From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Old and New Ideas Surface as Review Committee
04 May 1996 21:54:31
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 as an
administrative rather than policy-making job.
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
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 staff in the wake of the "shape and form"
process that restructured the General Assembly-level offices in 1993. The
seven initiatives were developed a year later. 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 representatives.
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 Assembly.
"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 staff position for that work, occupied by Mary
Ann Lundy until June 1994, has been vacant since her departure from the
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
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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