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Topics of interest to Clerks of Session, Session Moderators and others who are interested in Presbyterian local-church governance.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Time to Sharpen Our Pencils

At the next meeting of Presbytery - which will be on Tuesday, January 25 at 7:00 pm, at Sayreville - we'll be voting on the proposed New Form of Government - the part of the Book of Order that contains most of the rules and regulations that guide our life together (the other parts of the Book of Order are the Directory for Worship and the Rules of Discipline).

If a majority of presbyteries across the country approve it, it will replace the existing Form of Government, effective in the summer of 2012.

According to a list of frequently-asked questions on the PC(USA) website, the New Form of Government allows church councils (the new name for the governing bodies of Session, Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly) considerably more flexibility than they presently have, to adopt their own operating procedures. The new book is a great deal slimmer than the old one, and intentionally so. From the FAQ document:

"In the proposed new Form of Government, councils are empowered to decide what process will work best to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ and fulfill standards in their contexts. That decision may well be to transfer the process currently in place within the 2009—2011 Form of Government into the council’s manual of operations. But councils also will have the opportunity to rethink and perhaps reinvent procedures that are now problematic or do not serve the council well."

The best way to find out what parts of the present book will no longer exist, if the new revision is passed, is by examining the comparison charts on the PC(USA) webpage. One chart starts with the current book, aligning the sections of the new book alongside it, and the other starts with the new book.

If the proposed New Form of Government passes, it will be time to sharpen our pencils, both at the presbytery and session levels of government. That's because we'll have to figure out what to do about the many rules and regulations from the present book that would disappear. Each session in our presbytery will be expected to have a policies manual that addresses this question. Some sessions may decide to simply take all the material that's dropped out of the old book and place it in their manual. Others will decide to enter a thoughtful process of deliberation, by which they'll determine which specific sections to keep and which to rewrite.

It will be an exciting, although at times also confusing, period in our denominational life. Now's the time for session members to start becoming familiar with the new proposal, and to begin thinking about what their church's policies manual may look like.

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