Presbyterian Church (USA) presbyteries will be voting to ratify 16 amendments to the denomination’s constitution which were approved by the 222nd General Assembly that met this past June in Portland, Ore.
The most controversial issue is the General Assembly’s decision to decouple baptism from the Lord’s Supper by removing the requirement of baptism for admission to the table. This will come before the presbyteries in two different amendments.
The first is “16-G. Access to the Lord’s Table, on amending W-2.3011a. and b.” (called Item 14-03 at the assembly).
The proposed amendment would change W-2.4011a. and b to read:
“Theology of the Lord’s Supper
“a. The opportunity to eat and drink with Christ is not a right bestowed upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended.
“Worshipers prepare themselves to celebrate the Lord’s Supper by putting their trust in Christ, confessing their sin, and seeking reconciliation with God and one another. Even those who doubt may come to the table in order to be assured of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.
“Welcoming to the Table
“b. In cases where baptized children who have not yet begun to participate in the Lord’s Supper express a desire to receive the Sacrament, the session should provide an occasion to welcome them to the table in public worship. Their introduction to the Lord’s Supper should include ongoing instruction or formation in the meaning and mystery of the Sacraments.”
The language actually comes directly from another amendment to the constitution that presbyteries will be voting on – the revised Directory of Worship.
The proposed revised Directory of Worship has been streamlined with 9,000 fewer words and a total of five chapters instead of the seven chapters found in the current Directory.
Minister of Word and Sacrament
Presbyteries are also being asked to ratify the decision of the General Assembly to change the term “teaching elder” back to “minister of Word and Sacrament.” There are eight amendments proposed to change the terms in different sections of the Book of Order.
In 2012, the General Assembly approved, and presbyteries ratified the decision to call pastors “teaching elders.” The Presbytery of Great Rivers asked the 2016 assembly — with five other presbyteries concurring – to change the title back to “Ministers of Word and Sacrament.”
16.A. Child and Youth Protection Policy—On Amending G-3.0106: This proposed amendment would add the word “youth” to G-3.0106 of the Book of Order which requires all councils to “adopt and implement a sexual misconduct policy and a child and youth protection policy.
16.B. Parity in Committees—On Amending G-3.0109: The proposed amendment strikes the requirement in G-3.0109 that specifies committees have “at least one half being members of congregations” and inserts new language so that it would read “A committee shall study and recommend action or carry out decisions already made by a council. It shall make a full report to the council that created it, and its recommendations shall require action by that body. Committees of councils higher than the session shall consist of both teaching elders and members of congregations, in numbers as nearly equal as possible.”
16-D: Both 16D.1 and 16D.2 deal with pastors who have renounced the jurisdiction of the church while in the disciplinary process. Both amendments work to create a way that the former pastor “may publicly face accusations that he or she had evaded before, as a step towards possible reinstatement to be able to work in the church (at least in some capacity).”
16-D.1. Relationship to the PCUSA of a Person Who Has Renounced Jurisdiction of the Church—On Amending G-2.0509. The change proposed to G-2.0509 would add a phrase to the end of the fourth paragraph so that it reads:
“Whenever a former teaching elder has renounced jurisdiction in the midst of a disciplinary proceeding as the accused, that former teaching elder shall not be permitted to perform any work, paid or volunteer, in any congregation or entity under the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church (USA) unless and until the person rejoins the church, comes forward and resubmits to the disciplinary process.”
16-D.2. Relationship to the PCUSA of a Person Who Has Renounced Jurisdiction of the Church—On Amending D-10.0401. The proposed amendment would add section “d” to D-10.0401 and it reads:
“d. For instances where a former teaching elder comes forward in self-accusation to undergo a disciplinary process to regain permission to perform work under the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (G-2.0509), no time limit from the time of the commission of the alleged offense to the filing of charges shall apply. Charges based on all accusations that had been made by the time that the former teaching elder had renounced jurisdiction may be brought regardless of the date on which any such offense is alleged to have occurred.”
16-E. Certified Service Requirements—On Amending G-2.1101. The amendment would change G-2.1101, so that certification requirements are not required to be in a “handbook,” but can be posted online or in other electronic formats.
16-F. The Ministry of Members—On Amending G-1.0304. The proposed amendment would add “caring for God’s creation” to the list of involvement cited in G-1.0304 – The Ministry of Members.
Presbyteries are asked to report their votes to the Office of the General Assembly no later than June 25, 2017. A list of the amendments can be found here.