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What do the Standing Rules have to say about telegrams?

The Special Committee on Standing Rules offers an informative webinar that touches on a few surprising topics

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Chris Boyer via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — In a video made earlier this month, members of the Special Committee on Standing Rules of the General Assembly discussed their work and the changes they’re proposing for committee and plenary consideration at the 226th General Assembly.

Webinar hosts were the co-moderators of the special committee, Adriana Soto Acevedo and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann. Others participating in the 47-minute informational video were committee members the Rev. Andy James, Jeff Moles and Kathy Martin.

The Rev. Andy James

James explained the philosophy behind the special committee’s work:

  • The attempt was to use fewer words, reduce the complexity of procedures, and adjust to a smaller denomination.
  • Organization is based on the flow of the assembly, including worship, the creation of community, and faithful discernment and governance. Descriptions of processes are based on “how things are actually done,” James said. Definitions are included throughout the special committee’s recommendations, found here, and a glossary of terms is included.
  • The proposals recognize the possibility for different assembly formats, including online, in-person and hybrid. Proposals reflect “an increased openness to different leadership and learning styles.” Committee members seek fewer “shall”s in the Standing Rules and more “should”s and “may”s, James said.
  • One example: According to the current Standing Rules, “Telegrams and special letters shall be reported to the General Assembly only at times to be designated by the Moderator.” “Perhaps to the detriment of Western Union,” James quipped, “there are no more telegrams in the Standing Rules.”

Moles recommended those on the call read the special committee’s report, which will be taken up by the General Assembly Procedures committee as GAP-03. The Polity Committee will consider two other items of business proposed by the special committee that would require amendments to the Book of Order, POL-09 and POL-10.

Jeff Moles

According to Moles, the three categories “became our organizing structure”: worship of God, creation of community, and faithful discernment and governance.

Martin said the worship section was “expanded the most, because it’s vital to all we do.”

In the “creation of community” sections, Kohlmann went over the proposed changes that are among the most significant. One would specify that each General Assembly be comprised of 500 commissioners. That number is currently allocated by a formula, with 486 commissioners elected to the 225th General Assembly (2022) and 456 to the current one.

The special committee proposes changes to advisory delegates as well, including Theological Student Advisory Delegates. Another combines Missionary Advisory Delegates and Ecumenical Advisory Delegates into one group called Partner Advisory Delegates. “Our proposal seeks to bring the voices of our partners directly into the work of our General Assembly,” said Kohlmann, the Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018).

Another proposal creates more flexibility in choosing sites for the assembly instead of setting a required rotation in place.

Another alters the timing of the election of the moderators, who are currently selected early on in the assembly. The special committee proposes setting the election at the end of the assembly allowing “those standing [for moderator] to participate fully as commissioners and be involved in planning the [next] assembly which they will moderate,” Kohlmann said.

Another proposal would remove the requirement for concurrence on an overture by another presbytery. That, James pointed out, will require amending the Book of Order.

Committee members recommend that two moderators be appointed to share leadership of each committee. Each committee would be assigned a committee assistant to provide administrative and process support services. Other leadership positions would be assigned by the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA).

Adriana Soto Acevedo

Yet another proposal would revise the role of the assembly’s Bills & Overtures Committee.

During a question-and-answer session following the presentation, Acevedo was asked about the special committee’s view of the role of Young Adult Advisory Delegates, who currently can participate more fully in committees than they can during plenary, when their role is exclusively advisory.

Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Co-moderator 223rd General Assembly

The Rev. Cindy Kohlmann

“We talked about this extensively,” Acevedo said. “We realized that YAAD participation is something the denomination has been trying to figure out for decades.” One sticking point, Acevedo said, is “we couldn’t find a way to allow YAADs to vote without being required to be ordained [as a ruling elder]. Changing the Book of Order is beyond our scope.”

Kohlmann said it might surprise some people on the call to learn that “we laughed a lot” as the special committee did its significant work.

“There were times when we laughed so hard we had to take a break,” she said. “Now what we have done is being handed to the General Assembly Procedures Committee that is already planning for their work together.”

“What a blessing to have been a part of this group,” Martin said. “I know we had God with us and the Spirit in our work. I have been blessed by this whole experience.”

Committees of the General Assembly meet online June 25-27. Learn more about the 226th General Assembly here.

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