With the recent meeting of the Mid-Council Commission and the upcoming national caucus of the More Light Presbyterians, it is time we turn our collective attention to the 221st General Assembly meeting of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be held in Detroit, Mich., June 14-21, 2014.
Calendaring toward Detroit
Working “back” from the start date of the 2014 PCUSA GA of June 14, 2014:
- 120 days is February 14 (yes, also Valentine’s day) – this is the deadline for “reports” (which come the assembly from special committees, task forces, advocacy committees as well as the six agencies of the GA). This is also the deadline for overtures that seek to change the Constitution. This year, those overtures must be submitted by two presbyteries, which pushes the timeline “up” for the originating presbytery because they will need another presbytery’s support prior to the 120-day deadline.
- 60 days prior is April 15 (also tax day and the Tuesday of Holy Week) – this is the deadline for overtures with financial implications. This year, those overtures must be submitted by two presbyteries, which pushes the timeline “up” for the originating presbytery because they will need another presbytery’s support prior to the 60-day deadline.
- 45 days prior is April 30 – this is the deadline for “communications” (which may be directed to the G.A. from several sources, must be postmarked to the Stated Clerk by the 45-day deadline, but this form of business may not be known to commissioners prior to the Assembly). This is also the deadline for overtures with no financial implications and that do not seek to amend the Constitution. This year, those overtures must be submitted by two presbyteries, which pushes the timeline “up” for the originating presbytery because they will need another presbytery’s support prior to the 45-day deadline.
What will be on the docket?
The big issues may not be business issues at all but “process” concerns related to ideas being floated about the suspension of the use of Robert’s Rules in favor of more consensus-oriented “open source” approaches to decision making. Watch closely what comes to the Assembly from the Biennial Assembly review committee.
Marriage: The big “business” item will undoubtedly be marriage. The 220th GA also adopted a statement that “acknowledges that faithful Presbyterians earnestly seeking to follow Jesus Christ hold different views about what the Scriptures teach concerning the morality of committed, same-gender relationships” and that “the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) does not have one interpretation of Scripture in this matter.” However, the constitution of the PCUSA in both parts, The Book of Confessions and The Book of Order, affirms that marriage is ordered by God in Creation, affirmed by Jesus Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit. As ordered by the GA, the Office of Theology and Worship has prepared a study of marriage affirming those foundational truths. Those standards will most certainly be challenged at the 221st GA where commissioners will be asked to redefine marriage accommodating the evermore confused sexual culture in which we live.
Both the More Light Presbyterians and The Covenant Network of Presbyterians are advocating for a formal re-definition of marriage by the denomination. Both organizations already affirm open disobedience to the denomination’s mutually agreed upon constitutional standards and celebrate those officers of the church who openly defy ordination vows in regard to marriage standards. The two organizations will hold national meetings a month apart this fall. MLP will meet in Tucson at the end of September and the Covenant Network will be meet in Chicago the end of October. Both meetings include planning sessions for advocacy at the 2014 GA.
Educational and advocacy resources upholding natural marriage standards or monogamous committed marriage between one man and one woman are available from Theology Matters. The Presbyterian Coalition will provide equipping and coordination for those commissioners interested in working together to uphold the current standards.
Moderator: There is one candidate already in the running for the office of Moderator, Heath Rada of Western North Carolina.
We can expect several reports with recommendations to emerge from special committees, task forces and a commission to the G.A. They include:
- National Racial Ethnic Ministries Task Force
- Special Committee to review funding for Theological Institutions
- Special Committee on the Confession of Belhar
- Special Committee on the Review of Biennial Assemblies
- General Assembly Mid Council Commission
The MCC 2 met recently and has made its recommendations to the Assembly.
The process for submitting overtures to the General Assembly is different from “the way we’ve always done it.” In fact, the “we’ve never done it that way before” crowd is going to find themselves stomping their feet in futile protest if they don’t get up to speed quickly on the new rules. The Office of the General Assembly has outlined the changes to the process of how to submit an overture.
A handful of overtures have been received by the Office of the General Assembly for the 221st G.A.
Information received from the OGA confirms that “A Book of Order amendment that went into effect on July 7, 2013, states that overtures from presbyteries will require a concurrence from at least one other presbytery (see G-3.0302d) before being referred to the assembly.” Eight overtures arrived at the OGA prior to July 7 and so do not require a concurrence.
Information received from the OGA indicates that “All future overtures from presbyteries will require a concurrence. The overture title will initially start with ‘NC’ to indicate that the overture needs a concurrence. Once a concurrence is received the ‘NC’ will be deleted and the concurring presbytery information will be added.”
It is expected that as few as 50 overtures might make it through the new gauntlet to the assembly. Without question, the majority of business for the GA will originate from advocacy committees, entities and agencies of the General Assembly itself. In addition to business expected from PMA, OGA, The Board of Pensions, Foundation, Presbyterian Publishing, and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, there will also be business from the:
- Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy
- Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns
- Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns
Now is the time to:
- Familiarize yourself with resources from the Office of the General Assembly and PC-Biz.
- Familiarize yourself with and participate in your presbytery’s process for electing commissioners. Once your commissioners are identified, share that information with those who share your perspective on the matters before the assembly.
- Download and familiarize yourself with the Standing Rules, Guidelines and Policies, and Organization for Mission for the 2014 G.A.
- Consider overture(s) that your session might forward to your presbytery. Also, consider concurring with overture(s) from other presbyteries as all overtures now require the support of two different presbyteries to be heard by G.A.
- Become equipped to participate by utilizing sites like: www.gahelp.net
- Pray ardently, regularly and specifically for the 221st meeting of the General Assembly.
Editor’s note: The Presbyterian Lay Committee looks forward to covering the 2014 GA in Detroit. Comment here, send us a message on Facebook or Tweet us and let us know you’ll be attending. The week of the Assembly visit our booth in the Exhibit Hall.