Air-Traffic Control at General Assembly

January 12, 2012

[A personal note: You might notice I’m a little sporadic in my posts lately—getting used to a new job and figuring out the best time of day to write when most of my Coalition colleagues are on Eastern Time! Thanks for hanging in there with me.]

General Assembly lasts eight days, and throughout that period, the commissioners are considering all sorts of business items that have been introduced to it in an orderly manner. The equivalent of air-traffic control is needed to make sure the proposals can all land safely in the proper committee and be safely conducted to the floor of GA at the proper time. It is a massive organizational effort, and the Office of the General Assembly is already hard at work to prepare the “paper” (all online files now) so that every commissioner can have access to the material for advance reading and preparation.

Most presbyters are aware that business needing action at the General Assembly has been generated by presbyteries, in the form of overtures. One’s presbytery may have passed an overture already and sent it on, or perhaps the presbytery has registered a concurrence with another presbytery’s overture. But those who have never been to a General Assembly may be surprised to learn that business items to the GA come from other sources as well. It behooves those interested in the proceedings to keep an eye out for all these sources, as the time comes closer. is the place to find the official listing and text of all proposals submitted to the Assembly.

Overtures from Presbyteries, sometimes numbering over 100, ask for some sort of action of the Assembly or a change to the Constitution. Those requiring a change of wording in the Book of Order must be submitted at least 120 days before the convening, so that they can be reviewed by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. If an individual presbyter has an idea for an overture, he or she can write it and submit it to the Bills & Overtures Committee of Presbytery for tracking to the Presbytery’s docket, or better yet, submit it first to one’s own Session for a review and debate to test its merit. If the Session approves it, it can be sent to Presbytery for action as well.

PCUSA Entities, standing committees of the program arm of the denomination, often generate resolutions or proposals for consideration by the Assembly. The Advisory Committees on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), Women’s Concerns (ACWC), and Presbyterian Health, Education & Welfare Association (PHEWA) are prolific contributors to the docket.

Task Forces Assigned by a Previous Assembly often work under the radar for two to four years to research an issue, conduct hearings, and/or write a proposal for consideration by the whole body. The Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church (PUP) was one of those. The commission studying the translation issues related to the Heidelberg Confession is currently at work. The church also awaits a report and recommendation from the commission assigned to evaluate the precedential value of all extant Authoritative Interpretations of the Form of Government, in light of nFOG’s adoption in 2011.

Commissioners’ Resolutions are allowed by the Standing Rules of the Assembly to give voting commissioners the opportunity to introduce topics they feel need GA attention. They cannot propose changes to the Constitution, and they must be signed by at least two commissioners. It is one way an individual commissioner can bring a particular issue to a committee for consideration and possible referral to the plenary Assembly.

Tomorrow: More navigational aids and the expectations they raise for participants of the Fellowship of Presbyterians convention next week.


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