Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Whither Synods?

~PresbyPolityGeek Alert: this post is about synods~

Two interesting overtures and one proposal about synods emerged in the last couple of weeks.

An overture from Rocky Mountains presbytery would restructure synods so that more responsibility is returned to presbyteries, while the overture from New Hope Presbytery calls for the elimination of synods altogether so that the PCUSA would have three levels of polity rather than one.

Meanwhile Presbyterians for Renewal are calling for the formation of
a new non-geographic synod for the conservative/evangelical wing of the denomination.

That's a lot of early focus on synods. When I attended Moderator Training a couple of years ago, I heard many stories about synods that are not able to function well, or at all, because of lack of funding and lack of interest in participating in their work.

It seems to me that synods are a relic of the nineteenth century. Back when travel depended on horses or trains, it was expensive and time consuming to gather on a national level and the "super-regional" grouping of the synod made some sense.

I don't think it does any longer. Not only is air travel fast, safe and generally affordable, but more and more connections are made via the internet, email and cell phones than anyone ever dreamed when synods were first created.

Isn't it high time to eliminate synods? Their functions can be assigned to presbyteries, General Assembly, seminaries or other organizations within the denomination.

As for the PFR proposal, although I am often sympathetic with their viewpoint, I think it would be a mistake to perpetuate synods for the purpose of allowing the more conservative churches and pastors to withdraw into their own subgroup.

Withdrawing into an "affinity synod" without leaving the denomination doesn't make any sense to me. If we had a "conservative" synod, then why not create "liberal", "progressive", "centrist" and "emergent" synods. That would be a polity nightmare, wouldn't it? Aren't we called to be salt and light to each other? And doesn't that mean we won't always agree on everything?

More overtures on synods will probably be submitted before the next GA. So far I like the one from New Hope.


Gannet Girl said...

I think I agree with you on everything here. Your analysis of synods as a relic from an era in which communication was a entirely different ballgame makes complete sense.

Recovering Baptist said...

Personally I see no need for Synods. Money is better spent else where.

Reformed Catholic said...

I agree. In any other business model, you would do a study, determine where there was deadwood, and cut away that deadwood.

In this case, the deadwood is a layer of 'middle management' that is no longer needed. In one case, it is actually causing hardship to a Presbytery by forcing the Presbytery to continue in a legal battle it didn't want, and had already been ruled against.

Mac said...

I agree with the position that synods are relics that ought be consigned to the dustbin of history. They consume resources and perform no necessary function. They are also a source of mischief that destroys the essence of the presbyterian form of government--witness Synod of the Sun and its actions in Presbytery of South Louisiana and the Synod in California that has blocked Sacramento Presbytery's dismissal of two churches based on the objection of one pastor.

The PFR proposal is simply a rework of the two synod model (Westminster and Auburn) that PFR floated 10 years ago. No one was buying then, either. The PFR folks seem to me to be those who really don’t want to be in the PC(USA) but who are afraid to leave the “glamorous” big denomination.

As I was sitting in the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia one morning, waiting for some documents to be copied, I read through the minutes of the 1958 GA in which the old PCUSA and the UPCNA merged.

A number of presbyteries voted to reject the merger on the sole basis that the name of the denomination would change from PCUSA to UPCUSA. The gist of their objection was “We are the big, old denomination. We are absorbing them. How dare they ask us to change our name—the name that the entire world knows is THE Presbyterian Church.”

PFR wants to be part of the big old church, even though they disagree with much (most?) of what it now stands for. Form over substance.

Althea N. Agape said...

I remember Synods as a collection of presbyteries that had more collective resources and could run programs like the orphanages, etc that individual presbyteries could not. Of course, the synod of my youth became a presbytery in the 1983 merger... so maybe it IS a moot point. And maybe it explains one reason why we don't always have community in presbyteries :)

also, I'm sure there's a providential reason my word verification was nonif :P

Anonymous said...

If we keep synods, we should dramatically down-size presbyteries. Our presbyteries are, for the most part, too big to foster any sense of community and become so bogged down in process and procedure that fellowship is minimized and theology almost never enters the picture (and, yes, I'm in New Covenant). Our synods no longer have the resources to engage in the ministries they could be most successful at doing (as Althea N. Agape notes). Smaller presbyteries that, rather than trying to do everything everywhere, intentionally encourage community and theological reflection among ministers and elders (heresy, I know, since elders just cannot even begin to understand church leadership according to our seminaries today) might, IMO, free up the resources necessary to support children's homes, Presbyterian schools, missionary efforts, etc. at the synod or national level.

We are too consumed by process right now - at almost every level - to have energy or time left over for our call.