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‘Project Overture’: On the road to General Assembly

PNS reveals two overtures that will be tracked through the legislative process

January 8, 2010

NEW YORK

Seven months from today — July 11th — the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will have concluded in Minneapolis.

But, in a sense, the commissioners’ work in Minneapolis will simply have been prologue to the work ahead of them in their home presbyteries. Part of this work will include presenting the overtures passed at the assembly that require presbyteries’ approval for potential ratification
  
On Nov. 5, 2009, the Presbyterian News Service announced Project Overture. Our plan: to follow, through a series of articles, an overture from conception to the floor of the 219th General Assembly, July 3-10, 2010.
  
We designed the Project Overture articles to be an “education in action” series. Not only is it our hope that this series will help inform the PC(USA) membership of the path of proposed legislation for potential inclusion in the Book of Order, but our additional hope is that they can be a useful adjunct to future Sunday School and Confirmation class lesson plans.
  
And so, the PNS announces the Overture we will be tracking. Actually, we will be tracking a pair of Overtures.
  
During our selection process, we looked for a proposal that addressed an issue of broad interest within our denomination but would also be a strong enough proposal to engender potential opposition. 
  
After six weeks of review, these two best fit our guidelines:

  • an Overture from Foothills Presbytery (Simpsonvile, S.C.) to amend G-13.0104 by establishing a new, annual “General Convocation” for the over-arching purpose of building intra-PC(USA) relationships. The Foothills Overture also calls for changing the convening of a General Assembly from the the current bi-annual schedule to once every six years. (see below)
  • an Overture of the Session of Ridgeview Presbyterian Church, Farmers Branch, Texas, through Grace Presbytery (Irving, Texas), to create a potential time-and-cost saving aspect within the search process for pastors and associate pastors by providing a unified system for posting and distributing one sermon video per pastor and seminary graduate for the benefit of PNCs and pastors. (see below)

Our decision to track two Overtures became apparent during our selection period. The history of the overture process reveals that not every petition makes it to the GA floor. The circumstances are varied, from the overture ultimately being shown to be redundant to existing language within the Book of Order, to its being withdrawn by its sponsor, to being defeated on the floor of the Assembly.
  
While these Overtures do not specifically address the liturgical or theological aspects of the PC(USA), they do address concerns about the “how” we — the PC(USA) — spend our monies. These Overtures also raise questions about how these potential modifications to our “operations” will impact the “mechanics” of our denomination.

Join us during the next seven months as we seek to give you a window into the thought processes behind these potential answers. 


† — Overture 009: On Establishing an Annual General Convocation Meeting and Moving Meetings of the General Assembly to Every Six Years — from the Presbytery of Foothills.

Foothills Presbytery overtures the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America to amend the appropriate sections of the Book of Order to:

  1. establish an annual General Convocation meeting for the purposes of worship, mission celebration, and building up relationships within the Body of Christ and
  2. move meetings of the General Assembly Governing Body to every six (6) years.

Rationale

1. We believe that

  • The vast majority of Presbyterians are happy with their congregations, their presbyteries, their synods, and the ongoing work of General Assembly staff to ensure the smooth day-by-day running of the mission of the denomination.
  • On the other hand, we believe that Presbyterians of all theological perspectives find themselves frustrated with the manner in which discussions occur and decisions are made by the General Assembly, and that General Assembly in its present functioning, presents a significant threat in our beloved church and to its peace, unity, and purity. (See Note 1 below)

2. Further, based on our experience, and reports of General Assembly commissioners, we believe that

  • the volume of  information presented to commissioners at the Assembly, including, but not limited to annual reports, denominational positions on particular issues, repeated actions to amend the constitution, etc.,
  • the committee structure and process employed to introduce business to the floor of the Assembly,
  • the lack of relationships between commissioners,
  • the lack of time to process issues that are often be enormously complicated and multi-faceted,
  • the consequent pressure to give in to the emotion of the moment
  • the disparity of knowledge about specific subjects between commissioners, GA staff, special interest groups

all often

  • lead to confrontation without reconciliation, (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
  • contribute to a heightened emphasis on winners and losers, rather than winners and winners (see 1 Corinthians 6:7-8)
  • lead to a tendency for our national body to act legislatively rather than pastorally (see Paul’s approach to meat offered to idols in  1 Corinthians 10:23-33)
  • promote stagnation rather than growth in our common life together (Ephesians 4:15-16)
  • lead to the predominance of single issue thinking (party-spirit, see Galatians 5:20)
  • reinforce a growing sense of anxiety in a significant number of our congregations every time Assembly meets, (see John 14:27)
  • and erode denominational pride, loyalty and commitment.

We propose this change to truly support the peace, unity and purity of the denomination,
To upbuild the historic Presbyterian Polity of connectionalism between congregations and presbyteries,
To reinvigorate the work of synods,
To transform the diversity-within-unity of our denomination into a powerful positive force that increasingly stimulates the creative proclamation of the Gospel in our nation’s diverse regions and cultures.
To modernize our operations, and
To provide time for wise reflection and broad discussion on matters central to us all.

Note 1: See the report online; P.4, “Trust in Governing Bodies' Use of Mission Dollars”, P.4, second paragraph

Note 2: Scripture references:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:7-8 7 In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 8But you yourselves wrong and defraud — and believers at that.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 23 ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up. 24Do not seek your own advantage, but that of others. 25Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience, 26for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’ 27If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice’, then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience — 29I mean the other’s conscience, not your own. For why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else’s conscience? 30If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. 32Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved.
  • Ephesians 4:15-16 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
  • Galatians 5:20 (The works of the flesh are) idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,
  • John 14:27 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Note 3: This overture will require fresh thinking on the church’s operation in many areas. For example, the title ‘Moderator of the General Assembly’ can be changed simply to ‘Moderator of the National Assembly’ — whether the assembly is the General Assembly, or the annual General Convocation.

‡ - Overture to provide a unified system for posting and distributing one sermon video per pastor and seminary graduate for the benefit of PNCs and pastors

1. At our stated September, 2009 meeting, the Session of Ridgeview Presbyterian Church approved a motion to forward to Grace Presbytery a proposed overture to the 219th General Assembly requesting that the PCUSA provide a bulk purchase at wholesale of electronic data storage space in order to enable each active pastor and each seminary graduate to post one video sermon to be made conveniently available through PCUSA.org.

2. Rationale: Each church has a PNC from time to time. PNCs now commonly request sermon videos, but many pastors do not have a reasonable means of providing them. Simple cameras to make these videos now cost as little as $200, but the PCUSA does not have a uniform system of getting sermon videos from prospective pastor nominees to the committees. Although General Assembly must consider the cost of every overture, pastors and PNCs could easily and inexpensively bear their modest portion of this system. By asking each pastor and graduating seminarian to submit a sermon and by giving the opportunity of occasional update, the act of making such videos would not indicate that any particular pastor is seeking to move.

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