Revisions to the Book of Order went into effect on July 9 with the 30 amendments that were approved by the 2022 General Assembly and ratified by the presbyteries. The 2022 General Assembly (GA) approved 30 amendments to the 2023-2025 Book of Order. In a process that ended in March, all 30 amendments were ratified by the presbyteries.
The Book of Order is the second part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) constitution and outlines the polity that governs the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It accompanies the Book of Confessions, which provides the theological standards of the church.
One of the significant changes to the 2023-25 Book of Order is a requirement that a minister’s terms of call include a paid family leave policy of at least 12 weeks. This leave is to accommodate the birth, foster placement or adoption of a child; to provide care to an ill or disabled family member; or to heal following a loss or tragic event. GA requested the Administrative Support Group, which provides administrative services to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) agencies, offer a sample policy as a template to be used by presbyteries.
With the addition of a family leave policy, the PC(USA) joins the Unitarian Universalist Association in requiring 12 weeks of paid leave following the birth of a child. Both the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America require eight weeks.
Because the United States does not mandate paid leave, the costs of such policies fall to the church or business. Congress currently is considering a month – four weeks – of required paid leave, which is eight weeks less than the initial 12 weeks that Democrats proposed. The U.S. is the only wealthy country and one of only a handful to not have a paid family leave policy, according to The New York Times. Of the countries that mandate family leave, the country of Eswatini is the only one requiring fewer than four weeks.
In Romania, by contrast, mothers are allowed more than 100 weeks, at an average of 85% of their salary, according to 247wallstreet.com. Fathers are allowed five weeks at about 88% of their salary.
The new policy supersedes an overture approved by the 2014 GA that “encouraged” six weeks of paid family leave. When three overtures made it onto the docket of the 2018 GA, a Family Leave Policy Task Force was created to make recommendations to the 2020 GA. Those recommendations were not considered critical business for the abbreviated assembly in 2020 and were referred to the 2022 GA. The 2022 GA approved the 12-week minimum with a vote of 346-33.
The judicial section of the Book of Order was also overhauled. Previously known as the “Rules of Discipline,” the fourth section of the Book of Order has been replaced with a section titled “Church Discipline.”
In a statement released on the PC(USA) website, Associate Director for Constitutional Interpretation in the Office of General Assembly Laurie Griffith said that revisions did not change the procedures as much as the way they were organized. She said, “Now folks participating in judicial cases can see discipline process information together in one place, and remedial process information in one place. That makes it easier for church councils to address individual and council behaviors.”
Some of other the changes to the new Book of Order are:
Presbyteries are directed to establish “terms of dissolution” for the ends of an installed pastoral relationship.
- All councils, including sessions, are expected to set anti-racism and harassment policies.
- References to “men and women” were changed to “people.”
- The business of congregational meetings now includes receiving reports regarding a disciplinary decision against a member of the congregation.
- The category of “honorably retired” was changed to “retired.”
- Accommodations were made to allow for congregations and their committees to meet electronically provided that all members present can hear and be heard simultaneously.
The new Book of Order is available in three different versions. The document can be printed on letter-sized paper, downloaded as an interactive PDF or purchased from the online PC(USA) store. Edits to the Korean- and Spanish-language versions are still underway and will be available later in the summer.