The Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) has now completed significant parts of its pre-General Assembly work, making public two committee reports covering authoritative interpretations and business items submitted to the 226th General Assembly.

A week-long meeting in April brought the committee together in Louisville, where it livestreamed discussions for the wider church.

Carla Campbell, ACC Moderator from the Synod of the Trinity and Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh, encouraged news service readers to learn the committee’s advice and recommendations directly from the reports in PC Biz.

On a personal note she reflected on the April meeting and looked to the future, including ways the ACC will support the 226th General Assembly in Salt Lake City and the kind of Presbyterians who might enjoy serving on the committee in the future.    

Read the ACC’s reports here:

ACC Recommendations on Current Requests for AIs and on Items of Business with Constitutional Implications
ACC Summary Report with AI (Authoritative Interpretation) Recommendations and Editorial Changes

Some members of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, April 2024, Presbyterian Center, Louisville.

Some members of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, April 2024, Presbyterian Center, Louisville. Author photo.

Each day of the Louisville meeting began with devotion, centering the committee in prayer. The first morning included an orientation, which Campbell said was especially helpful given the new online committee structure in place for this summer’s General Assembly.

Campbell’s six years on the ACC have included three new assembly formats, with this cycle the first the ACC has been able to meet in-person in the months before the assembly. It was also the first cycle where Campbell, who received the moderator’s gavel two years ago from Forrest Claassen, had a chance to work on current requests for authoritative interpretations of the Book of Order — two from the Presbytery of the Cascades (on minister training and committee composition) and one from the Presbytery of Milwaukee (on public worship). 

As it does each assembly cycle, the ACC also reviewed overtures seeking to amend the Book of Order or containing language that could raise constitutional questions. ACC recommendations are given serious consideration by committees and plenaries, but any action informed by their advice is carried out by the General Assembly.

Each day the full committee broke into two groups, with each half breaking into smaller groups to discuss draft responses that were later brought back to the full group.

Much of the committee’s work over the past year involved reviewing past authoritative interpretations and making recommendations about which to bring into the new Church Discipline section of the Book of Order, previously The Rules of Discipline.

“The bulk of that work was done at our fall meeting in St. Louis and with emails and via Zoom,” Campbell said. Altogether the committee looked at more than 600 authoritative interpretation notations.

Campbell praised the long and detailed work of each member of the committee, which includes ruling elders and teaching elders, as well as a mix of women and men — something that wasn’t always the case in the past.

“Each member brings their own expertise from their church service, their background and their geography,” Campbell said. “It’s a nice balance. We all worked prayerfully and well together.”

Whenever the deliberations began to feel overwhelming, Campbell said the committee looked at its specific charge. “We reminded ourselves that this isn’t about our vision of the church,” she said. “It’s about what the constitution says.”

“As a practical matter we can group and regroup much easier in person,” Campbell said about the ACC’s in-person gatherings. “When you schedule Zoom meetings, other meetings come up against them. When in St. Louis in the fall and Louisville this spring, we knew we would stay focused on our committee.” Having meals together and in-person worship helped build a shared awareness of each member’s strengths and perspectives.

All ACC members plan to be in Salt Lake City during business committee meetings, which will help the ACC quickly respond to questions about constitutional implications. ACC members will remain in Salt Lake City through the plenaries — a big commitment not just in terms of time away from home and family, but also paid vocation. Campbell gave thanks to the Presbytery of Pittsburgh for “supporting my ACC work as a part of my overall church work.”

As with all standing committees, the General Assembly will elect new members to the ACC in the future. When asked about the kind of Presbyterian who might enjoy serving on the committee, Campbell said, “This is for the polity nerds, the kind of people who have read the Book of Order cover to cover, people who are deeply concerned with following the Book of Order and also seeing where it needs to be changed.”

She laughed before sharing her own polity nerd credentials. “When I first went on session I was told to read the whole Book of Order, and I actually did.”

Anyone with questions about the Advisory Committee on the Constitution is encouraged to email Laurie Griffith, Associate Director of Constitutional Interpretation and lead staff support to the ACC.