Thursday, July 15, 2010

About those manuals

FOG-cover-th.PNGJust a week ago the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity and Revised Form of Government, with a number of amendments, and submitted the documents to the presbyteries for their approval.

One of the significant changes in this form of government has to do with increased flexibility in each of the governing bodies (called "councils" in the proposal). If approved, this flexibility will come with new responsibilities at every level of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

In the months before the General Assembly, I heard numerous people voicing concern about the manuals required by the Revised Form of Government. The current manual provision in the Book of Order at G-9.0405 has mandated manuals of administrative operations for every governing body above the session since 1984. It would be reasonable to assume that these manuals exist by now, and do not require radical revision.

The new manual provision in the Revised Form of Government at G-3.0106 would mandate manuals for each council. This would give sessions the responsibility to develop manuals, if they have not already done so. Contrary to the fears voiced by opponents of the Revised Form of Government that it was a charter for presbyteries to control sessions, the manual provision would give sessions a charter for taking ownership of how they will participate in God's mission in the world.

If the task of developing a manual at the session level seems daunting, sessions will be able to start with the handbooks approved along with the Revised Form of Government. In many cases, the session may already have addressed questions asked in the handbooks, and will already have established policies that can be gathered into the session's manual.

Without regard for whether the presbyteries will approve the Revised Form of Government, it would be a healthy exercise for sessions to review the questions asked in the handbooks and determine whether they need to develop additional policies.

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