To congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
While it is not official until the Office of the General Assembly receives notification from presbyteries that have voted, it appears that, as of June 7, 2011, the proposed new Form of Government (FOG) has been approved by a majority of our 173 presbyteries.
The new FOG will replace the current version within the Book of Order of the church’s Constitution on July 10, 2011, one year after the adjournment of the 219th General Assembly (2010). The print edition of the new Book of Order will be available by late July.
The new Form of Government at its core
A new section, Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, which contains the vast majority of the first four chapters of the current FOG, will also be added to the beginning of the Book of Order. Within it are these words:
In the power of the Spirit, Jesus Christ draws worshiping communities and individual believers into the sovereign activity of the triune God at all times and places. As the Church seeks reform and fresh direction, it looks to Jesus Christ who goes ahead of us and calls us to follow him. (F-1.0401)
The foundational message of the saving love of God through Jesus Christ is timeless. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). And yet, when the Spirit has moved the church to respond to “the sovereign activity of the triune God,” the church has, in turn, worked to reshape itself to do so effectively.
While the new Form of Government will help the PC(USA) to be a faithful and responsive church in the 21st century, it also has a dimension of bringing us back to a truly constitutional document that contains broad governing and theological principles and emphasizes function over structure.
What will change?
Many Presbyterians will see nothing suddenly or dramatically different with a new Form of Government. Worship services will go on as usual, and congregations will continue to teach the faith, serve their communities, reach out to those in need, and work to further God’s realm on earth. However, what will be different is that congregations, presbyteries, and synods will have the opportunity to tailor mission and ministry to fit their own particular contexts and challenges.
The new FOG will also usher in changes in terminology. For example, ministers of the Word and Sacrament will be known as teaching elders, partnering in ministry with ruling elders who serve on the congregation’s council (session).
It is a season of much change in the church, and change is often accompanied by anxiety. Making the transition from the current Form of Government to the new one will take time, patience, and grace. We will all be living gradually into these new dimensions of the church’s governance. We commend to you the resources and guides at http://oga.pcusa.org/formofgovernment for assistance, including the “Frequently Asked Questions” document that accompanies this letter. Further resources will be made available over the course of the summer to help with this transition.
The best resources through this transition, however, will be each other. A new Form of Government puts all of us on the same page, as it were. Through conversation, cooperation, and collaboration, we will discover the most effective ways to move forward into this new and exciting chapter of the life of the church.
In the end, as affirmed in the Confession of 1967, “The church … orders its life as an institution with a constitution, government, officers, finances, and administrative rules. These are instruments of mission, not ends in themselves” (9.40). The mission remains the same: to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed, and to work for the reconciliation of the world. With God’s help, may this new Form of Government enable us to be ever more faithful to that mission.
Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010)
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Executive Director, General Assembly Mission Council
Vice Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010)