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Friday, July 6, 2012

GA220 + Day Four.



            The fourth day of a General Assembly is consumed with committee work. 
            I sat most of the day in the committee that was dealing with the Mid-Council Commission Report.  This commission had recommended two major changes in the way we structure ourselves.  One was to abolish the intermediary council of synods.  Synods are collections of regional presbyteries and have been largely obsolete for two decades.  Their irrelevance has been increasing over the years, and they appear to be an extra and extraneous layer of bureaucracy. 
            The other major change was to allow non-geographical presbyteries.  Today all presbyteries, except for 3 Korean and one Native American non-geographical presbyteries, are “geographical” in the sense that they include all the Presbyterian churches within certain geographical boundaries.  The commission wanted to permit other non-geographical presbyteries in order to allow like-minded churches to align themselves together for a missional purpose across and within present presbytery boundaries.  For instance, urban and inner-city churches in several presbyteries could get together and form a single non-geographical urban presbytery as a way to focus more specifically on their urban context together. 
            It is mainly disgruntled conservative presbyteries that have suggested this sort of thing in the past.  However, the commission realized that it might be a way to get some new things happening that might otherwise be snuffed out by the paranoid fuddy-duddies who often have great influence in presbyteries.
            In any case, this GA committee, after enduring a barrage of testimony by synod staff people fearful about losing their jobs, voted to recommend that the assembly not approve either initiative.  We’ll see what the assembly does.  And major initiatives often take two assemblies until there is a high enough comfort level.  So if these ideas aren’t implemented this year they will probably come up again in two years.
            The commission was profusely thanked for their hard work, which may be cold comfort to people who may have just basically wasted many months of labor.
            This glacial pace of change is built into our system (just as it is with the “checks and balances” incorporated into our national Constitution) specifically to keep things from happening, or at least from happening too quickly.  Such a leisurely pace may have been a value in the 18th century, when we came up with these practices.  In those days they wanted to avoid the peremptory tyranny of kings.  We developed procedures designed to cater to every concern.
            The question becomes whether it still works for us in a rapidly changing world, to act like we have all the time in the world to get our act together.  We establish and re-establish apparently endless studies and task forces.  When we do adapt it is often to the situation as it was a decade ago.  If, for instance, a sailor worked this way, that is, not adapting in a timely manner to a shift in the wind, her boat would be blown far, far off course.  And here we are. 

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