It seemed clear fairly early on that the recommendations of the Form of Government Task Force did not have the strength to prevail at this assembly – even though the task force, which has worked hard on the project for two years, presented its ideas as a way to give the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a more streamlined, flexible form of government that would make it easier for presbyteries and congregations to be creative in doing mission around the world.
At that point, it became more a question of whether to send the proposal back for more work and discussion – or to switch directions altogether.
But the assembly defeated, by a vote of 184-529 a proposal to dismiss the Form of Government task force with thanks, and not to continue their work.
“We have learned a great deal from the task force’s hard work and invaluable contribution in moving us towards a more missional polity,” stated that proposal, presented by Bob Davis, a minister from San Diego Presbytery.
“However, we discerned that it would be better to allow presbyteries the freedom to work in conjunction with the General Assembly Mission Council to develop a new way forward rather than trying to amend and reshape only the model proposed by the task force.”
Some commissioners argued that the PC(USA) doesn’t need a new set of rules to turn its attention more passionately to mission – that can be done without any revisions in government.
“Two more years of debate, discussion, amendments … I can’t see how that will make us more missional,” is how one commissioner put it.
But others seemed open to continuing the conversation, although not to committing to the FOG proposals just yet. The recommendation the assembly approved June 26, by a vote of 624-88, will refer the FOG task force recommendations to the Office of the General Assembly “for a period of consultation and study with churches and presbyteries.”
There would be an expanded task force – including some members of the current FOG task force and some new members of the assembly committee that considered this issue, with the appointments to be made by assembly moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow.
That new task force “will revise the Form of Government Task Force Report, taking into account the concerns and suggestions gleaned from the consultation and study process,” the recommendation states. It adds, “the participation of every presbytery in the period of consultation and study would be strongly urged.”
The revised report of the new task force would report back to the stated clerk by Oct. 15, 2009, and would be distributed to the church by Jan. 15, 2010.
Coming in to this assembly, many presbyteries said they wanted more time – on an issue this complicated, they weren’t willing to take the plunge into a complete revision without more chance for scrutiny.
“There is nothing to be gained by rushing the approval of what even the members of the FOG Task Force recognize to be a radical change in our church’s governance,” said an overture from St. Andrew Presbytery. “A period of study and discernment of at least two years in length will only serve to ensure that the proposed changes to the Form of Government will be in the best interest of the church.”
Dean Strong, a commissioner who is stated clerk of North Puget Sound Presbytery, joked that the PC(USA)’s current Book of Order “is job security for me,” but also “prevents people from making good judgments. They just rely on a rule.”
Presbyterians want flexibility for mission, and the FOG proposal “preserves the foundation and heritage of the Reformed tradition,” Strong said. “Let’s not just scrap all the work that’s been done and start over” he urged. Instead, “give us a couple of years to study this, get feedback, and build on what’s been done already” by the FOG task force.
The assembly clearly was not willing pass the recommendations of that task force – at least not now. But when the task force members were introduced and thanked for their work, the commissioners gave them a standing ovation.