Monday, October 09, 2006

What if… Synods?

Why does the PCUSA have Synods? I know why we have had them in the past. I am not sure why we have them today.

For almost twenty years I have served within the bounds of the Synod of Alaska/Northwest. The Synod had an important place in the lives of its seven presbyteries. In those days, the seven presbyteries would send representatives to a special gathering. This gathering was called the Mission Budget Consultation. The delegates would “bring to the table” each Presbytery’s mission dollars for Presbytery and Synod missions (they didn’t bring actual $$$, just the amount that were being pledged). Each Presbytery would bring its proposed mission projects and the proposed budgets for those projects. This Synod group would prioritize the projects. Mission dollars would be allocated until all of the mission dollars were accounted for. The bottom line is that the larger Presbyteries ended up helping to support the mission projects of smaller Presbyteries. The two Alaska presbyteries were the largest “receivers” of such assistance. The Synod also had a special “per capita” to assist the two Alaska Presbyteries with the high cost of holding Presbytery meetings. We truly functioned as a synod.

Fast forward to today. Life is much different in the Synod of Alaska/Northwest. The Mission Budget Consultation fell apart eight or nine years ago (if my memory doesn’t fail me). We are fazing out the Alaska per capita. Only two or three presbyteries a still paying the Alaska per capita.

Synod use to be (and probably still is) the place where our United Ministries in High Education are connect to the denomination. Don’t get me started on these ministries. While serving as Chaplain at a Presbyterian-related college I walked in this world for too long. These ministries should be connected to the Church at the presbytery level—there is much more accountability if they are housed at the Presbytery level.

I do not see ANY useful function for Synods in today’s church.

There use to be a time when it was helpful to have a church “body” that facilitated our Presbyteries working together. The world has changed—it’s just not needed any more. Technology has made it possible for us to connect. I recently gathered with folks from various Presbyterian churches across Washington State. We are laying the foundations for ministry in the 21st century. We are beginning to look at ways that we can partner together in ministry and mission. We do not need a Synod to do that for us.

Keeping Synods around is a financial drain on our limited dollars. Our Presbytery would probably be able to plan a new church every three to five years with the money we give to Synod over that same time period of time. What is more important—new churches or keeping the synod dinosaur alive?

It is time to take a serious look at doing away with synods. What do you think?


At 8:20 PM , Blogger Presbyterian Gal said...

Hi Pastor Lance:

What do the current Synods do with the money they continue to receive?


Who would no longer receive financial support from Synods (if anyone) that may still need it?

And if there are those who would not be helped, how would we continue to help them if the Synods were gone?

Thank you.

At 6:21 AM , Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

Preach it, Lance! I've raised this issue myself for several years. I have yet to find anyone who supports retaining that extra layer of bureaucracy in this day of electronic connectivity and ease of travel.

Inertia is the roadblock to eliminating Synods. Also the reluctance to eliminate the jobs of people who are seen as colleagues in ministry.

I hope there will be some overtures on this subject sent to the 2008 GA.

At 7:00 AM , Anonymous Jon Thomasson said...

But Pastor Lance,

Without the Synod, how could we have a Synod PJC? Last year, the Session and pastors at Hollywood Pres filed separate remedial complaints and requests for stay with the Synod of Southern California & Hawaii's PJC. The Synod PJC was there to ignore the stay requests (which were obviously needed), delay the remedial complaint process (the pastors' complaint will be heard by the Synod PJC this November--1-1/2 years after the complaint was made and after both pastors had to resign from the church and one of them had to renounce the PCUSA in order to minister to the remnant faithful congregation), and basically back up their political friends in the Presybytery of the Pacific.

The pastors also obtained a stay through the signature process, which was successful, and they returned to the church campus from which they had been barred by the Administrative Commission. But only for one Sunday...for Margie Wentz, the Synod Stated Clerk, stated that the stay was invalid because...well, because it had been achieved by signature very rarely and was untested in presbyterian courts. (Of course, it was valid by the Book of Order, but who's counting that? Margie has been willfully violating the Book of Order for years with regards to homosexual and/or apostate ministers and officers.)

So, I guess we really need the Synod after all! Without our Synod, our pastors may have been able to return from an illegal administrative stay imposed by an illegally-appointed administrative commission which was all "overlooked" by a Synod PJC that was asked to intervene before a congregation and its pastors were destroyed!

(For those who don't know Hollywood Pres' story, the above is told with a bit of sarcasm.)

May the Lord remove the whitewashed sepulchers from office! Reformers would need to do this starting in Louisville all the way to the local church. Anyone see any hope of that happening? Or would a pullout by evangelicals from a rapidly-sinking ship be wiser? The inertia of the PCUSA evangelicals (other than at Kirk of the Hills and a few small midwest churches) is astonishing and will eventually be deadly to their churches.

At 8:01 AM , Blogger Stewart said...

You are raising good questions, but I'd like to say a word in favor of keeping synods. They serve a useful purpose in enabling some of the work of the church to be regionalized with the potential for sensitivity to realities in the larger region.

Jon's sarcastic description of how he felt a synod PJC mismanaged something doesn't negate the fact that without the synod cases would end up more quickly at an overloaded GA PJC. It is not good when things get mishandled, but I think it is better to have a clearly framed issue (or a set of clearly framed issues) come to the GA PJC than to have many cases arrive essentially unprocessed and suffer under severe time constraints before the PJC from which no appeal can be taken.

Presbyterian Gal's first question assumes the synods are all alike. No one synod is the model that the others follow. There are different ways in which each of the synods have organized themselves to do the work that the presbyteries of the region deem important. Although there are some common ways in which they use money, they each have their own story to tell about how they are doing Christ's work in their region.

At 8:03 AM , Anonymous Jon Thomasson said...

Just as a follow-up to my previous comment:

The sad thing is that there is almost no one left to bring the Synod and its PJC before the GA PJC. Pastor Alan Meenan has renounced the PCUSA to minister to the new Church for the Nations. Hollywood's Session was given the option of dropping its remedial complaint against the Presbytery of the Pacific or be dissolved by the Presbytery's Administrative Commission. They dropped it. Since then, almost all the faithful in Hollywood's Session and congregation have left. Only Pastor David Manock, a "pastor-in-exile" who was forcibly-resigned from Hollywood for no cause, is left to prosecute the pastors' remedial complaint against the Presbytery of the Pacific from his new home in Oregon. (After much water has passed under the bridge and cannot return.) Pray for justice, but it is highly doubtful he'll get it from the politicos at the Synod level. Surely, Clifton Kirkpatrick and Mark Tammen's GA PJC will rule justly on appeal. ;-)

At 8:17 AM , Anonymous Jon Thomasson said...

I don't want to dominate the comments today, but I think that Stewart's comment about the need for the Synod is correct...IF the Synod is Christian, which many of the officials of the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii are NOT. However, Stewart calling the Synod PJC's handling of the Hollywood complaints "mismanagement" somewhat misses the point and depth of what was done. I would say that "the willful, coordinated, and violent abrogation of the Book of Order and the enthusiastic destruction of a large, growing evangelical church" would be a better description. If folks think these comments are extreme or bitter, please feel free to review the history at

At 8:47 AM , Blogger Pastor Lance said...

There are “functions” or “ministries” that a synod can accomplish. Absolutely! Are there other ways of accomplishing these ministries? I believe so. A couple of days ago a friend who is in our small group was sharing his sailing experience with the group. No one had told him how to sail the boat to a destination directly up wind. Many “tacks” may be required. No two boats will follow the exact same track to get to the upwind destination. However, they can all get there! The same can be said about the ministries that a synod is involved in. Regional ministry is not dependent on the Synod, that just happens to be the model that we are most familiar with using.

Keep up the lively discussion!

At 9:31 AM , Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

Other than the BOO-required PJC, the Synod of the Sun sponsors some educational programs and does some things for the seminaries in the region. I think those functions could be appropriately divided between the presbyteries. I don't see a compelling reason for a regional middle governing body anymore.

At 1:01 PM , Anonymous Larry said...

The Synod's perform very few "real" duties for the amount of money spent to pay the salaries of the Synod bureaucrats.

1. Synod PJC---Annually, there are not that many cases going from the presbyteries to the Synod. Instead of 16 Synod PJC's, a much cheaper alternative would be to have 4 (east, west, north, south) regional GAPJC's where the ruling of one would be binding on the other.

2. Synod management of certain schools, homes, and campgrounds. We are in the South Atlantic Synod and they oversee Thornhill Home. This could just as well be given oversight by the presbytery in which the facility is located and the presbyteries in the region are committed to give financial support.

Bottom line----There is not much to justify the $10 million or so spent for salaries and offices of Synod staff.

At 9:51 AM , Blogger Bayou Christian said...

I agree with Lance.

simple math look at the staffing budget of each governing body and look at the mission budget.

it's bad math.

At 9:09 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 6:06 AM , Blogger 愛莎Cherry said...



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