The revised Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [Part II], which took effect as a governing document July 9, can be accessed online in three formats from the Office of the General Assembly pages of pcusa.org. Bound copies can be ordered through the PC(USA) store.
Laurie Griffith, Associate Director for Constitutional Interpretation in OGA, led the effort to compile the new publication, including more than 30 amendments presbyteries finished voting on at the end of March. She noted that all amendments proposed by the 225th General Assembly were approved.
The compiling work included incorporating each amended passage into the previous text, formatting all sections and editing the final document, with the new sections and appendices totaling more than 330 pages.
In describing the revised Book of Order, Griffith highlighted some amendments with special impact for congregations, including a requirement of 12 weeks of paid family leave for called and installed pastors. Another change directs presbyteries to establish “terms for dissolution” when a relationship between an installed pastor and a congregation ends, a process Griffith compared to severance packages used by secular human resource departments.
Ruling elders who are commissioned to a particular pastoral service can now be commissioned to “multiple pastoral services,” allowing a single ruling elder to serve at more than one church. Another amended section requires church sessions to adopt and implement four different policies: child protection and sexual misconduct policies (that many councils already have in place), as well as harassment and anti-racism policies.
“Presbyteries will be helping congregations as they develop these policies,” Griffith said. “All can be found in section G-3.0106 [Administration of Mission, pg. 46].”
The most extensive textual changes in the Book of Order can be found in the Church Discipline section, which replaces the previous Rules of Discipline.
The approved amendments in that section “didn’t change many procedures but did change how the procedures are written out,” Griffith said. “Now folks participating in judicial cases can see discipline process information together in one place, and remedial process information in one place. That makes it easier for church councils to address individual and council behaviors.”
The three versions of the new Book of Order available online are a version formatted for 8 1/2- x 11-inch paper that can be printed and placed in a binder, an interactive pdf that includes digital links from the contents page to specific chapter headings and sections and an annotated version.
The annotated version shares a webpage URL with the 2019 version. “If there are any questions about what was in effect earlier a reader can toggle back and forth,” Griffith said, comparing language from the new Church Discipline and Rules of Discipline sections, for example.
Griffith noted the many national church staff members have worked since last summer’s General Assembly to share information about the amendments and track votes. Mid council leaders were key in scheduling those votes and reviewing background documents and General Assembly discussions relevant to the amendments. Those same leaders will resource congregations as they develop the policies and procedures outlined in the new Book of Order. “Mid council leaders are very talented and good at doing that resourcing,” she said.
Like Griffith, mid council leaders will be mindful that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is closer in time to the next General Assembly plenary sessions in Salt Lake City than to last summer’s gathering in Louisville.
The next round of proposed changes to the Book of Order are due February 26, 2024, 120 days prior to the 226th General Assembly.
“Book of Order (2023-2025)” English-language links
Printable pdf (for 8 1/2- x 11-inch paper)
Annotated web version