(By Leslie Scanlon, Presbyterian Outlook). Members of the Way Forward Commission are beginning to turn their thoughts to what sort of changes the commission might recommend for the Presbyterian Church (USA) – not discussing any specifics yet, but considering whether the commission might be ready to start moving in that direction when it meets next at McCormick Theological Seminary May 15-17.
Commission members agreed to think in the next few weeks about what Mark Hostetter, a teaching elder from New York and the commission’s moderator, described as “common elements” they would want included in a denominational structure based on the research they have done so far; the feedback they’ve received about what Presbyterians at the grass roots want; and their theological sense of what a church is called to be.
Commission member Jo Stewart, a ruling elder from North Carolina, put it this way: commission members should consider, in very broad terms, “if nothing existed today, what would you build?”
The commission met via video conference call April 18, discussing both its progress so far and next steps. Here are some highlights.
Limits to the Commission’s Power
The commission met for about 40 minutes in closed session with J. Herbert Nelson, the PCUSA’s stated clerk, giving as the reason for closing the meeting a discussion of personnel matters. When the meeting resumed again in open session, Hostetter said Nelson earlier had provided a written advisory opinion to a question asking him to clarify the commission’s powers.
In that opinion, Nelson wrote that the action of the 2016 General Assembly creating the commission “did limit the powers of the Commission” so that “recommendations for any missional and structural changes will be brought to the 223rd General Assembly” in 2018. (Read the full Advisory Opinion.)
Nelson’s opinion also states that recommendations from the commission involving “any amendments, replacement or setting aside of the Standing Rules of the General Assembly or the Book of Order necessary to accomplish its vision” would need approval from the 2018 General Assembly as well.
So “there is an edge to our power,” Hostetter said – meaning a limit to what the commission can do on its own.