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Special committee proposed to redraft General Assembly rules

COGA meets on Feb. 17. Photo by Leslie Scanlon.

Seeing a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) trying to move in new directions but operating by old rules, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) is proposing changes.

COGA voted during a Zoom meeting Feb. 17 to ask the 2022 General Assembly to create a new special committee to review and rewrite the Standing Rules — seeking a comprehensive revision, with any changes that committee would propose coming to the 2024 General Assembly for its consideration.

Also, COGA voted to recommend some specific Standing Rules changes to the 2022 General Assembly – items on which it wants the assembly to act more quickly.

The COGA recommendation says that a special committee would be asked to draft new rules that would, among other things:

  • Use language that “opens the Assembly to an expansive understanding of gender;”
  • Reflects the PC(USA)’s commitments to unity, diversity and full representation;
  • Promote equity in the way the assembly conducts its business and makes decisions;
  • Consider the role of advisory delegates;
  • Provide permission “for spaces that encourage innovation and creativity” in discernment;
  • Incorporate technology; and
  • Take into account what’s needed for a church with “substantially fewer people and financial resources.”

The rationale for the recommendation states that the current Standing Rules “were written for the assemblies of years past when there were many more commissioners, advisory delegates and observers.”

It speaks of inequities built into the system, stating that “the format privileges voices with existing power who have the funding and time to travel for up to ten days. The structure places an emphasis on those who understand the intricacies of Presbyterian polity and parliamentary procedure — and who are willing to use the finest points of these to further their own ends.” And the current rules “emphasize the voices of those whose first language is English,” the rationale states.

COGA also is recommending that the 2022 General Assembly consider some specific rule changes – found here and here, including some needed to conduct this year’s plenaries electronically and to ratify the decisions of the 2020 General Assembly, which met virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since the 224th General Assembly (2020) gathered virtually without an in-person quorum under the Standing Rules, the actions that it took require the ratification of a later meeting of the Assembly,” the rationale for that action states. “This motion allows the Assembly to honor the faithful discernment of the commissioners, advisory delegates, and others who made it possible for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to continue during the most challenging days of the covid-19 pandemic.”

The recommendations also include proposed length limits for General Assembly reports, requirements regarding translation of materials into languages other than English, requirements for submitting overtures, rules for how long people could speak in plenaries (including resource persons and corresponding members), and more.