July 3, 2012
The Church Polity Committee of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) maintained what many of its commissioners called the “flexibility” of the Form of Government.
The committee rejected a series of overtures that could have had the impact of making some sections of the Book of Order more precise, but commissioner Tara Brown (Indian Nations Presbytery) said changes seemed to interfere with flexibility. “We have the flexibility to do what we do best. Let’s get back to letting a congregation do what it feels is best,” she said.
The current Form of Government was approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010) and ratified by a majority of the PC(USA) presbyteries a year ago.
Overall, the committee sought to avoid restrictions on congregations while at the same time accepting overtures that, according to the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, “provided helpful improvement to the language.”
The committee rejected most elements of an overture from Plains and Peaks Presbytery that would have restored language from the previous Book of Order that defined requirements for the election of congregational nominating committees and permissible corporate business at congregational meetings.
However, the committee modified and then approved a section of the overture that grants congregations the authority to approve “a plan for the creation of a joint congregational witness, or amending or dissolving the joint congregational witness.”
The committee overwhelmingly rejected an overture that would have placed requirements on how ruling elders are named to nominating committees. In rejecting the overture, the committee commented, “With the knowledge that each congregation is empowered to do its own work, we encourage each congregation to determine its own best practice.”
The committee also rejected overtures that would have modified the role and status of the congregation, would have modified the language in the foundations section of the Book of Order and would have modified language related to diversity in several locations within the Book of Order.
The overtures regarding diversity sought to eliminate or modify the list of protected groups within the PC(USA)’s non-discrimination policy, providing broader definitions or removing specific group identification.