrative emphasis of this position be 
affirmed, with more emphasis being placed on policy execution than policy 
formulation, and that the office carry with it an expectation that each 
incumbent possess demonstrable administrative skills consistent with being 
the administrator of a large national corporation." 
       hire a consulting firm to conduct an in-depth study of the 
operations of the Corporate and Administrative Services (CAS) office: 
"Consistent concern was found throughout the denominational structures that 
undue control was being exercised by those responsible for fiscal and 
organizational matters (CAS)," the Managerial Issues Work Group reported. 
       return control of curriculum development to the Congregational 
Ministries Division (CMD) and ensure "that CMD be free to contract with 
whoever is most cost-effective to publish, sell and distribute curriculum. 
 ..." The Managerial Issues Work Group cited "differing and mutually 
exclusive philosophies [of CMD and the Presbyterian Publishing 
Corporation]" as to who is responsible for the Presbyterian Church's 
curriculum enterprise and how revenue from curriculum sales should be used. 
The group concluded that "an either/or decision should be made."  Clearly, 
said Betty Lou Stull, CR member from the Synod of the Covenant and chair of 
the work group, "we have come down on the side of CMD." 
        create an "ombuds team" at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville: 
"A means should be found that helps to limit rumors and alleviate stressful 
situations and encourage open communication between Presbyterian Center 
employees and senior management." 
  Committee finds little support for biennial General Assemblies 
     Other than among General Assembly-level staff members, the CR is 
apparently finding little support in the Presbyterian Church for biennial 
General Assemblies.  Veteran Assembly-watchers noted that the issue has 
repeatedly been rejected by commissioners to General Assemblies. 
     Keith Wulff, coordinator for research services in the CMD, reported 
that he could find little support for biennial Assemblies in surveys he 
conducted for the committee among synod and presbytery executives and 
members of synod and presbytery councils. 
     In fact, Wulff said, the percentage of those opposed to biennials has 
grown in recent years.  "I believe this may be evidence of growing 
distrust," he said,  "a sense that people don't want to wait two years to 
have their say about things."  CR chair Jay Poppinga of the Synod of the 
Northeast expressed "deep misgivings about the salability of a 
recommendation on biennials" and worry that such a recommendation may 
detract from the rest of the CR report. 
     Before asking its Operational Issues Work Group, chaired by Jean 
Elliott of the Synod of the Trinity, to do any further work on a biennial 
General Assembly recommendation, the committee conducted an informal straw 
poll on the issue.  With the two ecumenical delegates abstaining, nine 
members expressed support for biennials, five said they are opposed and two 
said they are undecided. 
     Those in favor, as of now, are the Rev. Alan Landes (Synod of Rocky 
Mountains), the Rev.  Robert Lorimer (Synod of Lincoln Trails), Betty Jane 
Crago (Synod of the Mid-Atlantic),  Nicholson, George McDonald (Synod of 
Southern California and Hawaii), the Rev. Steve Bomely (Synod of 
Mid-America), the Rev. Buddy Choy (Synod of the Pacific), the Rev. Corina 
Chavez (Synod of the Southwest) and Ana Braulio (Synod of Puerto Rico). 
     Those opposed: Harry Robson (Synod of the Sun), Poppinga, Stewart, 
Gordon Jones (Synod of Lakes and Prairies) and Elliott. 
     The undecided were Stull and Betty Moore (Synod of South Atlantic). 
         Western Colorado overture implementation mulled 
     Also tabled until the Feb. 22-27 CR meeting is a recommendation on how 
to involve sessions and presbyteries more directly in the nomination and 
election of national committee members.  Last year's Assembly instructed 
the CR to "bring a plan" on the matter as part of its report. 
     The committee, under the leadership of its Relational Issues Work 
Group, is considering three models: 
       the model proposed by Nicholson, the group's chair, which leaves the 
General Assembly Nominating Committee (GANC) in place, expands the number 
of presbytery slots on the GAC, more fully involves presbyteries and 
sessions in the process of nominating and endorsing candidates for 
committees, and puts in place formal procedures for national committee 
members to listen to and report to their governing bodies of membership. 
       a complex model proposed by Arthur W. Potts in which sessions would 
nominate and presbyteries would elect members of a "college of electors" in 
each synod.  Each college of electors would elect, from its own membership, 
representatives to serve on the GAC and the GANC. 
         a model that would provide for each presbytery to elect directly 
persons to serve on national committees. 
     The CR asked the Operational Issues Work Group to flesh out the three 
models.  The committee is likely to recommend that the three models be sent 
to all the presbyteries for their study, comment and recommendation to the 
1997 General Assembly on which way to go. 
             Other proposals being further developed 
     Several other proposals that appear headed for the committee's final 
report to the 1996 General Assembly in Albuquerque were tabled until the 
work groups can further refine them. These include: 
        expanding the office of moderator of the General Assembly by making 
the moderator chair of the GAC and naming the moderator (rather than the 
stated clerk) "the primary participant in the ecumenical conversations of 
the Presbyterian Church."  Part of what needs clarification is the 
constitutionality of a proposal that the moderator be elected to a two-year 
       scaling back the responsibilities of the General Assembly to ensure 
that the stated clerk "focus more on internal ecclesiastical duties. ..." 
        developing a far more extensive process of internal review of 
Assembly-level programs and operations 
       affirming the work of the Presbyterian Washington Office.  A 
positive report by a Lorimer-headed working group was questioned by several 
CR members as to whether it reflects what they believe is widespread 
dissatisfaction with the Washington Office.  "At the very least," said 
Moore, "this report should include data substantiating this positive 
evaluation and should address the perception problem the Washington Office 
has in the church that it is a liberal lobbying group." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
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