GA Here We Come!
Last week I was in Western Pennsylvania for a family wedding, a place where Presbyterian churches are as numerous as Mexican restaurants in Phoenix. It is the cradle of the Presbyterian religion in the United States and Pittsburgh will host the 220th General Assembly on June 30-July 7. So I thought I might share a bit about our polity — how we govern ourselves.
Our hierarchy has four levels- session, presbytery, synod, and general assembly. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has over 11,000 congregations which are organized into 173 presbyteries (district governing bodies) and 16 synods (regional governing bodies).
The session is the governing body at the local church level. Ours is comprised of twelve ruling elders and all of the installed pastors. The senior pastor typically moderates the session.
Pinnacle is in Grand Canyon Presbytery, a group of 70 Presbyterian churches in Northern Arizona which also includes a small portion of Utah.
Our presbytery is part of the Synod of the Southwest, which is comprised of four presbyteries spanning the states of Arizona and New Mexico with 164 churches and 14 chapels.
Our national governing body is called the General Assembly and meets every other year (it used to meet annually). Each presbytery sends pastors and ruling elder commissioners to serve one of 22 committees and vote on issues brought before the entire body. Our own Bill Noyes served as a commissioner in 2010.
The 2012 commissioners from our presbytery are Revs. Debra Avery and Ken Page and Elders Dick Coffelt (Valley) and Susan Goe (Mingus View) and Youth Advisory Delegate Kara Casanova (University). Interim Executive Presbyter Dave Wasserman and Interim Associate/Stated Clerk Tony Cook will represent the Presbytery staff.
Most items for action (overtures) are sponsored by a presbytery although some items may be raised on the floor of General Assembly. More than 100 overtures will be considered along with reports from General Assembly special committees, task forces, commissions and various church agencies. Our presbytery is sponsoring several overtures and advocates are Rev. Renato Alvarez and Commissioned Ruling Elder Martha Esther Lopez.
Nearly a quarter of the overtures deal with amending the new Form of Government that was passed by the 2010 General Assembly and ratified by a majority of the presbyteries in 2011. About a dozen or so overtures deal specifically with the new ordination standards. Others focus on the definition of marriage, some advocating a change and others affirming the current definition.
Issues relating to church property, how presbyteries relate to each other, and joint congregational witness are up for discussion and vote as well as an initiative to create 1001 new worshiping communities in the next ten years.
The assembly will also weigh adopting a new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, and will once more address adding The Belhar Confession to the Book of Confessions.
You can follow all of these topics and much more at pcusa.org. Look for the PC-biz link.
Regardless of which side of the issues you are on, let us all join together in prayer for the work of the assembly:
In Jesus Christ you called disciples
and, by the Holy Spirit, made them one church to serve you.
Be with members of our General Assembly.
Help them to welcome new things you are doing in the world,
and to respect old things you keep and use.
Save them from empty slogans or senseless controversy.
In their deciding,
determine what is good for us and for all people.
As this General Assembly meets,
let your Spirit rule,
so that our church may be joined in love and service to Jesus Christ,
who, having gone before us,
is coming to meet us in the promise of your kingdom. Amen.
— Book of Common Worship (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 805.