Presbytery moderators discuss voting on amendments, disaster response, purposeful meetings

October 30, 2016

Louisville

June 25, 2017, is a very important date, participants in the Moderator’s Conference were told in a workshop on “Presbytery Responsibilities in a Year Following GA.” 

The Moderators’ Conference was one of three mid-council leader events held concurrently in Louisville, Kentucky, just before the 2016 Polity Conference of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) October 30-31.

By next June 25, all 170 presbyteries of the PC(USA) must have finished voting on the 16 amendments to the Book of Order that were approved by the 222nd General Assembly (2016).

Workshop leader Reverend Steve Plank, stated clerk/communicator of the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse, offered tips to moderators on how to prepare for the votes in their presbyteries to make sure the process is handled fairly and efficiently.

The first step is getting and distributing the 40-page packet of amendments, he said. “Make sure people have plenty of time to read that beforehand.”

Because some of the amendments are long, he added, “It’s helpful to have a brief summary of what each amendment does.”

Other things to consider: Will you vote by voice or written ballots? Will you vote separately on each amendment or all together in an omnibus motion? Some presbyteries take the controversial ones out and vote on them separately, Plank said. Another option is to spread the votes over multiple presbytery meetings.

Will you set a time limit for speakers, or alternate speakers in favor and against the amendment? “If presbytery discussions become passionate, remind speakers to address the moderator and not get into arguments with each other,” Plank said. “And remember, as moderator, you cannot engage in debate.”

In another workshop during the Moderator’s Conference, staff of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance gave an update on PDA responses to current disasters and suggested ways presbyteries can be more engaged with PDA. Some current hot spots in the United States, they said, are responses to flooding in North Carolina following Hurricane Matthew, flooding in West Virginia, flooding and tornadoes in Texas, tornadoes in Oklahoma, and wildfires in California.

“There are also the individual church events (such as fires) that don’t make news but that we respond to,” said Jim Kirk, PDA associate for national disaster response.

He suggested that presbyteries invite PDA representatives to lead workshops, organize presbytery-wide disaster committees, and take advantage of disaster-preparedness training offered in cooperation with Presbyterian Women. 

In a workshop titled, “We hardly vote anymore—what else can we do?” participants discussed ways to make presbytery meetings more purposeful and engaging, especially when there is no urgent business to conduct.

The Reverend Cheryl Galan, transitional leader of the Presbytery of Elizabeth, told participants that Milwaukee Presbytery met recently in an art museum—a wonderful idea, Galan said, because “it gets the presbytery into the world.”

The Milwaukee Presbytery meeting, featuring an address by popular author and speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran minister, drew 300 people, Galan said. “They maxed out their space.”

Galan encouraged the moderators to organize a team “to build presbytery meetings that are intentional about purpose.” What happens in presbytery meetings is important, she said, because “we are priming the pump for what’s happening in congregations.”

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