The assembly approved the report of the New Form of Government Task Force, with some amendments, by a nearly two-thirds margin, voting 468-204 to approve it.
While under consideration by the General Assembly Form of Government Revision committee, the proposed document underwent detailed scrutiny. The long process of amending it was filled with theological discussion for the committee. As Elder Bill Capel of Southeastern Illinois Presbytery said, “We have been through a transformational experience – there is good news here. I am not who I was when I came in. Let us not go out in fear, let’s trust the process.”
Opposition to the new FOG continued for some, however. Despite the four years of work on the proposal, and input from across the denomination some feared there had still not been enough study. “People have not had time to study it and therefore it remains flawed,” said Michael Herrin of Mississippi Presbytery.
Tim Beal, a minister from San Diego Presbytery and moderator of the Form of Government Revision committee, introduced the recommendation to the assembly on July 7. Beal explained that the committee had reviewed the proposed Form of Government and made 30 amendments, and that the committee’s changes “included some fairly substantial issues, including theological implications of the language.”
Once on the floor of the assembly for discussion, a substitute motion came from Al Sandalow, minister from Central Washington Presbytery, which generated significant discussion. The motion suggested sending the proposed new FOG to the presbyteries, along with a request that they study it while taking no formal action. Sandalow questioned whether the PC(USA) needs a new FOG – saying “I have heard no great cry in the church for a new constitution to set us free for ministry.”
In response to this argument, Eric Nielsen, a minister from the Presbytery of Northern Waters, pointed out that the request for a new FOG came from the church and that “we have had four years to study this. The task force was begging us for our input. (The substitute motion) gives the impression that this is being rammed down our throats.”
Prior to voting on the recommendation to accept the new Form of Government, Vice Moderator Landon Whitsitt paused for prayer. “This is your church, not our church,” he prayed. “Regardless of our Form of Government, this is your church, not our church.”
With the General Assembly’s approval, the proposed new Form of Government now goes to the presbyteries for study, discussion and voting. A majority approval by the presbyteries will give the PC(USA) a new, more streamlined FOG, intended to be more responsive to local ministry needs in an era of vast change and shrinking resources.
JANET TUCK directs communications for Synod of Living Waters, Franklin, Tenn.