One question frequently asked by Clerks of Session is whether Session meetings are open or closed – in other words, whether members of the church (or even the general public) are permitted to observe the meetings.
The Form of Government is permissive on this question. It’s up to the Session to decide. G-10.0201 says, “The Session may invite members of the congregation to attend its meetings if it so desires, without restricting its right to meet in executive session whenever circumstances indicate the wisdom of doing so.”
If the Session has taken no action to open their meetings, however, the presumption is that Session meetings are closed. The Session can vote at any time to open its meetings, either by adopting a policy or standing rule to that effect, or by voting to open individual meetings to the public. In the case of a closed meeting, the Session can vote to invite particular individuals (such as a church member who’s making a report) to attend all or a portion of the meeting.
This may sound surprising to readers who are used to “sunshine laws” in civil government. The church has no sunshine law, when it comes to Session meetings.
Sessions sometimes need to discuss confidential matters, such as personnel decisions or matters related to pastoral care. These discussions, which impact the privacy rights of individuals, are best undertaken without observers present. Whether the Session prefers to conduct such confidential business in executive session (which means all observers would be asked to leave the room when that item comes up), or to follow the Form of Government’s implicit suggestion and consider all meetings to be closed, is up to the Session to determine.