From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Committee on Review Completes Its Work

Date 04 May 1996 18:50:11


96152         Committee on Review Completes Its Work 
                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--After six months, seven long meetings, countless hours in 
subgroups and conference calls, thousands of pages of documents, scores of 
interviews and a string of near-unanimous votes, the General Assembly's 
Committee on Review (CR) of General Assembly structures and operations has 
completed its work. 
     The resulting report to the upcoming 208th General Assembly in 
Albuquerque is 45 pages long and contains 33 recommendations for improving 
the work of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at its General Assembly level. 
     The committee concluded: "In the process of our work we found much to 
celebrate throughout the church.  We also found much to concern us." 
     The committee's recommendations fall into 11 categories: 
          Theological and foundational matters 
          Review processes 
          Program evaluation and assessment 
          General Assembly meetings 
          Relationships with middle governing bodies 
          Nomination procedures 
          The General Assembly Committee on Representation 
          The Presbyterian Washington Office intern program 
          Unresolved issues 
               Theological and foundational matters 
     The first recommendation in the report calls the church "to a year of 
prayer marked by self-examination, confession, repentance and thanksgiving. 
 ..."  The committee insists that there is an "authentic core of shared 
faith" in the Presbyterian Church, lodged primarily in the Bible and the 
church's Constitution.  It concurs with the editors of "The Presbyterian 
Presence," an exhaustive seven-part study of the denomination, that 
"resources for reconstructing the theological identity of American 
Presbyterianism may be more accessible and familiar than many acknowledge." 
     The other key recommendation in the theology section of the CR report 
calls the General Assembly Council (GAC) to create a Committee on 
Theological Development and an Office of Theological Development within the 
Congregational Ministries Division in Louisville.  Noting the historical 
importance of theology to the church and "the emerging demand for more 
theological underpinnings and integrity for all of our mission and policy," 
the committee says, "this valuable work should be given increased national 
     The key recommendation in this section of the report calls for hiring 
"an independent consulting firm to study all aspects of the Office of the 
Executive Director and Corporate and Administrative Services (CAS) of the 
GAC.  "The committee was deeply concerned about the current level of 
conflict among General Assembly entities -- tumult which is having a grave 
effect on the mission and ministry of the PC(USA)," the CR reports. 
     As examples, the report cites "unhealthy interaction and contests of 
authority" among the GAC and the Presbyterian Foundation, the Office of the 
General Assembly (OGA) and the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC); 
low employee morale at the Presbyterian Center, caused, the report says, by 
"a tendency for some senior staff to use a top-down management style rather 
than a consultative model"; and "strong misgivings about the effectiveness 
and efficiency of CAS" by the Foundation, OGA and PPC. 
     The recommendation suggests that the consulting firm be "selected, 
employed and given its task" by a committee consisting of the chairpersons 
of the GAC, the Foundation, PPC, the Committee on the Office of the General 
Assembly and the Board of Pensions.  Because the Board of Pensions seems to 
be the only entity not caught up in the management struggles, the CR 
recommends that the chair of the Board of Pensions chair the committee. 
     Another recommendation in the management section of the report calls 
for mandated "consultation with middle governing bodies as part of the 
[General Assembly] budgeting process. 
                         Review processes 
     "Emphatically" agreeing with the 1992 Committee on Review's conclusion 
that the one-year timeline for a quadrennial review of the Assembly's 
structures and operations is too short, the report recommends that -- 
beginning in 1999 -- the CR be elected every six years to conduct a 
two-year review. "Effective inquiry, feedback time, reflection and 
reporting require a more realistic timetable," the report concludes. 
                Program evaluation and assessment 
     The committe said it found the working atmosphere at the Presbyterian 
Center to be filled with "tension and overwork," and recommends that "each 
General Assembly program be assessed and reviewed at least every two years 
in accordance with a formalized internal review process appropriate to each 
program."  The CR says it found that "even though staff was cut by 30 
percent and the budget reduced by $7 million in 1993, it is not clear that 
there was a corresponding reduction in programming." 
     The report includes a list of 17 "items of good news" (see following 
story) but calls for stronger efforts at program evaluation -- "making the 
hard decisions about which programs are serving the church and which are 
not in light of the needs of local congregations and of the mission 
outreach of the entire church." 
     The committee also concludes that there is "limited ownership" by 
middle-level GAC staff and middle governing body executives of the seven 
initiatives and eight "focus points" around which the work of the GAC is 
organized.  Though it makes no recommendations on the matter, the CR 
states: "It is important to either confirm that there is ownership for the 
initiatives and focus points presently in place or to create new ones that 
will generate greater ownership by all levels of the church." 
                    General Assembly meetings 
     Perhaps the greatest turnaround in the committee came on the question 
of whether to move from annual to biennial meetings of the General 
Assembly.  The committee initially leaned toward a recommendation to move 
to biennials, but its research led it to the conclusion that the primary 
support for biennial General Assemblies was among General Assembly staff 
      "Although it has been argued that annual Assemblies are out of line 
with the practical realities of time, effort and money," the report states, 
"there is real value in the connectionalism and continuity provided by 
yearly meetings." 
     The CR is proposing a new wrinkle -- that in even-numbered years 
beginning in the year 2000, "the General Assembly will devote no more than 
two full working days to matters requiring a commissioner vote."  The 
committee proposes that the remainder of those meetings "be devoted to 
worship and celebration, continuing education workshops, presentations and 
discussions on subjects of churchwide interest, leadership development and 
programmatic information." 
     Business in the even-numbered year Assemblies would be limited to 
electing the moderator and members to General Assembly-level entities; 
adopting budgets; receiving the reports of the moderator, the stated clerk 
and the Permanent Judicial Commission. 
     General Assemblies in odd-numbered years would proceed with a full 
range of business as before. 
            Relationships with middle governing bodies 
     The committee is proposing a six-point plan in response to Overture 
95-74 (from Western Colorado Presbytery), which called for direct election 
of members to General Assembly entities by the presbyteries upon nomination 
by sessions.  The overture was referred to the CR by last year's Assembly. 
     The CR acknowledges in its report that "there has been consistent 
concern that many of our middle governing bodies feel  out of the loop' -- 
outside of the mainstream decision-making and policy setting processes," 
but rejects the "direct election" solution proposed in the overture. 
     Instead, the report proposes that 
          the existing 25 at-large slots on the GAC be converted to 
          presbytery slots, filled on a 
          rotating basis, thereby increasing designated presbytery slots on 
          the Council from 25 to 50 
          15 new at-large slots be created in order to facilitate the 
          inclusiveness requirements in the "Book of Order" 
          persons elected to Assembly-level entities be commissioned by 
          their endorsing 
          governing bodies in public services of worship 
          sessions, presbyteries and synods make formal provision for 
          elected persons to report back to them 
          Committees on Ministry be more intentional in encouraging and 
          affirming participation by Presbyterians on Assembly-level 
          a nine-member Committee on Middle Governing Body Relationships be 
          established at 
          the General Assembly level "to create and nurture partnerships 
          with middle governing bodies." 
     The CR rejected a second part of the referred overture that calls for 
another restructuring of the General Assembly operations, stating,  "The 
review committee heard and considered many points of view regarding 
restructuring, and concluded that a reorganization ... is not in the best 
interests of the church." 
                      Nomination procedures 
     Further addressing its concern "about how sessions and presbyteries 
can become more involved in the process whereby people are nominated and 
elected" to Assembly-level entities, the CR report recommends that 
virtually all nominations and elections to Assembly committees go through 
the General Assembly Nominating Committee (GANC) process. 
     In its research, the CR found that 315 persons from 131 presbyteries 
currently serve on Assembly-level entities.  "However," the report 
continues, "it is of serious concern that an additional 521 persons are 
serving on related committees, task forces, and work groups without having 
come through the GANC nominating process." 
     If the recommendation is adopted, all nominations and elections will 
go through the GANC except for "extraordinary circumstances," in which case 
the General Assembly moderator may appoint persons.  The 16 members of the 
GANC (one from each synod) are currently appointed to a five-year term on a 
rotating basis by the Assembly moderator. 
     The CR is also recommending that at least one of the three appraisals 
currently required in order for a person to be nominated to an Assembly 
entity come from the governing body of membership (the session for elders, 
the presbytery for ministers). 
           General Assembly Committee on Representation 
     Arguing that there is confusion in the church about the meaning of the 
words "representation" and "inclusiveness," the report recommends that the 
name of the Assembly's Committee on Representation be changed to Committee 
on Inclusiveness. 
     "It was not the intention of the constitutional provisions that 
created the Committee on Representation that persons in these categories 
[from racial-ethnic backgrounds, women, from various age groups and with 
various disabilities] become constituencies to elect representatives," the 
report states.  "The intention was that persons of various backgrounds and 
conditions be included in the decision-making bodies.  By applying the name 
representation' to this committee, its focus has been shifted and 
     The change to Committee on Inclusiveness, the report continues, will 
"do justice to the richness and diversity of the people who form the church 
by including various categories." 
     Injecting itself into a long-simmering dispute between the 
Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) and the Christian education 
office of the Congregational Ministries Division (CMD), the CR recommends 
that "the General Assembly transfer the entire curriculum enterprise of the 
PC(USA) ( from conception through development, production, marketing and 
distribution of curriculum materials) to CMD." 
     In making its recommendation, the CR rejected a request from PPC chair 
Price Gwynn that it make its recommendation contingent upon the failure of 
negotiations currently under way between CMD and PPC to resolve their 
disagreements (see related story).  Both groups have publicly stated that 
their current partnership (CMD develops and PPC publishes, markets and 
distributes curriculum) "is not viable beyond 1996." 
     Despite those negotiations, the report states, "we register our 
conclusion that the curriculum enterprise should be under the sole control 
of ... the Congregational Ministries Division." 
                 Washington Office intern program 
     The committee declines to address larger issues surrounding the 
controversial Presbyterian Washington Office.  It merely recommends that 
the National Ministries Division "encourage greater utilization of the 
intern program at the Washington Office, using Presbyterian students in 
college and seminary." 
Editor's note: The next issue of "NEWS BRIEFS" will include responses to 
the Committee on Review's report by a number of Presbyterian officials. 

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


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