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Assembly agrees to hit 'pause' on discussion of two issues dealing with pastoral fitness

June 18, 2014

Commissioners to the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) realized they had come to a stopping point over two complicated and potentially contentious issues Wednesday night, and that realization drew a compliment from General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons.

“I commend commissioners for dealing with complicated materials,” Parsons said shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday, “and for knowing when they were ready to move forward and when they were not.”

While considering a pair of overtures for which the Committee on Church Polity and Ordered Ministry Committee had recommended disapproval, commissioners were clearly divided, asking questions that permanent committees of the General Assembly, including the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, said would require additional consultation.

At the end of the evening plenary session, commissioners decided to arrest the committee’s report and try again Thursday.

The overtures causing consternation were 06-05 and 06-04. The former, from the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, sought to prohibit former teaching elders who renounce the church’s jurisdiction in the midst of a judicial proceeding from performing any work, paid or volunteer, in any congregation or other entity under the jurisdiction of the PC(USA).

The latter, from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, would amend the Book of Order to require a complete criminal background check before a call can be issued to a teaching elder.

The Assembly did not concur with the committee’s vote to disapprove 06-05, but as amendments were proposed, members of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution said that the new ideas merited further committee discussion.

The criminal background check overture, 06-04, came with a committee comment “strongly” urging presbyteries to mandate background checks. “The committee feels that this (overture) is language that should be in presbytery manuals,” said Committee Moderator Judy Ferguson.

Some commissioners said they believe the criminal background check requirement should be in the Book of Order and not in presbytery manuals. Hannah Graunke, a Young Adult Advisory Delegate from Presbytery of The Cascades, said she has a summertime job folding sweaters at a clothing store, “and I had to get a background check.”

“There appears to be much homework to be done,” Parsons said about the two issues that bogged the committee down. “I would suggest postponing until (Thursday) so that advice can be in good order.”

Before taking on the complicated issues, commissioners concurred with the committee’s disapproval on a handful of overtures. Those included 06-10, from the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, which would have allowed honorably retired teaching elders to become affiliate members of a congregation. Pastors are members of presbyteries and are not eligible to also be members of congregations.

Commissioners also concurred with the disapproval of 06-01, from the Presbytery of East Tennessee, which would have required people ordained for church service to be obedient to Scripture rather than the current language, guided by Scripture.

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