Flexibility and framework are words coming up often in the discussions surrounding the Form of Government revision being considered here at the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The Form of Government Task Force, which had presented Friday an outline of its revision of the PC(USA)’s Book of Order to the Assembly’s Form of Government Revision Committee, repeated the presentation Saturday morning in a “Riverside Conversation” in the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The Rev. Dan Williams, co-moderator of the task force, and elder Carol Hunley, task force member, led the auditorium crowd through an outline of the proposed revised document, stressing framework rather than specific rules.
It’s a framework they believe will enable the church to “respond to God’s call” rather than follow a litany of detailed instructions. Williams and Hunley noted that the current Book of Order has been amended more than 300 times since it was adopted in 1983 when the former United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and the Presbyterian Church in the United States reunited to form the PC(USA).
However, it became apparent through questions from the audience that some commissioners value certain rules within the existing Book of Order more than the flexibility written into the revision.
When one commissioner suggested that giving presbyteries the option to make interim or associate pastors eligible to serve as the next installed pastor might be “too much flexibility,” Williams pointed out that the Assembly, if it chooses, could strike that paragraph.
But the Rev. James Kim, also a member of the task force, said the Book of Order contains too many restrictions put in place to “prevent bad things.”
Kim said, “If you prevent bad things, you don’t get a good church. The opposite of bad is ‘not bad.’”
He added, “I will readily admit that I’m one of the ones [on the task force] who advocated for more flexibility.”
One of the participants used the analogy of walking a leashed dog compared to the use of an invisible fence. She said the revised Form of Government, just like an invisible fence, offers “permission to run around in the yard a little bit.”
Williams used another similar analogy, speaking of the football field at the University of Georgia where the field is surrounded by hedges. “We’ve attempted to identify the hedges around the field where the game is played,” he said.
The Rev. Grace Bowen, another task force member, said she appreciated the intensity and concern commissioners are bringing to the discussion. “I share your level of intensity,” she said.
Bowen said the task force “spent hours, weeks, days and months talking about polity, and if the church is willing to have this discussion, praise God, it is about time.”