Where FOG stands now

Last summer, the General Assembly essentially decided that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was not ready yet to make a clear decision on the recommendations of the Form of Government Task Force.

So the assembly gave the church more time to study and debate what the task force is recommending – and more time for a somewhat reconfigured task force to revise its proposals.

So this is supposed to be the productive “in-between” time when the task force does more work, and when the church parses what the task force is proposing, in part, as it presents ideas for a more flexible form of government that the task force contends would better serve a missional church.

The first part of those expectations is happening. The task force, with some new members, has been posting drafts of its work online and inviting comments. The deadline for submitting comments is June 30. The task force is to submit its final report to the 2010 General Assembly by Oct. 15, 2009.

But while the refrain at last summer’s General Assembly was that “the church needs more time to study this,” so far it’s not clear that is happening. Only a handful of comments have been submitted, and relatively few presbyteries have set up study groups to consider the Form of Government proposals, said Cindy Bolbach, an elder from National Capital Presbytery and co-moderator of the task force.

“That was our concern going in — that unless we can figure out a different way to get interest up, we’ll end up in June 2010 in the same place we were in in June 2008,” Bolbach said.  “Commissioners would say, ‘We don’t know about this.’ ”

The FOG task force is planning to attend the Big Tent gathering in Atlanta June 11-13, seeing that as an opportunity to interact with Presbyterians from a variety of backgrounds and to answer questions.

During a recent conference call, members of the FOG task force talked about the light response to the work they’re doing. They’ve received, for example, relatively few invitations to speak to presbyteries about the FOG proposals.

That may mean “a number of people studied it the first time around and are done,” said task force member, Paige McRight, who is executive presbyter of Central Florida Presbytery “I’m not sure there is going to be as much study as was hoped for,” she added.

Some presbyteries may find their attention shifted to other matters such as the voting on whether to change the denomination’s ordination standards regarding gays and lesbians, for example, or on the financial stresses many of them face.

And some may just not see the need for an overhaul of the form of government to start with, although proposals to do that have circulated in the PC(USA) for years.

Still, some of what the FOG task force is proposing echoes talk found in other corners of the church — about the need, for example, to provide the flexibility in rules that new immigrant fellowships need to get up-and-running in an ethnically diverse country.

Bolbach said that in her presbytery, “there’s been a lot of talk about “are we moving into a post-denominational age? … The discussion about the new form of government ought to be closely tied to the discussion of what is the future of the PC(USA), what is the future of the denomination, how can we be effective?”


Leslie Scanlon is the Outlook national reporter, filing stories from Louisville, Ky.