The Discernment journey
A monthly column for the PC(USA) by the General Assembly Stated Clerk
November 9, 2009
LOUISVILLE — Folks often wonder how an overture makes its way to a General Assembly. It is not a speedy process, but it’s an effective one that involves discernment through prayer, the study of Scripture, and careful listening to others.
An overture generally starts with an individual idea or inspiration. From there, one of the foundational understandings of our polity is lived out: Decisions are made not by one person, but by people discerning together the mind of Christ.
Often, an overture’s first step involves members of the session of a congregation discerning together whether the issue on their hearts should be addressed by the whole PC(USA). In my experience, this is rarely done at one meeting, but over time.
The session sends the overture to the presbytery, where it is considered by a committee. The committee members prayerfully discern together the mind of Christ about the issue, listening to the voice of the session and to one another, as well as their own understanding of Scripture. The committee then sends the overture to the full presbytery, where elders and ministers discuss its merits and answer the critical question: Is this an issue for the whole church?
If approved by the presbytery, the overture goes to the General Assembly, where it will carry the presbytery’s name and require the presbytery’s support.
General Assembly commissioners and advisory delegates consider the overture in committee, discerning together by listening to voices with wider experiences, to different understandings of Scripture, and to the Spirit speaking through prayer. The item then goes to the whole assembly where, again, listening and seeking are the primary discernment actions.
If the overture passes, its journey continues as congregations, presbyteries, synods, and General Assembly agencies discern what it means for their ministry and witness.
The journey of an overture involves the entire Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It travels the long distance through our discernment as the whole church, listening for what God is calling the church to be and to do.
Let us all be ready to listen.