In 2010, the 219th General Assembly called for the creation of several special committees and one commission to study vital areas in the life of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and bring back to this year’s assembly their findings and recommendations.

Each of the reports is now available on PC-biz, the electronic system through which all business coming to the General Assembly can be accessed.

Below is a brief summary of each committee’s mandate and recommendations (with strong encouragement to read each report in its entirety online).

Special Committee on Existing Authoritative Interpretations of the Book of Order

Anticipating the possibility that a majority of presbyteries would ratify the adoption of the new Form of Government, the 219th General Assembly (2010) called for a special committee to determine the status of statements of authoritative interpretation (AI) under the previous Form of Government.    

Over the course of one face-to-face meeting and twenty con ference calls, the special committee went about the detailed task of looking at every authoritative interpretation made either by the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) or the General Assembly itself since Reunion in 1983.

The committee’s 46-page report includes guidelines the committee developed to do their work, as well as five tables:

  • Two tables contain AIs derived from 145 GAPJC decisions and 122 actions of the General Assembly that the committee is recommending be retained because the language of the current text is identical to or essentially the same as the language previously interpreted.
  • Two tables contain AIs derived from 17 decisions of the GAPJC and 35 assembly actions that the committee is recommending be removed as having no effect because the former Form of Government language on which they were based is no longer a part of, or is contradicted by, the language in the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity or the current Form of Government.
  • A fifth table includes a list of 118 AIs derived from GAPJC decisions or assembly actions that did not involve an interpretation of any part of the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity or the Form of Government.

The committee notes in its report that this is the first “discrete repository” of all authoritative interpretations made since 1983.

Special Committee on the Heidelberg Catechism

The Special Committee on the Heidelberg Catechism will be bringing a comprehensive re-translation of the entire Heidelberg Catechism, along with updated scriptural references to each relevant section of the catechism.

Two other Reformed churches – the Reformed Church of America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) – approved the same re-translation in 2010.

The scriptural references being recommended for inclusion were originally published with the catechism nearly 450 years ago in 1563.

The committee was formed in 2008 following the 218th General Assembly to correct five specific sections of the Heidelberg Catechism.  Over the course of their work, the committee discovered several translation errors within and beyond the five sections. They also learned of the joint translation being undertaken by the RCA and CRCNA as part of those two churches’ hymnal project. The committee engaged in conversations with the RCA and CRCNA, reviewed their draft translation, and submitted several suggestions for further refinement.

If approved by this year’s assembly, two-thirds of the presbyteries will then have to approve the measure, followed by a subsequent affirmative vote by the 221st General Assembly (2014) before the new translation and scriptural references become part of The Book of Confessions.

General Assembly Commission on Mid Councils (formerly Middle Governing Bodies)

This twenty-one-member commission was given a large mandate, which included consulting with councils and the wider church on the mission and function of mid councils, developing models that reflect the roles of mid councils within the PC(USA) and the church’s witness beyond the denomination, and preparing a report of its findings and any recommendations.

By creating a commission instead of a committee, the 219th General Assembly (2010) gave the group authorization to act as the General Assembly in organizing new synods or dividing, uniting, or combining all or portions of existing synods; or doing the same with presbyteries or portions of presbyteries by synods – all upon a majority affirmative vote of the affected synod or presbytery.

The commission was also charged with supervising the Special Administrative Review Committee on Puerto Rico and acting on any recommendations of the review committee within the powers given to the commission.

The commission’s 49-page report is comprehensive and includes robust sections on the changing context of mission in the 21st century and the adaptive changes needed to meet the challenges, a discussion of the data the commission collected from across the church, a vision of synods as multi-presbytery missional partnerships, a report of the commission’s racial ethnic strategy task force, and cultural proficiency resources.

Eight recommendations are coming to this summer’s assembly from the commission, which include:

  • The transition of synods as ecclesiastical bodies to multi-presbytery missional partnerships
  • Request for synods to have plans in place for proper transfer of assets and such by 2014, with implementation to take place by 2016;
  • Creation of a committee to appoint five regional administrative commissions (AC) to help congregations and presbyteries fulfill missional objectives where realignment is necessary, and to continue support of racial ethnic ministries historically supported by synods;
  • Request for a proposal to the 221st GA (2014) for a necessary number of regional judicial commissions to serve functions of current synod permanent judicial commissions;
  • Formation of a commission with authorization to act as the General Assembly in organizing new synods or dividing, uniting, or combining all or portions of existing synods; or doing the same with presbyteries or portions of presbyteries by synods – all upon a majority affirmative vote of the affected synod or presbytery.
  • Formation of provisional nongeographic presbyteries for particular missional purposes through 2021; and approval by presbyteries for the “temporary dismissal of congregations, for particular missional purposes, to another presbytery within the synod or to another geographically contiguous synod,” under particular conditions;
  • Establishment of a task force to “review the nature and function of the General Assembly Mission Council and the Office of the General Assembly, specifically with respect to their relationship with and support of mid councils as they serve the vitality and mission of congregations in our changing context”; and
  • Creation of a national racial ethnic ministries task force “exclusively to review, assess, and explore the call to, responsibility in, and vision for racial ethnic ministry within the PC(USA).”

In the rationale for its recommendations, the commission offers a twofold proposal “that necessitates the constitutional changes” being suggested:

  1. “The flattening of denominational hierarchy and bureaucracy by repurposing synods as Multi-Presbytery Missional Partnerships. This will be accomplished by eliminating the ecclesiastical responsibilities of synods as councils of the church, referring permanent judicial commission functions to another created structure, and creating regional administrative commissions of the General Assembly to offer ecclesiastical accountability for boundary decisions between presbyteries and to facilitate the church’s commitment to diversity.
  2. The reinvigorating of presbyteries as the locus of support for missional congregations by allowing more flexibility in the formation of connectional relationships. In order to do this, we call the church to engage in a designated Season of Reflective Experimentation that will last until December 31, 2021. Among the possibilities to be explored during this season of experimentation are the creation of provisional nongeographic presbyteries and provisional presbytery realignments for specific missional purposes.”

The commission continues, “Based on a deep examination of our rapidly changing contexts for mission in the world, our recommendations create the conditions for adaptive change with a clear focus: ‘The stimulation of creative collaboration within and among presbyteries to strengthen the vitality of missional congregations in a post-Christendom world.’”

Special Committee on the Nature of the Church in the 21st Century

The 219th General Assembly (2010) called for this special committee with a mandate to “help to increase understanding of the church from a Reformed and Presbyterian perspective and assist current and new members in forming faithful plans for our common future.”

The committee’s report includes an extensive list of resources about the church, “its context, conditions, dreams, and visions.” As a result of their work, the committee is bringing ten recommendations to this summer’s General Assembly. The ten touch on key aspects of the PC(USA)’s work and witness in the 21st century:

  • Discerning new ministries
  • Bi-vocational and tent-making ministries
  • Education and support for developing new churches and ministries in a new day
  • New immigrant communities
  • Multilingual communications and resource development
  • Supporting and equipping pastoral leaders
  • Christian vocation
  • Understanding privilege
  • Ongoing resources
  • Living out our faith publicly

The narrative section of the report is in the form of a worship service – call to worship, confession, the Word, thanksgiving, closing and sending. Also included is an original hymn text, “Send Us Out.” The closing verse is:

Give us sight to catch your vision of a world transformed by grace.
Let us bear your hope and justice into every time and place.
Lead us, God, into a new day; may we boldly heed your call.
Send us out again in mission, serving you by loving all.

Special Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies

The Special Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies was established by actions of two previous General Assemblies. When the assembly approved a recommendation in 2002 to move to a biennial meeting pattern, the assembly requested that a committee be appointed to review the pattern after the 219th GA in 2010. The 219th assembly expanded the scope of the committee “to include all matters related to the form and function of the meeting of the General Assembly.”

In its report, the committee affirms the pattern of biennial General Assemblies, having “heard no strong support either to return to annual assemblies or to lengthen time between assemblies.”

The committee also notes, “We are a church living in and through a time of dramatic change; transition is the norm. We are a church yearning for new and different ways of discussing and discerning God’s call around difficult and controversial issues. We seek to be faithful to the One who has called us into being and who is calling us to be the church in a new way.”

To that end, and in response to their expanded scope, the committee will bring eight recommendations to this summer’s assembly. They include:

  • structuring GA dockets to contain plenary sessions focused on prayer, Bible study, and community building
  • constructing the framework for the next three assemblies around the Great Ends of the Church, the Marks of the Church, and the Notes of the Church
  • requiring overtures from presbyteries or synods to have concurrences from at least ten percent of the presbyteries (or synods, respectively)
  • placing on the assembly plenary consent agenda all decisions that passed by a three-quarters (supermajority) vote in a standing committee (with the exception of actions requesting constitutional changes), all unchallenged nominations from the General Assembly Nominating Committee, and unanimous recommendations from assembly agencies and entities for confirmation of offices requiring assembly confirmation
  • adding young adult teaching and ruling elder commissioners elected by those presbyteries within a synod’s geographical bounds
  • replacing pre-election booths/rooms for moderatorial candidates with encouraging candidates to “meet and make themselves available for conversation….”
  • Removing nominating speeches for the office of Moderator

The special committee is also recommending an extension of time for its work until 2014, so that the committee can respond more fully to its expanded scope.

The 220th General Assembly (2012) will meet in Pittsburgh, Pa., from June 30-July 7.