Cleaner, Leaner Form of Government for Presbyterians

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 responsibilites 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.

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