The “property clause” of the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) remains in the denomination’s constitution after the 220th General Assembly, by voice vote, upheld its Policy Committee’s recommendations, rejecting two overtures that would have placed property into the hands of congregations.
The overtures had called for all property controlled by a local session and used by an individual congregation be deemed to be the property of that congregation.
Under the PC(USA) constitution, all property held by or for a congregation is “held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit” of the denomination.
Overture advocates cited property issues as a cause of schism and the diversion of funds from mission. “Property is one of those things that’s tearing us apart,” said commissioner Ken Robbins, who supported the overtures.
Presenting the Polity Committee’s recommendation to the Assembly, commissioner Emily Anderson, committee moderator, first pointed out that a congregation’s borrowing capacity is increased by its relationship with a presbytery.
Anderson added, “More importantly … the church is more than a building,” and that it is part of a larger relational body.
Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly, ruled out of order a substitute motion that would have put control of property in the hands of congregations and that would have ultimately allowed congregations to dissolve their relationship with the PC(USA).
In presenting the substitute motion, Jeff Garrison, commissioner from Lake Michigan Presbytery, said the constitution’s property clause causes the expenditure of “money and energy that could have gone toward ministry and mission.” He said the Assembly should put away the “big stick.”
William Davnie, commissioner from Twin Cities Area Presbytery, pointed out that a “presbytery alone is empowered to dismiss congregations” and that individual congregations do not have that right.
After the substitute motion had been ruled out of order, Marianne Shine, commissioner from Tropical Florida Presbytery, spoke in favor of rejecting the overtures, adding, “We need to have more trust in our presbyteries. … The decision should be made at the presbytery level.”
In other action, the Assembly affirmed the vote of the Polity Committee to retain the language of groups protected within PC(USA)’s non-discrimination policy. Several overtures had sought to remove or make more general the list of protected groups.