The 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) met in 2012 and forwarded to the 173 presbyteries for their affirmative or negative vote 11 proposed amendments to the denomination’s constitutional documents. A majority of presbyteries accepted the proposal to replace the Heidelberg catechism with a new translation. A majority also accepted the requirement that any presbytery sending an overture to the 221st GA must now secure a second presbytery’s concurrence. Everything passed, except the amendment that would require those being ordained to repent of sin and make diligent use of the means of grace.
Only amendment 12-B which sought to clarify the ordination standards of the denomination was voted down by majority of presbyteries in the PCUSA. The current language of the Book of Order says that the life of the ordained “should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world.” The amendment would have added a new sentence: “This includes repentance of sin and diligent use of the means of grace.”
What we choose to change and what we choose not to change says much about our mutual beliefs and expectations. What does it say about the PCUSA that a majority of presbyteries are willing to limit the minority voice of one presbytery by requiring concurrences for every overture but placing no limits on the business that might be generated by denominational agencies, entities and advocacy committees? What does it say about the PCUSA that a majority of presbyters voting in a majority of presbyteries do not believe that those being ordained should live lives marked by “repentance of sin and diligent use of the means of grace?”
As we turn our collective attention to the 221st General Assembly meeting of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be held in Detroit, Mich. June 14-21, 2014, what the PCUSA professes to believe and what she practices in the living out of her common life are important questions to ask.
Marriage: The 220th GA also adopted a statement that “acknowledges that faithful Presbyterians earnestly seeking to follow Jesus Christ hold different views about what the Scriptures teach concerning the morality of committed, same-gender relationships” and that “the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) does not have one interpretation of Scripture in this matter.” However, the constitution of the PCUSA in both parts, The Book of Confessions and The Book of Order, affirms that marriage is ordered by God in Creation, affirmed by Jesus Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit. As ordered by the GA, the Office of Theology and Worship has prepared a study of marriage affirming those foundational truths. Those standards will most certainly be challenged at the 221st GA where commissioners will be asked to redefine marriage accommodating the evermore confused sexual culture in which we live.
Moderator: There is one candidate already in the running for the office of Moderator, Heath Rada of Western North Carolina.
We can expect several reports with recommendations to emerge from special committees, task forces and a commission to the G.A. They include:
- National Racial Ethnic Ministries Task Force
- Special Committee to review funding for Theological Institutions
- Special Committee on the Confession of Belhar
- Special Committee on the Review of Biennial Assemblies
- General Assembly Mid Council Commission
Overtures and other business already in the pipeline
Eight overtures have been received by the Office of the General Assembly for the 221st G.A.
Information received from the OGA confirms that “A Book of Order amendment that went into effect on July 7, 2013 states that overtures from presbyteries will require a concurrence from at least one other presbytery (see G-3.0302d) before being referred to the assembly. The overtures below, received before July 7, do not require a concurrence.”
- Overture 001 On Amending G-2.0104b. by Replacing “Guided by” with “Obedient to” in Reference to Scripture and the Confessions—From the Presbytery of East Tennessee.
- Overture 002 On Amending G-2.0504b. to Require Participation in the Benefits Plan of the PC(USA)—From the Presbytery of Kiskiminetas.
- Overture 003 On Issuing a Request to Teaching Elders to Participate in the Administrative Costs of the Church by Paying Per Capita—From the Presbytery of Albany.
- Overture 004 On Directing the Board of Pensions in the Distribution of Pension Benefits of Leaders of Churches Leaving the PC(USA)—From the Presbytery of Tropical Florida.
- Overture 005 On Amending G-3.0106 to Allow Presbyteries to Limit Payments of Per Capita—From the Presbytery of Detroit.
- Overture 006 On Amending G-4.0206a. Regarding the Sale or Encumbrance of Property Given to a Local Congregation as a Gift—From the Presbytery of Lake Michigan.
- Overture 007 On Taking Meaningful Action to Reduce Gun Violence—From the Presbytery of National Capital.
- Overture 008 On Publishing the Current List of Churches Certified as Relief of Conscience Churches—From the Presbytery of National Capital.
Information received from the OGA indicates that “All future overtures from presbyteries will require a concurrence. The overture title will initially start with ‘NC’ to indicate that the overture needs a concurrence. Once a concurrence is received the ‘NC’ will be deleted and the concurring presbytery information will be added.”
While additional overtures are expected, the majority of business that comes to the G.A. originates with the advocacy committees, entities and agencies of the General Assembly itself. In addition to business expected from PMA, OGA, The Board of Pensions, Foundation, Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program,and Presbyterian Publishing, there will also be business from the:
- Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy
- Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns
- Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns
Calendaring toward Detroit
Working “back” from the start date of the 2014 PCUSA GA of June 14, 2014:
- 120 days is February 14 (yes, also Valentine’s day) – this is the deadline for “reports” (which come the assembly from special committees, task forces, advocacy committees as well as the six agencies of the GA). This is also the deadline for overtures that seek to change the Constitution. This year, those overtures must be submitted by two presbyteries which pushes the timeline “up” for the originating presbytery because they will need another presbytery’s support prior to the 120 day deadline.
- 60 days prior is April 15 (also tax day and the Tuesday of Holy Week) – this is the deadline for overtures with financial implications. This year, those overtures must be submitted by two presbyteries which pushes the timeline “up” for the originating presbytery because they will need another presbytery’s support prior to the 60 day deadline.
- 45 days prior is April 30 – this is the deadline for “communications” (which may be directed to the G.A. from several sources, must be postmarked to the Stated Clerk by the 45-day deadline but this form of business may not be known to commissioners prior to the Assembly). This is also the deadline for overtures with no financial implications and that do not seek to amend the Constitution. This year, those overtures must be submitted by two presbyteries which pushes the timeline “up” for the originating presbytery because they will need another presbytery’s support prior to the 45-day deadline.
Now is the time to:
- Familiarize yourself with resources from the Office of the General Assembly and PC-Biz.
- Familiarize yourself with and participate in your presbytery’s process for electing commissioners.
- Download and familiarize yourself with the Standing Rules, Guidelines and Policies, and Organization for Mission for the 2014th G.A.
- Consider overture(s) that your session might forward to your presbytery. Also, consider concurring with overture(s) from other presbyteries as all overtures now require the support of presbyteries to be heard by G.A.
- Become equipped to participate by utilizing sites like: www.gahelp.net
- Pray ardently, regularly and specifically for the 221st meeting of the General Assembly.