An Historic Overview
The 221st General Assembly (2014) voted 449-128, or 78-22 percent, to direct that a new configuration of synod boundaries be established “based on an emerging sense of purpose, partnership, context and call.” Over the next two years, the number of
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) synods will be reduced from sixteen (16) to no more than (10) and twelve (12). The Mid Council Commission II had recommended that the number of synods be reduced from sixteen (16) to eight (8), but the Assembly increased
The Assembly action was based on a report from Mid Council Commission II, which worked two years and spoke to 54 synod executives, stated clerks and others in order to complete the report.
Specifically, Mid Council Commission II did:
Direct that a new configuration of synod boundaries be established through a collaborative process between the synods and presbyteries resulting in no more than eight larger regional synods, each with an emerging sense of purpose, partnership, context and call that:
- The synods shall report to the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
- Inform all synods and presbyteries that designated members of MCC 2 will be available for conversation, clarification, and collaboration during the synods’ and presbyteries’ two year process of reconfiguring synods.
- Recommend that the 222nd General Assembly (2016) direct its Moderator, in consultation with the Stated Clerk, to appoint an Administrative Commission for the following purposes:
- To assist synods and presbyteries who have been engaged in a substantive plan for reconfiguration but have been unable to resolve particular issues in their process.
- To recommend to the 223rd General Assembly (2018) the boundary changes necessary to achieve a total of no more than eight synods, if there remain synods and presbyteries that have been unable or unwilling to engage in a collaborative process of reconfiguration.
[Mid Council Commission 2 Report to the 221st General Assembly, PCUSA]
The report concluded that synods “continue to have a vital role within our life as a denomination. However, the time has come for fewer synods within a structure of mutual accountability that encourages each synod to discern God’s call to find its unique role in affirming the creativity that already resides in our mid council system.” [“Assembly Votes to Cut Number of Synods, But By Fewer Then Recommended”, General Assembly News, June 20, 2014]
Enroute to approving the shift to fewer synods, General Assembly commissioners turned down several proposals, including one that would have directed the PC(USA)’s Mid Council Ministries office to launch a process for synods and presbyteries to develop “mutually accountable mission goals” and engage synods and presbyteries “in a common assessment” of mission strengths, needs and opportunities. [Ibid.]
At times when changes such as this in an iconic organization as we know it are anticipated, it is often helpful to reflect on its impact from its inception to the present time. That, in essence, is the goal of THE SYNOD OF THE COVENANT:
Synods and presbyteries currently comprise the intermediate judicatory level within the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A (hereinafter, PCUSA). The Synod of the Covenant (hereinafter, SoC) is one of these. In total, the PCUSA has over 10,000 congregations which are organized into 171 presbyteries / district governing bodies, and currently a total of sixteen (16) synods.
Within the SoC boundaries are eleven (11) presbyteries:
- Lake Huron
- Lake Michigan
- Maumee Valley
- Miami Valley
- Muskingum Valley
- Scioto Valley
- Western Reserve
A total of 700+ congregations and 170,000+ people look to these presbyteries and, in turn, to the SoC for input with respect to:
- mission efforts
The SoC offices are located southwest of Toledo, OH in Maumee, OH.
The map shown below depicts the territory served by the Synod of the Covenant:
Source: Office of the General Assembly, www.pcusa.org
I. Major Developments in Synod of the Covenant History
A. The Synod of the Covenant was born
On October 12, 1972 reconfiguration of the synods occurred resulting in the birth of the SoC on January 1, 1973. The guiding document, Overture H, had been passed by action of the 1972 General Assembly, and created a total of sixteen (16)
1. In 1972, reconfiguration of PCUSA synods occurs resulting in the birth of the SoC
Initially, even deciding on a name for the new synod engendered debate. (For a time, it was known simply as ‘Synod A’.) Soon, however, the name of the newly-created synod was accepted by most. In point of fact, the motion before the commissioners was, “whether the new synod, provisionally named Synod “A” should continue the name ‘Covenant?” When the final vote was taken, there was not a single negative vote. [“New Synod of the Covenant Takes Shape”, Communique, December, 1987].
The formal agreement creating the SoC was completed on November 20, 1972. This agreement covered a wide range of topics, and was achieved through the adoption of an amended report presented by the Transition Committee that had earlier been named by the former moderator, Nelson Lumm. Ibid.
Yet an understanding of just who this synod would be and what it hoped to achieve was somewhat vague and would not be easily resolved. [“New Synod of the Covenant Takes Shape”, Communique, December, 1987] Even today, more than four decades later, the issue of ‘who we are’ continues to evolve.
Key to the birth of the SoC was the approval of a Statement of Mission that would serve as a guideline for its efforts. It concluded with these words, “We offer to God ourselves and our mission, and pray that the Holy Spirit will breathe into our offering the breath of life.”
Geographically, when the SoC came into being, it encompassed Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio. Within these states were fourteen (14) presbyteries and nearly eleven hundred (1,100) congregations. The numbers of ministries and projects undertaken within this region was exceeded only by their impact. [Ibid.]
A Transition Committee was formed to discern and implement the procedures that would help to put the inner workings of the SoC in place. Members of that Committee were:
- Elder Ruth Barr (Muskingum Valley)
- Elder John Bland (Western Reserve)
- Elder Edmond “Bud” Graves (Miami)
- Elder Meredith Fudson (Maumee Valley)
- The Rev. Tim Jones (Mackinac)
- The Rev. Patricia Karns (Scioto Valley)
- Elder Isabelle Sanchez (Lake Huron)
- Elder Shirley Lewis (Detroit)
- Elder Carol Rummell (Eastminster)
- The Rev. Richard Sellers (Cincinnati)
- Elder Lyle Thorburn (Lake Michigan)
Certain operational aspects of the SoC would mirror those of the past. Specific agreements provided the guidelines under which the synod would function.
For example, by agreement it was decided that the new synod would continue to hold three Synod Assemblies each year. Also the role of youth would continue to be significant. Youth Advisory Delegates would be expected to attend the June Assembly, and were encouraged to attend the November and March Assemblies as well.
Presbyterian Women would be represented within the various units of SoC structure.
It is noteworthy that these agreements, though voted upon by synod commissioners, were adopted without being sent back to the presbyteries for their input or action: This occurred since presbyteries are represented by commissioners with voice
and vote – and by executives with voice.
2. In the early 1970’s merging/constituting of the SoC took place for several reasons The merging/constituting of the SoC resulted in several organizations being encompassed within it. These included:
- the Cabinet on Ethnic Church Affairs (CECA)
- the Department of Leadership Development
- Department of Presbytery Development
- the Department of Synod Ministries
- the Division of Budget and Finance, Planning and Strategy
- Staff Services
- the Executive office
B. The SoC undergoes changes
In the 1980’s consideration was given to the question of whether the SoC should relocate its offices.
But contemplated changes within the SoC would encompass more than its office location. Structural changes would also be made. Under the leadership of Edmund “Bud” Graves, Miami Presbytery, the proposal called for five individual units in addition to the Cabinet on Ethic Church Affairs (CECA). The basic proposal was amended to retain the committee on personnel policies and procedures making it a separate unit.
In the end, then, a structure featuring six mission-based units and CECA was put in place.
1. In 1988, Kentucky leaves the SoC
Since 1973, the three presbyteries within the state of Kentucky had been part of the SoC. But on January 1, 1988, Kentucky became part of a new synod encompassing the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama.
The move to a new synod for the three Kentucky presbyteries was prompted by the reuniting of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A, and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), often referred to as “the southern church”. It was the General Assembly that had the responsibility for realigning the synods following the reunification. Synods from both branches now merged. It was decided that Kentucky would “go south” aligning with The Synod of the Living Water which would then include Mississippi and Alabama. [Interview, Rev. Dr. Irvin Moxley]
With the departure of Kentucky’s three presbyteries from the SoC, the fourteen (14) presbyteries that had comprised the synod were now reduced to eleven (11) that remains the number of presbyteries within SoC today. Though the number of presbyteries within the SoC was reduced, its role in the lives of its presbyteries remained unchanged. It remained, in the words of the Rev. Irvin Moxley, “the vital broker between the General Assembly and the presbyteries. It continued to perform the resourcing function to meet the needs of its presbyteries.”
2. In 2003, the SoC offices move to Maumee
When the Synod of the Covenant was created the synod office was located in Columbus, Ohio, because Columbus was a central location for the three states comprising the synod.
With the departure of the Kentucky presbyteries, it was decided that the offices of the SoC should continue to be located in Columbus. However, concurrent with this decision was the request that the Synod Management Unit would monitor the cost and
convenience of continuing to maintain offices there. Not only was the location to be reviewed, but the analysis also was to include the cost of holding meetings at the Columbus site. The primary concern – originating largely with the presbyteries now constituting the SoC – was that Columbus was not centrally located for all.
II. Impact of SoC History on the Life of the Church
The impact of the SoC on the life of the church has been significant. The SoC has worked diligently to serve its constituency in spite of adherents who feel that program initiatives that come from the top down are less likely to be embraced by congregations and presbyteries and, thus, less likely to be effective.
The impact of the SoC extends far beyond its borders. Despite different opinions within the boundaries of the SoC – and, indeed, among populations which it strives to serve, “Within the SoC, there continue to be fewer issues which divide us than there are issues which unite us.” [Interview, Rev. Dr. Irvin Moxley, Former Associate for Ethnic Church Affairs, Synod of the Covenant; Former Acting Moderator, Synod of the Covenant; and Former Moderator, Synod of Kentucky, January 12, 2015].
Specific program efforts speak eloquently to the success of the SoC.
A. Cabinet on Ethnic Church Affairs (CECA)
Racial ethnic participation in all areas of the synod’s activity and decision-making are not only encouraged, but essential, for the synod to reflect the diversity of God’s call to mission and ministry. Full and fair participation is guaranteed in the synod bylaws. Specifically, this means that voice and vote in all matters pertaining to the SoC should be available to persons regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, disability etc.
To help achieve full and fair participation the synod created the “Cabinet on Ethnic Church Affairs (CECA) in 1983. Prior to CECA’s formation, presbyteries throughout the SoC were somewhat resigned with respect to the issue of diversity. “The attitude of many of the presbyteries was ‘We don’t have diversity. It might have some value, but we cannot provide it’.” notes Adrienne Adams, Moderator of the SoC Black Caucus and member of CECA. [Interview, Adrienne Adams|.
With the birth of CECA in 1983, the SoC fulfilled a Biblical mandate. “In a concrete and tangible way, we found a way to demonstrate our concern for ‘folks on the edge’. Moreover, we gave them an opportunity to identify with key political and policy issues in areas that are of significant concern to them.” [Interview, Rev. Dr. Irvin Moxley].
1. CECA formation
In 1983 when PC[USA] was formed most of its structures lacked “a diverse ethnic population.” notes Adrienne Adams. “CECA would strive to improve and expand diverse populations within the structure of the PC[USA].
Specifically, when the Cabinet on Ethnic Church Affairs (CECA) was created in 1972, it was formed for the following purposes:
- To strive for full participation of all ethnic groups in the decision-making process of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its ministry throughout the world.
- To enable minority persons to develop and implement programs that will meet their particular needs at all levels of the church.
- To advocate for the rights of all ethnic minorities.
- To promote inclusiveness, unity and understanding of issues that impacts the life of ethnic ministries.
- To build community intentionally, be aware of the diversity of our heritage and to appreciate the creative gifts of racial ethnic individuals.
- Recruitment of new leadership and membership for each of the caucuses.
In the years following formation of the various caucuses, CECA focused on strengthening weak points within various individual caucuses. For example, for a time the Asian caucus members faced a language barrier. This prevented them from working effectively within the PCUSA. While an ongoing challenge, once the problem was identified, steps were taken to improve the level of communication between those involved.
For more than 30 years, CECA has been a place where racial ethnic minorities can gather to share their particular concerns and bring the issues to the awareness of the whole synod.
Areas of primary focus for CECA have included:
- racial/ethnic caucuses
- congregations in transition
- ministries to Asian/Hispanic communities
- ethnic scholarships
- church vocations
Ms. Adams credits Dr. Isaiah Pogue and Dr. Irvin Moxley for having the vision and perceptiveness to see the need for diversity. “Both men worked diligently to locate leaders within the various presbyteries of the newly-formed synod who would bring ethnically-diverse backgrounds to the areas for service within the Synod.” she says. But it was not only their sense of purpose that made diversity a reality. “They took this commitment to diversity within the SoC very seriously. They sought the help of leaders who had knowledge of both clergy and lay resources.” Adams recalls. “These men traveled to the presbyteries, and met with presbytery executives all with one goal in mind: to bring all ethnicities to the table and provide them meaningful avenues for service.” [Interview, Adrienne Adams, Moderator SoC Black Caucus, Maumee, OH, November 9, 2014].
From 1971 – 1973 many discussions were held about the new synod that was emerging. Various individual caucuses convened including the Black Caucus (now, African American); Asian; Hispanic (now, Hispanic Latino); and Native American. A Middle Eastern Caucus was added recently.
The members of these caucuses felt strongly that the experiences they had were quite unique and would be valuable as the SoC moved forward. Collectively, they would comprise the Cabinet on Ethnic Church Affairs (CECA) that was formally established in 1972. The Rev. Dr. Isaiah Pogue served the SoC as Associate Executive of Ethnic Church Affairs during CECA’s early years, 1972-76.
In the early years CECA faced a number of challenges. “Clearly the greatest of our challenges was the need to increase awareness,” explains Ms. Adams. “There was – and remains today – a need for representation of diverse ethnicities and viewpoints within all areas of Synod endeavor.” [Ibid.]
Additionally, it was challenging to assure that all the ethnic groups within the SoC who desired to be represented would indeed have ‘a seat at the table.’ The hope was that non-racially diverse SoC members would be sensitive to the needs expressed by racial ethnic caucuses. Many were, but others were not.
Certain challenges that CECA faced in its early years originated within its own membership. For example, there were members who noted a strong preference to be identified with the ideas they expressed – not by their heritage. It was difficult to persuade those individuals that indeed it was the diversity of their collective ethnic backgrounds that contributed to CECA’s strength and uniqueness.
A major challenge CECA faced – and some would argue that it still faces today – is the idea that, “We are all one, we are all equal.” Ms. Adams and others respond to this by saying, “When we get to heaven, we’ll all be equal in the sight of God. But we’re on earth now.” [Ibid.]
Similar to many other groups within as well as outside the SoC, CECA is challenged to continually:
- increase its membership through ongoing recruitment initiatives
- assure diversity within its membership
- seek leaders willing to guide its efforts
- make certain that it is represented in every phase of SoC endeavor.
Above all, then as now, CECA believes that racial / ethnic concerns need to be articulated by the people who face them on a daily basis.
2. CECA goals
The primary goal of CECA from its inception was “to enrich the wholeness of the denomination”. Secondly, to achieve its primary goal it would be necessary to implement a structure that would “let the decisions about selection, funding, and evaluation [of initiatives] be made by a representative body that included all” of the aforementioned caucuses. And lastly, a goal of CECA is to have representatives present at all tables where decisions are made. [“A Brief History: A Project Funded By the Cabinet of Ethnic Church Affairs”.]
To achieve these goals would go a long way to assuring that advocacy for the rights of all ethnic minorities would be an ongoing priority of the SoC. Then, as now, through CECA the SoC strives to provide financial resources to assist all racial / ethnic caucuses. This is done primarily by providing grants for ministries, educational scholarships, and training in the areas of social justice and pastoral leadership.
[Interview, Adrienne Adams].
3. CECA achievements
The achievements of CECA are many. By far, its greatest achievement is promoting an understanding of the issues effecting the lives of ethnic groups, and to do so not just periodically, but on an ongoing basis. Numerous projects have been undertaken over the years, all with this goal in mind.
As a specific example, in 1972 CECA funded a seminar, “Black Theology and Pastoral Care” designed by the Rev. Professor Robert C. Williams of Vanderbilt University and the Rev. Dr. Irvin Moxley, then Executive Director of the Presbyterian Community Center. The objectives of the Black Theology and Pastoral Care Seminar included:
- to provide a time away for rest, recreation, and community
- to relate theology to the sociology of African American communities
- to be present to the pastoral needs of ourselves and others
- to equip African American congregations for God’s mission
A second example of CECA achievement concerned efforts undertaken by its Hispanic Caucus. At one time, the migrant workers in the area served by SoC were faced with a number of unfair labor issues including low wages and poor working conditions.
CECA was sympathetic to the needs of these workers. It provided the resources necessary for migrant workers to work toward the goal of fair wages and fair working conditions. Members of the Hispanic Caucus helped educate the PCUSA about this struggle and ways in which its voice could be heard. This included participation in targeted boycotts designed to bring the full extent of the problem to the attention of persons in a position to positively impact it.
A third example of CECA achievement involved the area of civil rights.
Members of its Black Caucus worked to support issues affecting all racial minorities.
This support took the form of writing positional overtures that were then submitted to the General Assembly of the PCUSA for its consideration and action. By so doing, the Caucus helped the General Assembly to better understand the importance of fairness or a lack thereof – in all areas of life, particularly housing, employment, and educational opportunities. Though the synods within the PCUSA are comprised of diverse congregations and members, “the SoC is particularly blessed with action-oriented members from a cross-section of diverse populations,” comments Adrienne Adams.
[Interview, Adrienne Adams]
More generally, CECA’s strength is that it brings together various ethnic groups who may share some of the same challenges. For example, at times these groups have encountered a language barrier. CECA does more than encourage them to have an open dialogue, they exchange ideas thereby broadening the perspective and understanding of all. As a practical matter, CECA also has offered financial assistance to provide needed translation skills. This promotes a fuller and deeper understanding by all ethnic groups of the workings of the PCUSA.
B. Mission to the U.S.A.
The early beginnings of what would become Mission to the U.S.A. took place during 1984. (At that time it was known as the Ecumenical Parish Program.) Under the auspices of this program, members of the SoC traveled to Scotland to learn about its churches and achieve a better understanding of religious life in that country as it existed at that time. Participants also learned interesting facts about Scottish polity. [Interview, Russ Brandt].
The late 1980’s and early 1990’s saw a fuller implementation of the program Mission to the U.S.A. featuring the concept of Ecumenical Parish Associates.
With the help of the General Assembly, between ten and twelve clergy were brought to the U.S. from other countries. Parish Associates, as they were called, spent approximately six weeks serving in individual congregations. In the words of
Russ Brandt, Past SoC Moderator, “ They would learn about church life in the U.S.A. and we would learn about church life in their countries – a fine way to increase understanding among nations.” [Interview, Russ Brandt].
A key element of the program was its ecumenical focus and the fact that it transcended geographical divides. “People came from nearly every part of the globe. And they represented a broad cross-section of denominations. Mission to the U.S.A. is a reverse mission program in which local congregations talk about the work of the church far beyond the U.S.A.” [Interview, Rev. Dr. Irvin Moxley].
Adrienne Adams, Moderator of the SoC Black Caucus, agrees, “The program functioned well and benefitted all who participated. It was well planned and expeditious. Participants would come in October, serve the particular church for about six weeks, and then return to their home country. The work they performed was meaningful. They ministered to the needs of our congregation and performed other tasks which the host pastor thought would enhance their understanding of congregational life in the U.S.” Ms. Adams notes an additional benefit. “Participants see the area as a mission field. come from many different parts of our world – for example, South Africa and the Soviet Union.” They learn from international partners and multiple international contexts within one gospel.
Currently, there is a three-year focus for Mission to the U.S.A.: Program participants will now be coming from Middle Eastern countries. Why the focus on the Middle East at this time? Rev. Brandt explains, “So much is happening there. We need to have a better understanding of the environment and what is taking place. What better way to achieve this than through first-hand knowledge gleaned from members of that faith community?” [Interview, Russ Brandt].
Adams explains that “unfortunately”, the Mission to the U.S.A. program has been dropped at the national level by the General Assembly in recent years. But she applauds the SoC “for having the foresight to continue the program and its financial support of Mission to the U.S.A.” [Interview, Adrienne Adams].
Notably, the SoC is currently the only synod with such a ministry as Mission to the U.S.A. In Brandt’s words, “Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, the Middle East – for the Synod of the Covenant, the world is now our stage.”
III. Impact of the SoC’s History on the Community-at-Large
The importance of synods, in general, and of the SoC in particular cannot be over-emphasized. Its mission statement, the cornerstone of most all SoC efforts, explains in large part the value of its work, “We, the Synod of the Covenant, in partnership with our presbyteries, congregations, the General Assembly and other faith communions, are called and sent by God to be a living, active and inclusive witness to the love of Christ”
The PC (USA) organizes its many congregations in a logical fashion by dividing them into presbyteries, and then groups the presbyteries into synods. Presbyteries serve as the district governing bodies of the denomination – now called mid councils – that are comprised of various congregations. Each presbytery, in turn, belongs to a regional governing body – now called a mid council – known and organized as a synod. The 16 Synods are the connectional judicatories between presbyteries and the General Assembly.
In keeping with this mission statement the SoC maintains the following programs:
A. Mobile health fairs
The Mobile Health Fairs Ministry is a valuable program of the SoC designed to reach out to people in need. It provides health screenings and education to persons in need throughout Ohio and Michigan. It reaches out primarily to individuals who are uninsured and, thus, frequently underserved. From a spiritual perspective, it is “a ministry of people and churches working together to demonstrate Christ’s love.” [“Mobile Health Fair Ministry”, Synod of the Covenant, Maumee, OH.]
The Mobile Health Fairs ministry within the SoC had its beginnings in the early 1960’s. Volunteers and paid seasonal staff are utilized to provide key health screenings to persons who might not otherwise have access to these vital services. Presently, five team members and one supervisor are hired to travel throughout the SoC during the summer to perform screenings and provide health-related education to health fair participants. When possible, health fairs are offered during non-summer months as well.
Specific screenings offered include:
- basic skin care
- blood pressure
- height and weight (BMI)
- pulmonary function
- HIV testing
In addition to health screenings, various educational modules are also offered.
- children and safety
- dental education (adults & children)
Those individuals served by SoC’s Mobile Health Fairs who may require additional health services are referred to local low cost clinics in the communities in which they live. Follow-up is conducted with persons who may require this additional medical attention.
A major advantage of the SoC health fairs is that, “they provide people in need with medical check-ups, health screenings, referrals, and follow-up sources – all in one convenient location.” [Interview, Rev. Dr. Irvin Moxley].
In addition to its primary purpose of providing health care to people in need who are frequently under-served, the Mobile Health Fairs offer an added benefit: the opportunity to serve. In all cases, “Those who serve know that they are having an impact on people’s lives. They are fulfilling the Biblical admonition, “ And the King will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these members of my family, you did it to me” Matthew 35:40 [NRSV]
B. Higher education scholarships
There are a number of scholarship programs supported through the SoC to assist students pursuing study in various fields of higher education. These include racial/ethnic scholarships for college, university and seminary students who are:
- Minority racial / ethnic persons
- Members of a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation within the bounds of the Synod of the Covenant
- In good academic standing
Source of funds for these scholarships include annual mission giving to the SoC. It should be noted that within the SoC budget, under its support for higher education, is a specific line item covering ‘racial / ethnic scholarships’ which serves to underscore SoC’s commitment to funding this particular type of educational assistance.
As an example of its commitment to supporting educational pursuits as well as innovative ministries, The Synod of the Covenant awards $45,000 annually funded from shared mission dollars received from presbyteries, who receive the money from congregations.
Over the years, the SoC has supported a variety of programs and initiatives – all of which are consistent with its Mission Statement – through the awarding of specific grants and scholarships including racial / ethnic scholarships and grants; new covenant grants, and church development grants. The New Covenant Grant program was designed to encourage new, emerging or revitalized ministries within the bounds of the synod. Projects are required to fit within one of the three synod mission priorities: congregational transformation and development; multicultural, racial ethnic, and justice ministries, or ministries in higher education.
D. Multi-Cultural Programs
The mission of the multi-cultural youth programs – and, many would assert, of all multicultural program efforts – is to assist the presbytery and congregational efforts within the PCUSA to become the church which God intended. That is to say, the SoC has and continues to strive to be a multiracial, multilingual and multicultural community of believers. Specifically, this involves empowering congregations and presbyteries as they seek to claim, live and celebrate the vision of many cultures and races being part of the community of faith.
The Biblical mandate valuing programs that celebrate cultural diversity within the synods of the PC(USA) is clear:
The PC(USA) takes seriously its commitment to multi-cultural programming.
Synods including the SoC work diligently to:
- Provide leadership in developing strategies and programs and coordinating efforts for multicultural church growth and membership development;
- Advocate for the promotion of spiritual development and empowerment with people of multicultural backgrounds;
- Initiate and support the development of national and regional multicultural networks;
- Identify and provide resources that are meaningful to the growing diversity in the church;
- Provide diversity leadership training for both clergy and laity;
- Support the development of community building models that are culturally sensitive and build respect for the historic ministries of the denomination’s multicultural churches;
- Provide consultative services to and in partnership with governing bodies, seminaries and regional multicultural networks;
- Provide support and consultative services to and in partnership with national and international ecumenical multicultural networks;
- Develop ways to empower interracial and cross-cultural families, adoptees and adoptive parents;
- Work with other Presbyterian entities and advocacy groups to ensure that the PCUSA has an inclusive strategy for racial and cultural diversity representations.
E. Covenant Gathering:
The Covenant Gathering (formerly known as ‘Synod School’) had its beginnings during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Though it has undergone significant changes over the years, it remains a meaningful and viable SoC program initiative to the present day. “It started as a multi-day school to train our Sunday school teachers. Different curricula were used in the various churches, but many of the techniques for imparting lessons to children and young people were similar,” recalls Carla Mavis. In the early days of Synod School schools were held in three locations – Alma College, the College of Wooster, and on Mackinac Island. Many Presbyterians of all ages, including children, attended. The schools not only trained Sunday School teachers, they provided Christian Education for all who attended.)
Mission Statement of the Covenant Gathering:
Covenant Gathering is an intergenerational Presbyterian conference whose purposes are:
- To equip participants for ministry in their families, churches and communities;
- For spiritual renewal of those who lead others;
- To provide a greater appreciation for a connectional church;
- And to model the Kingdom of God in our life together.
General Goals of Covenant Gathering:
- To be an intergenerational and culturally diverse community.
- To offer classes in at least 6 of the following areas each year, designed for varied levels of expertise in the areas of personal spiritual growth and Church Revitalization as well as:
- Bible Study
- Doing Mission
- Doing Peace and Justice
- Creative Expression
- Christian Education
- Worship & Music
- To provide a balanced program in a safe environment for children / youth;
- To provide everyone the opportunity to participate in meaningful mission;
- To worship in innovative ways that includes all ages.
- To keep participant costs affordable and to be financially self-supporting
- To have scholarship money available and publicized.
(These goals Adopted by the Covenant Gathering Design Team on August 16, 2013)
Though interest in Synod School waned somewhat during the 1970’s, that circumstance had a positive benefit: It prompted the redesign of the program. The Covenant Gathering as it exists today utilizes the family camp concept. “We serve all ages,” says Mavis, “from the tiniest babies through people in their 90’s. Our program includes everyone,” says Maxis. This past Gathering, we offered classes in Bible Study, Photography as a Spiritual Discipline, Sewing Seeds of Simplicity, Hymns Through the Ages, and ‘Giving Thanks with a Grateful Heart’.
While this particular Synod School used to be a program offering of SoC, the SoC has now reached out beyond its borders with the Covenant Gathering concept, according to Mavis, “One of our neighboring synods, Synod of Lincoln Trails, discontinued its synod school a number of years ago. So the Synod of the Covenant reached out to them and invited their members to join our program.” The response to SoC’s invitation was favorable and enthusiastic. Today one-fourth to one-third of Covenant Gathering participants come from the Synod of Lincoln Trails. Additionally, of the eight adult courses to be offered during the gathering in 2015 that will take place from June 28 through July 3, three of them will be taught by members of the Synod of Lincoln Trails.
The importance of the SoC – its purpose, its goals, its work – is evident in its Mission Statement, its achievements throughout its history, and in its present-day efforts. Its five major areas of endeavor – the Cabinet on Ethnic Church Affairs, Health Fairs, Mission to the U.S.A., Multi-Cultural Activities, and Synod School/Covenant Gathering – address not only the importance of its work, but also its dedication to ministering to the needs of a broad cross-section of the community.
Yet, given the connectional nature of the PCUSA, and its dedication to fairness, accountability, and the representative process, there is yet another major role of the SoC and its counterpart intermediate judicatories: In the words of Russ Brandt, “Judicial matters are an important area of synod endeavor. Cases come to the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) at the Synod level, and it is at this point wherein the Synod PJC helps The PJC at the synod level provides critical ‘checks and balances’ in these matters of vital importance to the system or church. Were it not for the synod PJC, the Office of the General Assembly would be overloaded with judicial cases and appeals.
As this writer has conducted current research for the preparation of this document, several themes have become clear:
- The SoC has a rich and varied history of carrying forward its mission;
- The strengthening of the connectional link between congregations / presbyteries and the SoC is vital, and becomes ever more important in the current environment;
- Congregations and presbyteries need to allow synod commissioners to report verbally and in writing on a regular basis to those persons whom they represent; and, most importantly,
- Prayerful deliberations concerning synod boundaries, goals, methods and other matters will be needed to assure that the SoC remains as relevant and caring in the future as it has been in the past.
- The SoC has a history of providing significant programs, multicultural opportunities, scholarships and grants, and identifying the needs of the greater community that will important in the discernment process.