After laboriously going over the  proposed new revision of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s  Directory  for Worship line-by-line, the Theological Issues and Institutions Committee on Tuesday morning unanimously approved the 18,000-word document and sent it on to the full 222nd General Assembly (2016) for approval.

The committee’s vote was a kairos moment that brought a happy end to a 12-year process of revising the directory for the first time since 1989. Revision committee member Kristin Saldine said the revised directory is “a beautiful theological statement of our understanding of Reformed worship … that is our compass, providing bearings and directions for worship in our church.”

Joyce Lieberman, director of Constitutional Interpretation in the Office of the General Assembly, commended the new directory, calling it “a partner to the new Form of Government (ratified by the presbyteries in 2011 after passing the 2010 General Assembly)

– it is shorter, more streamlined and more permission-giving [and] less formulaic, but maintains the integrity of Reformed worship and the Constitution.”

The 2004 assembly called for a review of the worship directory with the goal of “evaluating its influence and effectiveness in guiding sessions, pastors and higher governing bodies (now called “councils”) in planning and conducting worship that is authentically Reformed and culturally appropriate.”

After reviewing the directory, a staff team from the Office of the General Assembly and the Office of Theology and Worship reported to the 2006 assembly that it would be “more accessible and helpful” if it were shorter and better organized. That assembly agreed, but delayed work on the new directory because of the ongoing review of a new Form of Government (nFOG).

After the latter was approved in 2010 and ratified by the presbyteries the following year, work on the new Directory for Worship resumed. A broad consultation was held in 2013 to look at the initial draft of the document. A revised draft was presented to comment.

Another consultation was held in October 2015, and some of its suggestions were incorporated into the final proposal, which  is now before the current assembly. It received committee approval with only a few cosmetic changes.

David Gambrell, who as associate for worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Theology, Evangelism and Formation, led the revision effort, said the group was guided by seven principles:

  • Uphold essentials of Reformed faith, life and worship.
  • Respond to changing contexts and congregations.
  • Provide for more flexibility and more diverse expressions.
  • Use “we” language (vs. “they”) for the people of God.
  • Streamline contents and make it more user-friendly.
  • Simplify language and rewrite the document in more accessible style.
  • Eliminate redundancy and reduce length.
  • Enhance the directory’s usefulness as a teaching document.

Gambrell said the resulting directory includes “a beefed-up section on the theology of proclamation.” He said it “is not just for ‘Downtown First Presbyterian Church,’ but for a variety of styles and expressions.”

The new directory is more permissive, he said, with only 25 “shalls” (mandatory provisions) compared to 102 in the current Directory for Worship, and has been reduced from seven chapters to five and from 27,000 words to 18,000.

Presbyterian Mission Agency Board member Marci Glass said the revised directory “does not tell me what I have to believe, but gives words to what I know to be true.”