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PC(USA) General Assembly Committee 6 Preview

Committee on Church Polity and Ordered Ministry takes up 14 overtures

by Mike Ferguson | Special to Presbyterian News Service

general_assembly_222_logo_roundOvertures on requiring evangelism training for teaching elders, inserting caring for God’s creation as part of each congregation’s ministry—and a dozen other proposals—await the Committee on Church Polity and Ordered Ministry during the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The Assembly will be held June 18-25, 2016 in Portland, Oregon.

In business item 06-02, the Presbytery of Tampa Bay asserts that “practical training in evangelism (agile speaking and teaching concise truths about Jesus Christ as confessed in the Nicene Creed)” should be required of teaching elders seeking ordination. The 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative, proponents argue, “can become reality if we are intentional about evangelism throughout all denominational organizations.”

The Presbytery of New Castle, in item 06-03, wants to add a 12th duty—caring for God’s creation—to the ministry of members found in G-1.0304 in the Book of Order. In a concurrence, Lake Michigan and Heartland presbyteries note that human “dominion” as intended in Genesis “is best practiced in care for creation, in stewardship, which according to Genesis Noah fulfills best by implementing God’s first endangered species act.”

Three overtures—06-01, 06-07 and 06-10—deal with people who have renounced the jurisdiction of the church.

The first overture, by the Presbytery of the New Covenant, would delete language added by the 221st Assembly prohibiting teaching elders who have renounced jurisdiction from working or volunteering for a congregation or other PC(USA) entity.

The Presbytery of Greater Atlanta’s overture, 06-07, adds “and as long as the former teaching elder remains outside the membership and jurisdiction of the PC (USA)” to the language found in G-2.0509, the jurisdiction of the church in the midst of a disciplinary proceeding.

The final overture on the handling of renunciation of jurisdiction, overture 06-10, allows teaching elders who have renounced to become re-employed after they’ve taken certain steps, including coming forward in self-accusation, pleading guilty to all charges, being censured and completing appropriate rehabilitation. The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area brought this overture.

Virtual attendance, title changes and more

The remaining nine overtures are scattered over broad areas of ministry.

Item 06-04, brought by the Presbytery of Lake Erie, asks that ruling elders be allowed to virtually attend session meetings when appropriate technology is available. “Virtual session accommodations provide the homebound, those traveling for work, pleasure or family responsibilities, and those with family situations requiring their presence at home” a way to participate, according to the overture’s rationale.

In item 06-06, the Presbytery of Central Nebraska asks that a new section be added to G-2.11, Certified Church Service, to include skills and training certification by the Administrative Personnel Association. Certified administrative personnel assistants who have skills and training in such disciplines as church polity, reformed theology and spiritual growth and discipline would be identified and their credentials publicized.

An overture from the Presbytery of Great Rivers, 06-08, changes titles in ordered ministry. The new Form of Government changed “elder” to “ruling elder,” “commissioned lay pastor” to “commissioned ruling elder” and “minister of Word and Sacrament” to “teaching elder.” This overture would repeal those changes to reduce confusion, especially with other denominations, and more closely match what’s going on in churches: “The local church and many churches and pastors have simply ignored the change to the nomenclature,” as the rationale states.

Overture 06-09, from the Presbytery of Monmouth, would allow the election of ruling elders who wouldn’t immediately begin serving on the session. Those ruling elders could assist in serving the Lord’s Supper, exercise spiritual leadership and help balance diversity representation requirements of presbyteries and synods.

The Presbytery of St. Andrew, in item 06-05, seeks to strike language in G-3.0109 requiring committees of councils higher than the session to contain equal numbers of ruling elders and teaching elders. While parity is “essential in decision making,” requiring it of all committees—especially study committees and those formed only to make recommendations—is “an unnecessary restriction placed on councils,” as argued in the rationale.

The Presbytery de Cristo, which brought item 06-13, wants the General Assembly to clarify presbyteries’ use of commissioned ruling elders. The change will allow presbyteries to use commissioned ruling elders to administer the Sacraments or moderate meetings at a list of named congregations.

Item 06-11 would add language to G-3.0104. The overture, brought by the Presbytery of Detroit, defines the stated clerk as “the council’s chief ecclesiastical administrator and relates to other governing bodies and Christian communions, interprets council actions, represents the council, staffs the council’s permanent judicial commission, and is the council’s executive secretary and parliamentarian.” The proposed description of the role of stated clerks “more clearly marks the historic tradition and function of a stated clerk within the Presbyterian tradition, and brings the Form of Government in line with the practice and guidance already given by the Office of the General Assembly.”

One overture, 06-14, brought by the Presbytery of Chicago, would create a Rules of Discipline Task Force to revise the rules to make them what proponents say are more accessible to the church and, among other improvements, provide flexibility in crafting censures and remedies. The only alternative to public shaming under the current Rules of Discipline “is sweeping the problem under the rug. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can do better than this,” the rationale states.

The final overture, 06-12, from the Presbytery of Grand Canyon, would amend the Book of Order and General Assembly Standing Rules on the roles of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution and the Permanent Judicial Commission when constitutional questions are considered by the General Assembly.

Ruling Elder Mike Ferguson is a member of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Billings, Montana. He’s also a reporter with the Billings Gazette. He’ll be serving in the Communications Office at the 222nd General Assembly in Portland, Ore., covering two committees: Church Polity and Ordered Ministry and Immigration and Environmental Issues.

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