PORTLAND, Ore. – After spending the morning of June 21 discussing Item 03-05 – an overture involving the annual statistical report of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – the General Assembly Procedures committee stopped for an order of the day at 10:00 a.m. The denomination’s stated clerk, Gradye Parsons, introduced Kris Schondelmeyer, whose story was being told in reference to Item 03-14.
Schondelmeyer, a pastor in Toledo, Ohio, shared with the committee his experience of being a victim of clergy sexual abuse in his youth. In addition, he called on the stated clerk and the General Assembly to implement a policy to protect others from experiencing what he did as a teenager.
The committee took time to process what they had heard, and moved on to the business of the item. The 221st General Assembly in 2014 sent a proposed revision of section G-3.0106 in the Book of Order to presbyteries for approval, requiring that “all councils shall adopt and implement … a child protection policy.” Following approval of that by a majority of the presbyteries, that change went into effect on June 21, 2015. Parsons then appointed a task force to deal with issues of child protection – and the assembly is now being asked to approve the PC(USA)’s Child/Youth/Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy and Procedures.
In committee, some commissioners raised concerns over the addition of language barring people with drug and alcohol arrests in their pasts from serving as a child or youth worker. Isaac Donkoh-Halm, a young adult advisory delegate from Northern New England Presbytery, said: “There are many people this applies to, and barring them from service says we don’t believe in grace.”
Eventually the committee voted approval of the measure, including a comment stating: “We must be accountable as the body of Christ, for that which is done in our name. The creation and maintenance of a safe, supportive non-abusive environment for all of our participants in all that we do must be and will be priority for all Presbyterians as we work to be God’s people and do God’s work. We do this out of compassion for Kris Schondelmeyer and all other victims who have suffered abuse in the Presbyterian Church. We further applaud Kris and his family for their courage, which has moved us to address this imperative subject.”
The committee then returned to 03-05, which would add a new category, “Partners in Ministry,” to the annual statistical report. After debate over whether or not a new category is necessary, Elizabeth Gabbard, a teaching elder from Arkansas Presbytery, proposed a substitute motion to replace the current membership category of “other” with “partners in ministry.” That suggestion did not prevail – the committee voted 36-3 to disapprove the overture.
The committee also considered two overtures, one from Elizabeth Presbytery, the other from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, about more inclusive racial/ethnic categories for session annual reports. After hearing from overture advocates for both, the committee recommended that they be referred to the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly for further review.