Presbyterians Considering Elimination of Synods From Church Structure

As some churches call for less hierarchy in their denominations, one mainline church will consider reducing their structure by eliminating the synod system.

On Thursday, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s General Assembly Mid-Council Commission approved recommendations first proposed last year for removing synods as part of the governing system of the denomination.

The Rev. Tod Bolsinger, chairman of the Commission, told The Christian Post that the commission investigated certain questions regarding the effectiveness of synods.

"How are those governing bodies best organized to be responsive both to the Spirit of Christ and the changing opportunities for discipleship? Are the structures of history the best platforms for carrying our mission into the future?" said Bolsinger.

"We discerned that if we could encourage the kinds of wide-scale collaboration in mission, ministry and advocacy for racial ethnic inclusion that synods have championed within our denomination without that level of bureaucracy, we'd be able to 'flatten' the church."

Bolsinger explained that in place of the 16 synods that currently mark PC(USA)'s church territory, there would be five "regional commissions" that hold the same authority as the overall General Assembly of the PC (USA).

"Within those larger regions, we'd be able to encourage as much creative, connection and contextual approaches to mission as possible," said Bolsinger.

On the issue of possibly "flattening" the denomination's hierarchical structure, many Presbyterian churches feel the need to change the current system.

Tony Sundermeier, pastor ad head of staff at First Presbyterian in Allentown, Pa., told CP that he supports the elimination of synods from the hierarchy.

"The elimination of synods not only makes financial sense but also makes sense for our emerging missional witness," said Sundermeier, whose church has a regular weekly attendance of 900 people.

Sundermeier, whose congregation belongs to the Synod of the Trinity, which includes Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio and West Virginia, felt that getting rid of the synod system would eliminate "an unnecessary entity which yields very little fruit for local congregations."

Dr. David Renwick, senior pastor of National Presbyterian in Washington, D.C., and member of the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic, told CP that he felt a more important step would involve the General Assembly meeting less often.

"My personal opinion is that the General Assembly should meet less frequently – once every four years, but as far as I know, this is not a matter that the GA will be discussing," said Renwick.

According to the Rev. Bolsinger, the 220th General Assembly will be considering other structural changes as well. There is also the recommendation for the creation of "provisional presbyteries," which would be governing bodies based not on geographic borders but missional ones instead.

"We believe that if congregations and their ruling and teaching elders are given the permission to form new presbyteries for specific missional causes," said Bolsinger, "then they would be energized to create more relational, less regulatory and more responsive structures."

The 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) will be held this year from June 28 to July 7 in Pittsburgh.

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