From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Old and New Ideas Surface as Review Committee

Date 04 May 1996 20:57:56


96027     Old and New Ideas Surface as Review Committee  
               Sketches Preliminary Recommendations 
                      By Jerry L. Van Marter 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Several previously floated ideas and some startling new 
ones emerged here Jan. 11-13 as the General Assembly Committee on Review 
(CR) began to form its recommendations 
to the 1996 Assembly. 
     CR chair Jay Poppinga emphasized that the ideas put forward were 
"extremely tentative and sketchy."   The preliminary proposals were 
developed by four work groups that have been sifting through the mountains 
of data the committee has collected during the last two and a half months 
     What emerged is a mix of old and new ideas for better connecting the 
General Assembly with sessions, presbyteries and synods, and rebuilding 
trust in a denomination that the committee believes has become badly 
     Among the committee's preliminary proposals that have been suggested 
       a move to biennial General Assemblies with alternate-year 
       the establishment of field offices throughout the country for some 
General Assembly staff  
       a reconfigured governing body relationships committee. 
     Brand-new ideas being floated: 
       a streamlined General Assembly Council of 31 members, including 10 
staff as voting members 
       direct election by presbyteries of members to serve on General 
Assembly entities (the implementation of controversial overture 95-74) 
       a recasting of the Council's executive director position to 
emphasize its administrative responsibilities. 
   Operational issues team proposes biennial General Assemblies 
     The CR's "operational issues" team, chaired by Jean Elliott of the 
Synod of the Trinity, proposed biennial General Assemblies, a suggestion 
that has been repeatedly rejected by General Assembly commissioners when it 
has come up for a vote.   
     Elliott said a new wrinkle will be added to the recommendation this 
time around: that in alternate years there be thematic "celebrations" or 
convocations that will enable Presbyterians to discuss theology and mission 
without the press of business.  "The best way for Presbyterians to begin to 
trust each other again is for them to begin talking to each other again 
about the core of their faith," she explained. 
      Managerial issues team proposes network of field staff 
     Betty Lou Stull of the Synod of the Covenant, chair of the "managerial 
issues" team, introduced the team's proposal to establish a network of 
"generalist GAC field representatives" around the country.  She 
characterized it as "harking back to another era ... where delivery systems 
and communications were enhanced by staff who were right there." 
     Citing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation's network of field 
representatives as an example, the team argued that "these reps would allow 
Presbyterian Center staff to limit their travel 
to the field and facilitate two-way congregational/governing body 
communication with GA-level entities." 
Review of initiatives, priorities and change in executive director role 
     The managerial issues team also proposed that "an outside group" 
reevaluate the GAC's seven mission initiatives, "with special consideration 
being given to the impact of the initiatives on 
staff."  The team also proposed that the same group review "resource 
allocation being given to the 
four General Assembly priorities, taking into consideration their worth and 
value to the congregations." 
     The Rev. Alan Landes, CR member from the Synod of the Rocky Mountains 
who served on the managerial issues team, said, "The initiatives and 
resource allocations were all developed by staff, reinforcing the idea that 
management is top-down and spends too much time developing policy 
at the top rather than administering policy execution." 
     Landes, who chaired an earlier CR team that conducted extensive 
interviews with General Assembly staff, elected persons and 
middle-governing body staff persons, said, "We want more administration and 
less top-down policy development." 
     The four priorities -- evangelism, justice, spiritual formation and 
partnership -- were developed by the elected "shape and form" task force as 
part of the process that restructured the General Assembly-level offices in 
1993.  Six initiatives were developed by staff in consultation with 
GAC members a year later, and a seventh was added last year.  Both the 
priorities and initiatives were approved by the GAC and adopted by the 
General Assembly. 
     In a related proposal, the team recommended that "the administrative 
emphasis of this [the GAC executive director] position be affirmed, with 
more emphasis being placed on policy execution 
than policy formation."   
     The proposal further recommended that "the office [GAC executive 
director] carry with it an expectation that each incumbent possess 
demonstrable administrative skills consistent with being the 
administrator of a large corporation." 
           Dramatic changes in makeup of GAC suggested  
     In perhaps its most dramatic suggestion, the managerial issues team 
asked the committee to "think about" a scaled-down GAC of just 31 persons. 
It also proposed that 10 of those 31 be staff members, with voice and vote. 
The Council currently numbers 71 members -- all elected.  Staff currently 
have voice but not vote.   
     The suggested composition of such a GAC: the executive director; the 
stated clerk; the three ministry division directors; the director of 
Corporate and Administrative Services (CAS); the presidents of the 
Presbyterian Foundation, the Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Publishing 
Corporation and the new Presbyterian Church Investment and Loan Program; 
the chairs and one additional elected member from each of the 
above-mentioned entities plus the Committee on the Office of the General 
Assembly (COGA); and the current and two immediate past General Assembly 
     The chair of the Council would be the immediate past General Assembly 
moderator.  "An identifiable leader of the GAC would enhance both the 
visibility and the credibility of the Council," 
Landes explained.  
     Under the new plan, the committees would number about 30 members each, 
with their members elected directly by presbyteries upon nominations by 
sessions.  Only the chair and one other member of each committee would 
serve on the Council.   
     This method of election would fulfill the conditions of the overture 
to last year's General Assembly from Western Colorado Presbytery.  The CR 
was instructed by the Assembly to "bring a 
plan" to implement the overture. 
     The General Assembly Nominating Committee would coordinate the 
election by the presbyteries, assure the best possible inclusiveness and 
diversity mix on the committees and propose 
nominees for additional slots on General Assembly entities. 
 "Relational issues" team seeks to strengthen governing body ties 
     The "relational issues" team, chaired by the Rev. Robert Nicholson of 
the Synod of Alaska-Northwest, came in with a very different recommendation 
concerning the GAC. 
     Noting that 131 of the church's 171 presbyteries are currently 
represented on General Assembly entities, the team recommended that the CR 
reaffirm the current nominating process for 
General Assembly committees.   
     It also recommended that the number of presbytery-designated slots on 
the GAC be increased from 25 to 50 by replacing at-large representatives as 
their terms expire with presbytery 
     Nicholson's team recommended the creation of a "Research and 
Development of Middle Governing Bodies Office" in Louisville to "create and 
nurture partnerships with middle governing 
bodies."  The recommendation included creation of a committee of nine 
persons -- five from presbyteries, two from the CR, one from COGA and one 
from the GAC -- to reconnect governing 
bodies with each other, develop effective models and paradigms for 
governing bodies and address 
the concerns of middle governing bodies in relation to the General 
     "No one's talking face-to-face about how the governing bodies relate 
to each other and to the General Assembly -- this is all about 
relationships, not rocket science," Nicholson insisted. 
     A Middle Governing Body Relationships Committee used to be part of the 
office of the GAC executive director but was eliminated in the 
restructuring of 1993.  The work was incorporated into a 
new staff position of associate director for churchwide planning, which has 
been vacant since June 
                Ephesians 4 to be scriptural theme 
     Slowed by the absence of two of its members, the "foundational issues" 
team nevertheless told the committee that it has chosen Ephesians 4: 1-7 as 
the scriptural theme for the CR report to the 
Assembly.  The qualities of gentleness, humility, patience and love 
outlined in those verses are much 
needed in the Presbyterian Church today, said the Rev. Robert Lorimer of 
the Synod of Lincoln Trails and a member of the team, adding, "I really 
believe unity can be found in the broad foundation of Presbyterian and 
Reformed faith that is ours." 
     Betty Moore of the Synod of South Atlantic could not attend the 
meeting due to illness and the Rev. Maitland Evans, ecumenical 
representative from The United Church of Jamaica and Grand 
Cayman was absent due to other commitments.  Both were part of the 
"foundational issues" team. 
     The committee meets in Dallas Jan. 31-Feb. 5 to further refine its 
recommendations and to write a first draft of its report to the Assembly. 
Any amendments to the "Book of Order" it may propose must be submitted to 
the Office of the General Assembly by March 1 with the full text of 
the committee's report due by April 1. 

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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