April 22: Everyone Wants to Slim Down

It seems that some were proposing a plan for a smaller General Assembly for the PCUSA back in the 1930’s. I had not previously paid attention to such efforts in any of the old line Presbyterian denominations. Compare this with some of the various plans for a delegated Assembly that have been put forward in the PCA. For the PCA, it is an idea that keeps coming up, but which has never been found truly workable, at least so far.

[The Presbyterian 107.13 (22 April 1937): 6.]

A General Assembly of approximately 470 commissioners can be composed so as to equalize the membership as between elders and ministers and to present adequately the communicant strength of the various areas of the Church on the following basis :

(1) One commissioner from each presbytery each year, alternating minister and elder (presbyteries to be listed according to Roll of Assembly, first, third, fifth, etc., to send minister first year, second, fourth, sixth, etc., to send elder), and then alternate.

(2) One additional pair of commissioners from each presbytery having 10,000 to 19,999 communicants; two elder-minister units (i.e., four commissioners) from presbyteries having 20,000 to 29,999 communicants; three, etc., from presbyteries having 30,000 to 39,999 communicants, and so on.

Checking this by the 1936 Minutes, it is found that we have a basic delegation of 279 commissioners (the number of presbyteries); 42 presbyteries in the 10,000 class, i.e., 84 additional commissioners; 9 presbyteries in the 20,000 class, i.e., 36 additional commissioners; 6 presbyteries in the 30,000 class, i.e., 36 additional commissioners; no presbyteries in the 40,000 class; 2 presbyteries in the 50,000 class, i.e., 20 additional commissioners; and one in the 60,000 class, i.e., 12 additional commissioners. The additional commissioners total 188, which, with the basic group, make up 467 commissioners.

This is under 500 by 33 commissioners, but annual growth will soon begin to increase the delegations. This scheme is easy to figure, because the tabulation reveals the status of a presbytery by simply glancing at the digit in the 10,000 column. The elder-minister balance is maintained without elaborate explanation or computation.

Delegated Assemblies: A History of the Debate in the PCA

Almost from the beginning, the concept of a delegated or representative assembly has been discussed and debated numerous times in the still brief history of the Presbyterian Church in America. The PCA was organized on 4 December 1973 [initially as the National Presbyterian Church and renamed a year later]; the denomination began with 260 churches and 41,000 members and by 1975 had 393 churches and 60,000 members. Perhaps it was that rapid growth which in part prompted several overtures before the Third General Assembly (1975) calling for consideration of a delegated assembly. Countering those overtures, other voices were raised in opposition to the idea and in support of the existing “grassroots” assembly. The matter has continued to resurface periodically and as recently as 2006 three more overtures were presented in favor of a delegated assembly. Read more.


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