From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 04 May 1996 20:53:44


                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
CINCINNATI--Acutely aware of widespread dissatisfaction in the Presbyterian 
Church (U.S.A.), the General Assembly's quadrennial Committee on Review 
(CR) set a breakneck schedule to try and find ways to alleviate the 
mistrust and disconnectedness that seem to be at the heart of the 
denomination's malaise. 
     At its initial meeting here Oct. 12-14, the committee scheduled no 
fewer than five more meetings between now and the end of February. 
     The 18-member committee (one member from each synod plus two 
ecumenical delegates), elected by the 1995 General Assembly and charged to 
conduct an "independent" review of the General Assembly Council and all 
other General Assembly agencies before next year's Assembly, quickly turned 
to New Jersey attorney Julius "Jay" Poppinga as its chair. 
     Poppinga chaired the Polity Committee of this year's Assembly.  That 
committee recommended approval of Overture 95-74 (from Western Colorado 
Presbytery), which calls for members of General Assembly-level committees 
to be elected by presbyteries upon nomination by sessions -- a radical 
departure from the current method in which the General Assembly elects upon 
nomination by the General Assembly Nominating Committee. 
     Ironically, the Assembly referred the overture to the CR with 
instructions that it "bring a plan" to implement the new election 
procedure.  The review committee watched a videotape of the Assembly's 
floor debate on the controversial overture to assess more clearly the 
mandate of the Assembly. 
     "There's something going on out there and people are dissatisfied, " 
remarked Gordon Jones of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies.  "If we don't get 
down to it and uncover the misunderstandings, we will have failed." 
     Supporters of the overture argued that "direct" election of 
Assembly-level committee members is necessary to restore "grassroots" 
participation in denominational decision making.  "We have tremendous 
relational problems," agreed GAC executive director the Rev. James D. 
     Apathy may be a more severe problem, suggested the Rev. Robert Lorimer 
of the Synod of Lincoln Trails.  "It is an interest problem," he said. 
"Too many people in local churches just don't care." 
     Brown responded that he perceives that Presbyterians are interested in 
mission beyond their boundaries, but not necessarily Presbyterian mission. 
"Every Presbyterian where I go believes there is value added by mission 
activities beyond the boundaries of the congregation," Brown said, "So 
there is interest, but it is widely diffused -- for instance, only half our 
congregations use Presbyterian curriculum and about half their mission 
dollars go to non-Presbyterian causes. 
     "One of the areas where we have fallen short is our relationships with 
middle governing bodies," added Brown in his remarks to the committee.  "We 
are less connected now than we were three years ago.  The connectional 
system is not working, even though we are trying. ..." 
     The Rev. Robert Nicholson of the Synod of Alaska-Northwest said the 
problem goes even deeper.  "There's not a lot of ownership between sessions 
and presbyteries, not to mention between synods and presbyteries and the 
General Assembly," he said.  "This is a central, burning issue, and I would 
like to see us paint a picture of what it would look like if a presbytery 
[were] functioning perfectly in connection with its congregations, its 
synod and the General Assembly." 
     After a wide-ranging discussion, Poppinga outlined seven areas of 
concern for the committee: 
       Theological identity: "Are we who we say we are?" 
       Mission clarity: "How does everything we do relate to our stated 
mission as a church?" 
       Priority management: "How are priorities fixed and managed?" 
       Policy conformance: "This rises out of any mandate to review." 
       Structural coherence: "Do the structures we have in place make 
       Local level linkage: "How do we restore connectedness and a sense of 
       Fiscal integrity: "This is also inherent in any review process." 
     The committee divided itself into six work groups that will collect 
data between now and the scheduled Dec. 14-17 meeting of the CR.  Using the 
seven areas of concern as a guide, the work groups will 
       interview top-level staff and elected persons 
       review denominational publications 
       examine "internal" documents, such as minutes, reports, manuals of 
operation and mission statements of General Assembly agencies 
       explore a variety of events and conferences (such as the Youth 
Triennium, Presbyterian Women's Churchwide Gathering, racial ethnic 
convocations) that are spawned by General Assembly policies or actions 
       examine the financial records of the denomination 
        survey synods, presbyteries and a sampling of congregations to get 
their input into the review 
     The next meeting of the Committee on Review is scheduled for Nov. 9-11 
in Louisville. 

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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