Preparing the Way for the Synod of Living Waters

Gregory A. Goodwiller, Synod Executive


I have devoted a good bit of my vocational life to the development and implementation of policies, procedures, bylaws, and rules. That kind of work has always come very naturally to me, and I’ve always seen it as part of what I have to offer the churches and councils I have served – helping them be “structured” well for what God is calling them to be and do.


Sometimes, that work is done to fix problems that have arisen along the way, often as a result of changing circumstances and contexts. But even then, the goal is to create clear paths to effective ministry. And sometimes, the structure precedes the ministry, and facilitates it.


In the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, while trying to comfort Frances who is having buyer’s remorse after her purchase of a Tuscan villa not knowing if she would ever have a family to live in it, her friend Martini tells a story of how train tracks were once built over an impossibly steep section of the Alps to connect Vienna with Venice – even before a train was yet in existence that could make the trip. “They built the tracks,” he goes on, “because they knew that someday, the train would come.”


The Permanent Administrative Commission (PAC) of the Synod of Living Waters is proposing some changes to the synod’s Manual that the synod will consider when it meets in January. Its hope is that the changes will prepare the way for the synod to engage in new and creative ministries. The fact is, our synod hasn’t had a “synod ministries” committee of any kind in decades. We have Living Waters for the World, of course. But other than that great ministry that now functions with its own Board of Directors and engages with Presbyterians and others from a considerably larger region than our bounds, our focus has been almost entirely on continuing to fund long standing programs and supporting ministries of presbyteries when any two or more of them decide to form a “partnership.”


None of those ministries are unimportant, and we will continue to have them. Over the years, we have had some good and important “Presbytery Partnerships,” and that funding process will continue as well. But the Synod of Living Waters is, in Book of Order language, the “corporate expression of the church” throughout our region of roughly four states. Those four states include some of the most impoverished counties in the nation, and hold many opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world – together. There are synods in the PC(USA) with considerably greater financial resources at their disposal than we have here in Living Waters. But as University of Wisconsin campus minister Mark Elsdon says in his book by this name, “we aren’t broke!” And with a structure in place that will allow us to seek out new ways to be engaged in ministry together in our region, my hope is that we can put our resources to use in ways that further Christ’s mission and build us up as ambassadors of hope to our whole region of God’s world.


Blessings to you and yours in this Advent season of preparation.