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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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Presbyteries act on Amendment 10-1:
The New Form of Government

Presbyteries have approved a new Form of Government

Trinity Presbytery has become the 87th presbytery to approve the amendment    [6-8-11]

from the Office of the General Assembly, by Sharon Youngs, Communications Coordinator

LOUISVILLE – June 7, 2011 – While the Office of the General Assembly awaits official tallies, it appears that a majority of the 173 presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have approved a new Form of Government.

At its meeting on Tuesday, June 7, 2011, Trinity Presbytery became the 87th presbytery to approve an amendment that will replace the current 18-chapter Form of Government with a new version that is six chapters in length. The Form of Government is one section of the Book of Order, which is part of the PC(USA) Constitution.

Along with the new Form of Government will be a new section of the Book of Order entitled “Principles of Presbyterian Polity,” which contains a large majority of the content of the first four chapters of the current Form of Government.

The proposed new Form of Government (FOG) was approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the PC(USA). Two years earlier, a proposed revision had been presented to the 218th General Assembly (2008) by the FOG Task Force. That assembly reconstituted the task force and asked it to present a revised version to the 219th GA based on the feedback received at the 218th GA.     More >>

Governance in a Time of Ferment – observations on Amendment 10-1, the proposed New Form of Government    [2-19-11]

The Rev. Margaret J. Thomas has served the Presbyterian Church in a variety of roles over many years. Now honorably retired and living in Minneapolis, she was the Deputy Executive Director of the UPC/GAMC, and then executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies. She then served as executive of the Minnesota Council of Churches, and during that time she became a member and moderator of both the GA Permanent Judicial Commission and the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. Out of this broad and deep experience, she offers some of her insights on the proposed new Form of Government – both describing its positive aspects and pointing to two proposed changes that could undermine the whole distinctive style of governance in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

In a time when the denomination is having trouble sustaining its presbyteries and synods as both programmatic and ecclesiastical structures, she sees the new, leaner structure as offering “a less directive Constitutional framework for allowing each presbytery to shape its structures and operational manuals to function in whatever way most effectively reflects the realities of its geography, size, missional priorities, levels of diversity, staffing, and financial realities.”

But, she warns, current efforts to push this new structure into “smaller, ecclesiastically focused entities with little to no staff and programmatic initiatives arising solely out of the congregations. Some even envision a return to state based missional synods,” which would lose the distinctive and valued diversity within the Presbyterian Church.

Her second concern focuses on groups pressing for “a polity that would allow them to organize themselves into affinity groups for governance.” This often takes the form of proposals for “non-geographical” presbyteries or synods, such as the current Korean-language based presbyteries. She urges strongly against this way of allowing some Presbyterians and congregations simply ignore provisions of the Constitution with which they disagree, while maintaining full participation in the legislative process by which those rules are adopted and applied.

She concludes that “such proposals move beyond the Foundational Principles of Presbyterian governance – expressed in a polity which has ample room for dissent within the bounds of mutual forbearance without the creation of church dividing parallel governance entities.”

We encourage you to look at her full essay (it’s just over 2 pages, in PDF format)

We'd like to hear your comments!
Please send a note,
to be shared here!

More thoughts on the proposed new Form of Government   [1-24-11]

Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the 219th Assembly, will be discussed in most of the presbyteries of the PC(USA) during the next few months.

One helpful resource for your reflection, if you have about 45 minutes to watch it, is a video prepared by the presbyteries of Boston and Southern New England, featuring Paul Hooker, one of the authors of the new FoG proposal, in conversation with a number of other people.  Click here for the video >>


Some reasons for voting No

We’ve also received a thoughtful comment from the Rev. Jean Southard:


I don't know how the rest of you feel about the proposed new Form of Government, but I will be voting against it.

There are two primary reasons, and they are related:

First, G-6.0106b will still be in there under a new number. I think it will be harder to get this paragraph out of the new FoG because people will want to say that we just voted for this and we don't need to change it. I have decided not to vote for this paragraph, even when it is disguised under a new number and in a different FoG.

[A note from your WebWeaver: The 218th General Assembly, in creating the FoG task force, specifically prohibited it from dealing with G-6.0106b. So removing the ban on LGBT ordination must be accomplished in some other way – hopefully by the approval of Amendment 10-A in the coming months.]

Second, the present G-4.0400 which is now labeled "Diversity and Inclusiveness" would, in the new form, be labeled "Unity in Diversity." It is a deliberate move to call for unity at the expense of inclusiveness. As much as I value unity, I will not be ready for a new Form of Government until the church decides that it is not the church unless everyone is included.

My other reasons are secondary but still important, at least to me. They have to do with the fact that we are a connectional church, but we are now being told that presbyteries and churches should be making up their own rules about things, including what to call our major committees. Suppose in the future I want to contact the Committee on Ministry chair in Redwoods Presbytery. How will I know who to ask for if they call their CoM the Ministry Team and we call ours the Oversight Committee. We'll just have to ask, "What are you calling your CoM now?" And the generation after us won't even know to ask that. In short, I think the new FoG makes it hard to be connectional.

Those are my two cents worth.


We invite your comments on the FoG proposal, pro or con!
Just send a note, to be shared here.

219th General Assembly proposes a new Form of Government

[from PVJ's Network News, Summer 2010, posted here on 11-3-10]

The General Assembly voted to recommend a revised Form of Government to the presbyteries by a vote of 468 in favor, 204 against, and 6 abstentions — a 70%-30% margin. The new Form of Government includes:

• Foundations of Presbyterian Polity — the principles that are foundational to government, worship, and discipline for the PC(USA) — preserves the vast majority of the material in the first four chapters of the current Form of Government.

• Form of Government — in six chapters, which spells out the constitutional framework for government of the PC(USA) as it seeks to respond to God’s call to life in mission.

• Advisory Handbook for Councils for the Development of Policies and Procedures — required by the Form of Government as an aid to councils (governing bodies) of the church for developing the policies and procedures to carry out their mission.

Nothing will actually be changed until a majority of presbyteries vote to approve this new Form of Government. Voting must be completed by July 10, 2011, and if affirmative, the new Book of Order would take effect the next day.

The proposed Foundations of Presbyterian Polity and Form of Government are intended to help the church better meet the needs of mission in the 21st century.

The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity gathers together in three succinct chapters the historical and theological provisions that have defined, and continue to define, our church life together. Placing this bedrock material into a separate section of the Book of Order will provide a teaching tool to explain who and what we are.

The current Form of Government has evolved over the years from a Constitution into a regulatory manual that attempts to provide a “one size fits all” answer to every situation faced by congregations and presbyteries. The problem with this regulatory approach is that the diverse, multicultural environment in which we do mission no longer permits a “one size fits all” approach if we are to do mission effectively. The proposed new Form of Government lifts up the constitutional standards that are essential to our life together, while at the same time empowering councils (governing bodies) at all levels to respond more effectively to the ministry and mission needs that each faces.


The Office of the General Assembly suggests these main sources for the study of this important proposal.     [posted here 11-3-10]

The proposed amendment would replace the current Form of Government in the Book of Order.

Proposed Amendments to the Constitution — 
Part 1 of 3
This is an Adobe pdf icon (Includes Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, Form of Government, and Advisory Handbook for Councils for the Development of Policies and Procedures Required by the Form of Government.)

Foundations of Presbyterian Polity — lays out the principles that are foundational to government, worship, and discipline for the PC(USA). Preserves the vast majority of the material in the first four chapters of the current Form of Government. (Korean and Spanish versions are being prepared.)

Form of Government — in six chapters, spells out the constitutional framework for government of the PC(USA) as it seeks to respond to God’s call to life in mission. (Korean and Spanish versions are being prepared.)

Advisory Handbook for Councils for the Development of Policies and Procedures Required by the Form of Government — an aid to councils (governing bodies) of the church for developing the policies and procedures to carry out their mission.

About the Proposed Amendments — Part 1 of 3This is an Adobe pdf icon(Includes a letter from the Stated Clerk, Recommendations from the 219th General Assembly (2010), General Information, and Study Guide.)

Additional resources:

Frequently asked questionsThis is an Adobe pdf icon that address key issues about the task force’s report.

What Is Missional Ecclesiology? This is an Adobe pdf icon from Paul Hooker, minister member of the FOG Task Force, member of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution.

A letter to PC(USA) eldersThis is an Adobe pdf icon from Carol Hunley, a task force member who is a ruling elder.

A brief reflection on the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity by noted author William Chapman.

Comparison Chart: Proposed Foundations and Form of Government to Current Form of Government This is an Adobe pdf icon

Comparison Chart: Current Form of Government to Proposed Foundations and Form of Government This is an Adobe pdf icon

Proposed Form of Government PowerPoint (7.3mb) Powerpoint icon This Power Point is suitable for use at Presbytery meetings. (This Power Point contains a narrative. To access the narrative please follow the directions below to download the Power Point to your computer.)

 —Files marked with this icon are in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. For best results, right-click the link (or click and hold for Macintosh), select "save target as" and save the document to your desktop for viewing and printing.

Powerpoint icon — Files marked with this icon can be downloaded in Power Point. This file requires the Power Point program. For best results, right-click the link (or click and hold for Macintosh), select "save target as" and save the document to your desktop for viewing and printing.


Please join in with your own views, resources, suggestions, questions!

Just send a note, and we'll share it here.

Here’s one interesting and very positive take on the proposed new Form of Government, by Talitha Phillips, a student at San Francisco Theological Seminary. She wrote it while attending the 219th General Assembly.  [Posted here on 11-6-10]

Cleaner, Leaner Form of Government for Presbyterians

July 8, 2010

Talitha Phillips is blogging live from the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s bi-annual General Assembly in Minneapolis.

It is with great joy and dancing (would be cartwheels, if not for my crutches) that I announce the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA) voted 468-204-6 (69%-30%) to recommend we adopt a new Form of Government (n-FoG). I was excited about it at the 218th GA (2008) where it more narrowly squeaked by, and I kind of knew it would *pass* but I’m just overjoyed to see how very many people have gotten on board and envision it as a part of our future!

We Presbyterians have an enormous Book of Order (BoO), one part of which the n-FoG would replace, if it’s ratified in the next year by 2/3 of our presbyteries. The BoO is larger & heavier than many Bibles, and in many cases harder to understand. It has been amended 300 times in not very many years (how many times has the US’ constitution been amended? think about it). The new FoG will not bring our document down to the concise level of a constitution, but it reads MORE like a constitution and less like a manual of operations. Where the old FoG gave 27 responsibilities to presbyteries (G-11.0103), the new proposal says three things: Provide that the Word of God may be truly preached and heard; provide that the Sacraments may be rightly administered and received; and nurture the covenant community of the disciples of Christ. The same three calls are given to church, presbytery, General Assembly. Each is explained (for example “nurturing the community” for the presbytery includes ordaining, dismissing, and disciplining ministers) but it’s all under a much more sensible (and to my ears, spiritual) rubric.

The stripping away of rules and regulations is hard for some people to stomach. I heard someone say that we would need to be “so much more alert” to the dangers of misuses and abuses. Yes. He was right. But maybe we’d also need to be more alert to one another, and to our faith, and to the church. We are risking some pain and struggle, but are we not also “risking” great benefits? Maybe we’d wake up and think about things instead of consulting a manual that tells us what to do next. The question asked might be “what would Jesus do?” instead of “well what does the BoO say we have to do?” While we can never quite govern a church based on a bracelet slogan, it would not hurt to have that question more active and alive, and if we need to break out of complacency and force ourselves to ask that question, I believe that the n-FoG will provide many options for such questioning.

Talitha Phillips is a seminary student at San Francisco Theological Seminary and blogs at Madame Future Moderator.

Click here for this blog on the Faith Forward branch of the Patheos blog site.

Reports on Presbytery Actions


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GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly have now been acted upon by the presbyteries, confirming most of them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We provided resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest have been:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which  removes the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.  Approved!

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.  Disapproved, because as an amendment to the Book of Confessions it needed a 2/3 vote, and did not receive that.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which  adopts the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.   Approved.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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