From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] OGA answers special General Assembly questions

Date 22 Jan 2003 16:37:07 -0500

Note #7572 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

OGA answers special General Assembly questions
January 22, 2003

OGA answers special General Assembly questions; 
Ohio session files complaint 

by Jerry L. Van Marter 

LOUISVILLE - With opinions flying around the church about an unprecedented
special meeting of the 214th General Assembly - which would be the first in
Presbyterian Church (USA) history - the Office of the General Assembly has
issued an "FAQ" (frequently asked questions) on the matter.

In the meantime, the session of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Canton,
OH, has  filed a complaint with the General Assembly Permanent Judicial
Commission (PJC) Jan. 21, charging that denominational officials have
violated The Book of Order by not calling the special session.

The complaint, filed by Paul Rolf Jensen, an attorney in Reston, VA, names
the Office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, the Office of the
Moderator of the General Assembly, the Committee on the Office of the General
Assembly, Fahed Abu-Akel as Moderator of the General Assembly and Clifton
Kirkpatrick as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly and says they have
"conspired together and acted contrary to the polity of the Presbyterian
Church (USA) to prevent the 214th General Assembly from being recalled into
special session."

The complaint demands that the "conspirators" cease "all efforts to resist"
calling the special session.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, director of operations for the Office of the General
Assembly (OGA), called the Westminster complaint "premature at best." Parsons
said the OGA is working as fast as it can to verify the 57 signatures on a
petition given to Abu-Akel last week by Alex Metherell, a surgeon in Laguna
Beach, CA, asking for the special Assembly. "We have not not done what the
complaint says," Parsons told the Presbyterian News  Service, adding that the
verification of the signatures on the petition should be completed "by the
end of this week."

He said the executive committee of the General Assembly PJC meets Jan. 24 and
will address the Westminster complaint.

Jensen has also filed more than 20 complaints all around the country,
alleging defiance  of the constitution - particularly G-6.0106b (the commonly
called "fidelity and chastity" clause) - by individuals, sessions and
presbyteries. He and Metherell are both members of the same congregation in
Los Ranchos Presbytery in southern California. Metherell was an elder
commissioner from that presbytery to the 214th General Assembly.

The full text of the OGA "Frequently Asked Questions" paper, dated Jan. 21:
Frequently Asked Questions
Many conversations are taking place across the denomination regarding the
possibility of a called special assembly. What follows are answers to the
most frequently asked questions about a special assembly.
Q: What are the rights and duties of the Moderator regarding a called special
A: The Book of Order (G-13.0104) says that the Moderator "shall" call a
special assembly at the request of the requisite number of minister and elder
commissioners. The Moderator intends to call the special assembly as soon as
the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) receives verification about and from
the commissioners who signed the petition.
Q: What is verification and why is it necessary?
A: Verification assures the integrity of votes and the protection of the
rights of commissioners in making decisions. Verification is done in other
ways in the OGA-certifying commissioners to an assembly, verifying votes on
constitutional amendments, and approving the vote count for the next
Moderator before the result is announced to the assembly. Verification in
this situation insures that there are 25 minister and 25 elder commissioners
(from the appropriate spread of presbyteries) to the 214th General Assembly
who want a special assembly. This is especially important in this situation,
given that some commissioners whose names are on the petition contacted the
Stated Clerk within hours of the petition being presented to the Moderator,
stating that their names should not be included on the petition. In addition,
the presenter of the petition informed the Stated Clerk, after the
presentation of the petition, that one of the names appearing on the petition
should not be inclu!
Q: What is the verification process?
A: On January 14th, the Moderator received the petition requesting that he
call a special assembly. By the next day, the OGA was contacting stated
clerks of the presbyteries in which the signers of the petition are located,
asking them to verify that the commissioner(s) within their presbyteries are
still in good standing. Upon receipt of this verification, the OGA sent a
letter to the commissioners who had been verified, asking them to certify
with their signature that they desire a special assembly.
Q: What if one or more of the commissioners cannot be reached for
A: The presumption is that the signers of the petition want a special
assembly. The only votes that will be counted as not favoring a special
assembly will be the ones so marked and received from the commissioners
indicating such.
Q: Which is correct: 60-day or 120-day notice?

A: Both are correct and required in this situation. The Book of Order
(G-13.0104) requires that commissioners to a special assembly receive notice
at least 60 days in advance. G-13.0112c states that all matters requiring
constitutional interpretation shall be presented to the Stated Clerk 120 days
prior to the convening of the assembly. The purposes listed in the petition
deal only with matters related to interpreting the meaning of the
Constitution for our current situation in the PC(USA). For more details,
please go to "The Stated Clerk Responds."
Q: Can a special assembly still be called with a 120-day notice? If so, where
will it be held?
A: Yes. The 120-day provision means that a special assembly would be convened
between (no earlier than) May 15, 2003, and the beginning of the 215th
General Assembly on May 24, 2003. The OGA is currently researching possible
locations for a special assembly. Factors include cost and availability.
Q: When will we know if the Moderator will be calling a special assembly?
A: As soon as the OGA has received verification from commissioners who signed
the petition-or the OGA has exhausted everything possible way to contact
commissioners and has not been successful-and it is determined that the
minimum requirements are met as outlined in question #1, the Moderator will
be advised that it is in order to call a special assembly. 

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