General Assembly backgrounder: General Assembly procedures

Whether the time has come to give vote as well as voice to Young Adult Advisory Delegates is one of the topics to be considered by the Committee on General Assembly Procedures of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 221st General Assembly.

The Assembly runs June 14-21 at Detroit’s COBO Center.

In its overture to the Assembly, the Synod of the Covenant said each presbytery should be able to elect one young adult commissioner who would have the same right to vote as ruling elder and teaching elder commissioners. Proponents note that nearly 90 percent of commissioners to the 220th Assembly (2012) were over the age of 45. Opponents are concerned that the overture does not require young adult commissioners to be ruling or teaching elders.

The GA Procedures Committee will also continue to tackle issues related to the per capita budget. The Office of the General Assembly, which handles a wide range of administrative and ecclesiastical functions for the PC(USA), is funded by a per-member assessment to the presbyteries. Many presbyteries, in turn, ask their congregations collect a per capita amount to fund their operating expenses, and to send their share on to the General Assembly and the synod. Presbyteries are required to remit their full per capita apportionment, but are prohibited from requiring that sessions participate in sending per capita. Withholding per capita has become a way that some congregations protest actions of the General Assembly.

The Presbytery of Detroit has sent an overture that would permit presbyteries to remit to the synod and the General Assembly only those per capita funds already received. The Presbytery of Albany is recommending that teaching elders should bear “the moral responsibility” of participating in the administrative costs of this church by paying per capita each year.

Other business before the committee:

  • The recommendation that the General Assembly per capita rate remain at the previously approved amount of $7.02, and that there be no raise in this rate for 2015 and 2016.
  •  A resolution from the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns recommending that the Presbyterian Mission Agency and OGA give preference to hotel contracts where workers are organized.
  • Recommendations from the Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies. These include naming the core values in the worship, work and witness of the General Assembly. Other recommendations cover a broad range of topics from the final move to electronic rather than print distribution of materials, to seating options for commissioners, to methods for selecting advisory delegates and moderators of committees.
  • The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly is proposing standards of ethics for commissioners and advisory delegates.
  • A new acronym for commissioners to learn is the WCA: the Wednesday Consent Agenda. All items that a committee approves by a three-quarter majority will appear on the WCA in three categories: items that were adopted overwhelmingly, items that were adopted overwhelmingly but include a minority report and items with 75 percent approval but that still require special notice. The goal is to give the Assembly more time to debate items on which there is no consensus.

Matters related to General Assembly procedures will be considered by Assembly Committee 3. Erin Cox-Holmes, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Donegal and regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service, will cover the committee for the General Assembly Communication Center.