LOUISVILLE – Here’s a fact: Presbyterians support paid leave for new parents. In 2014, the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to encourage presbyteries and denominational agencies to adopt policies that provide for at least six weeks of paid leave without exhausting other paid time off. And in 2016, the 222nd General Assembly voted to encourage the six agencies of the General Assembly to evaluate their leave policies to provide paid parental and family leave.
Here’s a question: How should congregations and denominational agencies pay for adequate leave for parents to care for children new to their families, whether through birth, adoption or fostering?
When the 223rd General Assembly convenes in St. Louis on June 16, a chief agenda item for the Committee on Church Polity and Ordered Ministry (06) will be determining how parental leave is paid for and whether parental leave policies should be standardized throughout the denomination. The Presbytery of Boston has sent three overtures that would require the Board of Pensions (BOP) of the PC(USA) to provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all members of the BOP. Nine presbyteries have concurred with some or all the overtures.
In addition, the Twin Cities Area Presbytery is asking the General Assembly to create standardized parental leave policies that would provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all staff, pastors and certified educators employed at all levels of the PC(USA).
The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns has submitted a resolution to require the adoption of quality family and parental leave policies across the denomination. “Parental leave” refers to leave for parents to care for a child new to the family, while “family leave” expands the policy to include senior care and other circumstances.
The Board of Pensions has responded with advisories to the overtures affirming the importance of parental and family leave. The BOP comments explain that there is a difference between leave policies and the question of whether benefits should be expanded to include paid parental leave. Policies are the work of councils to create. Expanding benefits to include paid leaves would need to be funded by dues, which the BOP says would have a major financial impact.
In other business, the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest is requesting that a two-thirds majority vote of presbyteries be required to amend the Book of Order, a change intended to promote more stability and broader consensus in decision making. All the advisory committees recommend that this overture be disapproved.
Another major area of business will involve grappling with issues of restorative justice, when a person who previously renounced the jurisdiction of the PC(USA) during a disciplinary proceeding seeks to be readmitted to a leadership position. Describing the pathway for restoration continues to be a linguistic challenge to make sure the process and wording are accurately represented in the Book of Order. The Office of the General Assembly is recommending that all overtures that would amend the Rules of Discipline be referred to the Rules of Discipline Task Force, which is revising the Rules of Discipline and will bring suggested changes to the 224th General Assembly (2020).
Other matters before the committee include requests to:
- Allow congregations to elect individuals as ruling elders without requiring them to assume a seat on the session
- Prohibit public endorsement of individuals running for elected office
- Resolve a conflict between the Book of Order and the laws of some states on property that is held in trust for the PC(USA)
- Refine language in the Book of Order to make consistent references to ministers of the Word and Sacrament, previously referred to as teaching elders
- Grant standing to the Administrative Personnel Association in the Form of Government
- Clarify oversight for ministers of the Word and Sacrament laboring outside the bounds of their presbytery of membership
- Permit a member of the session to moderate a session meeting in emergency situations
- Clear up confusing language about the composition of nominating committees
- Consider recommendations on three requests for authoritative interpretations
- Receive reports from advisory committees and the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission
The Rev. Erin Cox-Holmes is executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Donegal and a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service. She is covering Assembly Committee 6 for the General Assembly News.