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Standing Rules Committee completes its work

On its last day of meeting, the Standing Rules Committee discussed the cost of translating all GA material and a complete revision of the Standing Rules, among other things.

Rachel Halbo (YAAD-Inland Northwest) listens to revisions presented to the Standing Rules Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Louisville, Kentucky — On the third and final day of their meetings, the Standing Rules Committee of the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was ready for a shorter day with only four remaining items of business to discuss.

Commissioner Kristin Woodring from Lake Erie Presbytery offered the opening devotion based on Psalm 118:24, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” She reflected on their time spent in Louisville, and what they were missing at home. She concluded with the assurance: if this is the day the Lord has made, then God is with them in Louisville and with their families and situations at home.

Lynette Williams (REC-New Hope) speaks at the Standing Rules Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Following the opening devotion, the Committee Moderator Jennifer Jennings alerted the committee to the fact that when they approved STAN-23: Regarding the Translation of General Assembly material on Monday, the financial implications had been inadvertently omitted from the item on PC-Biz. She advised that if the committee was interested in addressing the cost of the item of business, they could vote to reconsider the item to bring it back for discussion.

Andy James, from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA), provided more insight into the cost explaining that at this time all of the recommendations are available in English, Spanish and Korean but the rationale portion of the business items are not always translated. This added cost reflects the translation of the whole text of the business items for the next assembly.

Kerry Rice, the deputy stated clerk, also commented on the translations and said that the Office of the General Assembly is striving for “equity in our governance.” The item has no financial implications for 2023 but has a cost of $80,000 in 2024. In answer to the commissioners’ questions about the cost, it was confirmed that this expense only appeared for that year because it was associated with the General Assembly. There are in-house translators with the Global Language Resources department of the Administrative Services Group of the church, the number of business items for the assembly is too great to handle themselves, so they contract out the translation for around $50/page. While digital translation services can do some of the work, the unique language of church and polity requires more specialized translation.

Manager of the Global Language Resources Department Stephanie Vasquez also answered questions. She confirmed that this cost is only for the translation of documents and does not reflect the cost of interpretation during the meeting. She also said that those whose preferred language is Spanish generally need more accompaniment to get oriented to the assembly than those with the preferred language of Korean.

Concern was expressed by some of the commissioners about the extra cost of $0.07 added to 2024 per capita for this item and the impact that would have on small and struggling churches in the denomination. Fritz Nelson, a commissioner from Eastminster Presbytery, said they had been talking about inclusion throughout their meetings and now they were debating an item that was the price of a Tesla.

The motion was made to reconsider the item and the motion failed. The information on financial implications is now included with the item on PC-Biz and will go to plenary as originally intended.

The committee moved on to STAN-36, which would ask the General Assembly to create a special committee for a complete revision of the Standing Rules. Coincidentally, this was the only other item for the committee that had financial implications.

James presented the evolution of the General Assembly with pictures documenting the slow introduction of women and people of color over the years. He emphasized that the assembly has evolved, and the Standing Rules needed to evolve with it.

Commissioners at the Standing Rules Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Courtney Steininger from the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC) also suggested that they and the Racial Ethnic Advocacy Committee have a liaison to the special committee that can voice recommendations and opinions but cannot vote.

The committee approved an amendment that increased the size of the committee to nine members, adding a second current or former member of the General Assembly Committee on Representation. This gives the standing committee the same number of members on the special committee as COGA. The amendment also included the two liaison members from the advocacy committees as suggested by Steininger from ACWC.

The committee members were now attuned to the financial implications of these issues and asked about the increased cost resulting from the three additional individuals. A quick calculation reflected about $6000 dollars in additional cost. This satisfied most commissioners. The amendment was passed and the item of business was overwhelmingly recommended to the plenary.

From here the committee finished the last three items efficiently. STAN-11: Regarding General Assembly Worship Planning and STAN-12: Regarding Consent Voting in plenary were each quickly amended to update the reference to “co-moderators” of the General Assembly. The latter item of business changes the language about forming the consent agenda for the plenary to bring some items in line with Robert’s Rules of Order. The one substantive change is that it will now permit items involving constitutional changes to be added to the consent agenda if the recommendation from the committee is to disapprove the item and the committee recommendation was passed by at least a three-quarters vote. And STAN-09: Regarding the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee was approved unanimously without change.

David Bush (REC-Mid-Kentucky) speaks at the Standing Rules Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

With that, the committee completed its work just before 11 AM Wednesday morning. James thanked the commissioners for their time and patience as they joined him in the weeds of the Standing Rules and help to cut them back. The committee showed their appreciation to James and the other COGA members, Lynn Hargrove and Stephanie Anthony, with a round of applause.

The committee report will now go to plenary with most of the items eligible for the consent agenda. The Standing Rules Committee closed their time together with worship including the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.