From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Committee OKs biennial assemblies

Date 17 Jun 2002 20:49:17 -0400

Note #7249 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Committee OKs biennial assemblies
June 17, 2002

Committee OKs biennial assemblies 

'Good stewardship' argument carries the day by a 33-13 margin

by Jerry Van Marter

COLUMBUS, OH - By a vote of 33-13, the Assembly committee on General Assembly meetings voted on June 17 to recommend that the Presbyterian Church (USA) hold its annual national legislative gatherings only every other year.

The change would go into effect after the 216th Assembly in Richmond, VA, in 2004. If the recommendation is adopted by this year's Assembly, 2005 will be the first year since 1789 not to include a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

A parade of GA leaders - including the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the denomination's top ecclesiastical officer; John Detterick, executive director of the General Assembly Council (GAC), the church's top executive officer; and at least two former Assembly moderators - persuaded the committee that stewardship of financial and human resources demands a change in the pattern of Assembly meetings.

A typical Assembly costs about $5 million. Officials from the Office of the General Assembly have warned that per-capita contributions will have to be raised substantially if the meetings are to continue on an annual basis. Supporters of the move to biennials argued that the impact of once-a-year meetings ranges far beyond the budget.

"No one believes in the value of General Assembly more than the stated clerk," said Kirkpatrick, a onetime champion of yearly meetings, "but I've changed my mind."

Kirkpatrick outlined several reasons for his switch on the issue. The top reason he said, is that "we have to break the cycle of burdens we put on our presbyteries, of making them deal with General Assembly business year after year."
Jim Wilson, stated clerk of Scioto Valley Presbytery - the host presbytery for this year's meeting - agreed: "Our presbytery agenda is dominated by demands of General Assembly, rather than the mission of the presbytery," he said. "These issues need to be worked through - but not every year."

Many of the issues that have come up repeatedly - such as human sexuality and ordination - are controversial, and create a tremendous drain on the energies of the presbyteries, Kirkpatrick said. He urged the committee members, "Let's break the cycle of interest-group politics."

The Rev. John Buchanan, a former General Assembly moderator, agreed with Kirkpatrick, saying, "We spend too many resources preparing for parliamentary battle."

However, opponents of the proposal argued that forgoing annual Assemblies would be costly in other ways. 

"It's not healthy to avoid conflict and push off discussion," the Rev. Susan Andrews, a pastor from Bethesda, MD, argued during the panel's open hearing. "Every year, I learn from those with whom I disagree."

Stewart Webb, a committee member from Blackhawk Presbytery, argued that "cutting down on face-to-face timeis the wrong direction."
Other critics of the proposed change warned that GA staff would be less accountable to grassroots Presbyterians if they had to report only every other year. "Staff are routinely unwilling to abide by General Assembly directions," charged John Bryan, an elder from San Diego. "Only the General Assembly can fix that."

 	GAC leaders countered that assertion.
"I support biennials for reasons of efficiency," Detterick said. "Most Assembly directives go through the GAC, and by the time a General Assembly is over, we have only about six months to address those directives and meet the 120-day deadline for reporting to the ensuing Assembly. Biennial Assemblies would allow the GAC to do a more thorough job of meeting Assembly directions."

	After 214 years of annual GAs, the committee was clearly ready to try something new. "There is a great deal of anxiety, fear and change going on in our society and in our church," said the Rev. George coleman of Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery, a member of the committee. "But to embrace the new, we must let go of some of the old. 

	"Hanging on to annual General Assemblies will not help us."
Send your response to this article to

To unsubscribe from this mailing list, send an 'unsubscribe' request to

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home