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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Top Ten Things for Sessions To Do To Adapt To the nFOG

It's not every day I recommend an article from The Presbyterian Layman.  Over the years, I've found their reporting on controversial church issues to be far from objective and accurate, and some of their attacks on church leaders I respect and trust to border on the libelous.

Imagine my surprise when I found an article in their current issue called "PCUSA has time to 'live into the nFOG,'" in which they actually refrain from saying anything bad about the denomination!  In fact, the article is filled with useful tips for Sessions that are working to become familiar with the new Form of Government (nFOG).

The article is a straight-up summary of a recent webinar sponsored by The Presbyterian Outlook (a much more moderate independent journal reporting on the denomination).  The teacher behind the webinar was the Rev. Dan Williams, co-moderator of the General Assembly's New Form of Government Task Force.

The article's worth reading in its entirety, but here are some highlights, including a "Top Ten List of Things to Do Sooner, Rather Than Later" with respect to the nFOG:

Sessions should look in the following sections for:
  • G-1.03 for membership matters
  • G-2.01-2.04 for ordered ministries or deacons and ruling elders
  • G-3.01 for general procedures for all four councils
  • G-3.02 for specific items that are the responsibility of the session
  • G-4.01-4.02 for information on trustees, church property and so forth

Top 10 list

Williams then presented his top 10 list of “Things to do sooner, rather than later.” He told those listening to the webinar that “it’s better to do things thoughtfully and carefully rather than do it right now. … I can’t emphasize enough that you do not have to do anything right away. … No one will rap your knuckles if you do them later.”

10. Study the foundations. “Make sure you have done your homework in that section first,” said Williams. “Building well starts with the foundation.” The “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity” can be found in section F of the nFOG.

9. Quorum. Williams said this issue received a lot of discussion from Presbyterians when the final presbytery votes were being taken. The passage of nFOG removed the system-wide minimum standard for congregational and session forums, he said, “But it does not change your quorum. The number remains your quorum until you have a meeting and take the action to make the change.”

8. Notice for special meetings. Sessions and congregations can now determine how much required notice is needed to hold a special meeting. “It’s now up to you, as to what ‘reasonable notice’ must be,” he said.  “What works best for your situation will inform what your notice will be.”

7.  The nominations process. Williams said that G-2.0401 says the congregation can form the nomination committee in whatever way it deems acceptable. “You can continue to do it the old way,” he said, adding that that the nomination committee must include at least three active members on the committee and one ruling elder who is a current session member.

6. Length of term for the church treasurer found in G-3.0205.

5. Length of term for the clerk of session found in G3.-0104.

4. Strategy for dealing with members who have ceased active participation. “There is no ‘inactive roll’ as a requirement in the nFOG,” said Williams. “You are not required to maintain an inactive roll, but it does not mean you can’t have one. ... If this works best for you and your session then by all means have one.” Williams called the term “inactive member” a “contradiction in terms” and that the task force wanted to get away from that.

3. Sexual misconduct policy. All churches now must have a sexual misconduct policy. This change came from an amendment passed by presbyteries this year to the former Form of Government that also amended the nFOG. Williams advised those on the webinar to “look to your presbytery for guidance.”

2. Preparation and examination of those elected to ordered ministries, found in sections G-2.0402; G-2.0403 and G-2.0104b.

1. Develop or amend a manual of operations.  Williams said that nFOG takes the “how” and “who” matters out of the constitution, and these matters now belong in a church’s manual of operations. “You may not have a manual of operations, but you have standing policies that will likely be in a manual of operations,” he said. Examples include policies on creating committees and on building use. All of those policies should be collected into a manual of operations than can be as “detailed or brief as you need,” he said. “For smaller churches that operate more informally it may be a few pages.”

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