After several hours of debate, commissioners to the 222nd General Assembly (2016)of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to send to presbyteries a proposed amendment to the Book of Order that would restore the previous nomenclature for ordered ministry.
If approved by a majority of the denomination’s 171 presbyteries, those now called teaching elders would become ministers of Word and Sacrament; ruling elders would be elders; and commissioned ruling elders would be commissioned lay pastors. The vote was 320- 218 to return to language in use prior to 2012, when the new form of government was adopted.
The assembly also approved, by a 6-1 margin, an overture from the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area forbidding teaching elders who have renounced the church’s jurisdiction in the midst of a disciplinary proceeding from working in any church on any basis – paid or voluntary – until the person has rejoined the church, come forward and resubmitted to the disciplinary process.
One overture that had been disapproved by the Committee on Church Polity and Ordered Ministry was eventually referred to the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. It would have allowed individually commissioned elders to serve without having first served on the session. That would have allowed elders to serve in churches without sessions – for example, in some new worshipping communities.
Most commissioners who offered comments supported the overture, which came from the Synod of the Northeast.
“Once an elder, always an elder,” said Kimmy Stokesbary of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. “For me, a compelling reason is for full vote and voice for young, emerging leaders as well as immigrants.”