Posted by: The Presbyterian Outlook in Untagged on Jun 07, 2012
The Administrative Commission on Middle Councils proposes to eliminate synods as councils in PC(USA). The recommendations do not propose how the various functions of a synod are to be fulfilled and by whom.
Synods have a long and useful history in our Church. A General Synod created the first General Assembly. Here are some of the useful functions synods have performed:
Support and Oversight of Presbyteries
A synod can draw support from across its region for presbyteries having difficulties or special mission opportunities. It can provide regular oversight and review much better than the General Assembly having to relate to 177 presbyteries. General Assembly has hardly been able to carry out ecclesiastical oversight and review over sixteen synods.
In recent years various synods have assisted presbyteries through administrative commissions, special administrative review, and the appointment of special committees to advise in conflicted circumstances. Synods have provided both funds and advice to enable presbyteries to obtain needed services. At least one synod has also assisted in the legal defense of a presbytery being sued in a secular court.
The Commission proposes that synod permanent judicial commissions be replaced by regional commissions of the General Assembly. The authority of these commissions is ambiguous. Are they to have authority parallel to the present GAPJC?
Now some synod permanent judicial commissions carry a heavy burden of business as they seek to promote justice. Unless their decisions are appealed they save the GAPJC from considering many cases. For complaints against a presbytery or an appeal from the decision of a presbytery permanent judicial commission just providing travel expenses within a synod for the parties, their counsel, and witnesses is a significant cost for those seeking for justice. Hearing judicial cases now heard at the synod level by a General Assembly commission serving a larger region will make the quest for justice even more difficult and expensive if hearings and trials are held far away from where the parties reside. This proposal will not further the Church’s tradition of seeking justice.
Further, D- 5.0101 requires that the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission be composed of one member from each synod. If there are no synods, on what basis will regional representation on the GAPJC be assured?
Synods relate to and provide Presbyterian representation in statewide ecumenical bodies that involve multiple presbyteries. In many states this would be difficult on a presbytery-by-presbytery basis.
D. Racial Ethnic Participation
Synods encourage and provide racial ethnic involvement because they contain a diverse population. Therefore people from mostly white presbyteries have opportunity to know, learn from, and work with black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American Presbyterians. The Commission’s report does recognize the importance of this role.
Innovative Mission Initiatives involving multiple presbyteries.
Synods have developed innovative mission initiatives that involved more than one presbytery. Some church camps and educational institutions were begun by synods. Some pilot mission projects in rural and urban areas were sparked by synods.
Some examples include
Founding colleges and schools
Starting homes for the aged
Providing collegial support and insight to newly ordained pastors.
Innovative mission approaches to serve isolated rural communities.
- Starting camps that serve multiple presbyteries.
- Providing scholarships and interest-free loans to needy college and seminary students.
Holding conferences for leaders of racial, ethnic churches.
Programs of education for commissioned lay pastors.
Mobile health fairs.
Skills training for presbytery leaders and pastors.
Mission partnership grants.
Fund development of new churches and redevelopment of older churches.
Some synods exercise a witness relating to issues of public policy of particular concern to their regions that might not attract the attention of the General Assembly.
The Mid Councils Commission proposes that the elimination of synods take effect in 2016. However, our Book of Order G-6.04 requires that an amendment that receives the necessary affirmative votes of a majority of the presbyteries becomes effective one year from the adjournment of the General Assembly that transmits it. If this year’s General Assembly sends such an amendment and it is adopted by votes of the presbyteries, it will become effective in early July 2013, far earlier than 2016. This would cut short the time that the Commission would like to allow for necessary steps to be taken to make an orderly transition to a system in which synods would cease to exist.
G-3.0404 already provides the possibility of a “reduced function synod” if there are places in the country where the presbyteries want a synod to do only the minimum of basic functions.
I hope the 212th General Assembly will not adopt the recommendations of the Administrative Commission on Mid Councils.
James MacKellar is a former moderator of the GA Advisory Committee on the Constitution, a former member of the GA Permanent Judicial Commission, a former stated clerk of the Synod of the Northeast, and a former stated clerk of the Presbyteries of Newton and Northern New England.