From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
COMMITTEE ON REVIEW ORGANIZES ITS WORK
04 May 1996 20:53:44
95385 COMMITTEE ON REVIEW ORGANIZES ITS WORK
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
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
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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