From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Commissioners vote for every-other-year Assemblies

Date 20 Jun 2002 14:36:01 -0400

Note #7299 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Commissioners vote for every-other-year Assemblies

Effect will be felt in 2004; impact to be evaluated after 2010 GA

by Jerry Van Marter

COLUMBUS, OH - The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted by a margin of more than 2 to 1 to abandon the practice of having national assemblies of the church every year.

The PC(USA) and predecessor denominations have met annually almost since the founding of the United States, but the practice will end after the 2004 gathering in Richmond, VA, when the meetings will be held only every other year.

As a result, 2005 will be the first year without a Presbyterian General Assembly since 1789.

By a vote of 343-167 (67 percent to 32 percent), this year's 214th GA decided that stewardship - of time, money and energy - outweighs the value of the tradition of convening legislative gatherings of the denomination's highest governing body every year.

"There are several reasons why we support (biennial Assemblies)," said Rebecca Cavallucci, an elder from Central Florida Presbytery and moderator of Assembly Committee on General Assembly Meetings. 

In favor of the change, Cavallucci cited the cost of annual meetings, the time presbyteries must devote to considering Assembly referrals, the amount of preparation time demanded of PC(USA) staff members and a shortage of time between meetings to alleviate the pain some Assembly decisions cause in the church.

The Rev. Brian Janssen, of Prospect Hill Presbytery, proposed a substitute measure that would have continued the practice of meeting every year. "We'd be making a historic change with no safeguard of asking the presbyteries first," he said in arguing against the committee's recommendation. He noted that it originated with the General Assembly Council (GAC) and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA), not from local and regional groupings of Presbytereians. "It's important that we talk to each other, and General Assembly is one key way we do that," he said. "It's important that we keep talking to each other."

The Rev. David Carver of Pittsburgh Presbytery countered that annual Assemblies "are a luxury we can't afford anymore." He said annual meetings are "an extravagance" at a time of "reduced missionaries overseas and closing churches here at home."

Janssen's substitute was defeated by a 342-170 vote of the commissioners.

Another alternative to meeting only every other year was presented by the Rev. Ken Hall, a former Assembly moderator: meet once a year but have GA program areas alternate in submitting business to the national gatherings. "That would reduce the workload on staff and the business of the Assembly, which we could then shorten to save money," he argued. "The General Assembly is the greatest manifestation of our connectional system - we could have our cake and eat it, too."

The Assembly didn't buy Hall's argument.

Graham Redding, an ecumenical advisory delegate from New Zealand, said his church moved to biennial Assemblies a number of years ago. "There were some 'teething problems,' he said, "but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. It's worked extremely well for us."

The action taken by the Assembly asks the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly to prepare Book of Order amendments to increase the number of commissioners to the meetings - a move to defuse the argument that fewer Presbyterians would have the opportunity to serve as commissioners under the biennial plan.

Agencies of the General Assembly were also encouraged to "develop programs and events that would create opportunities for gathering in the years that the General Assembly will not meet."

The Assembly ordered that a task force be assigned to evaluate the impact of the change to biennial meetings after the Assembly in 2010, and to report on its findings in 2012.
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