PCUSA GA to hear proposal for Provisional Non-Geographic Presbyteries

The provisional presbyteries would have all the rights and powers of other presbyteries, except they could not conduct transactions involving property or dismiss congregations to other denominations without the consent of the presbytery of origin

The General Assembly Mid-Councils Commission has voted 15-5 to permit non-geographic, “provisional presbyteries” as part of a “designated season of reflective experimentation” in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The vote on that recommendation to change the denomination’s Book of Order came Feb. 2 during a three-day commission meeting in Dallas. The recommendation will go to the 2012 General Assembly for approval, and would also need approval from a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries.

It calls for the season of experimentation to expire in 2021, unless a General Assembly acts to change that. Before the vote, one commission member described this as an attempt by a deeply divided PC(USA) to hit the reset button, to take a chance on something new and hope it will lead to healing and innovative work in mission.

The recommendation also comes at a time when some evangelicals are thinking hard about whether they want to remain in the PC(USA), following the denomination’s vote last year to permit the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. Some have left for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and in January the Fellowship of Presbyterians created a new denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, to which some evangelical congregations already are planning to move.

The Fellowship also has been discussing ways that evangelicals can remain in the PC(USA) but “differentiate” themselves, by finding ways to work together in mission and to act in conscience on the issue of ordination standards. One way of doing that, Fellowship leaders have said, might be to join together in a non-geographic presbytery.

The proposal from the Mid-Councils Commission would allow the creation of provisional, non-geographic presbyteries “for particular missional purposes,” when requested to do so by at least 10 congregations and 10 teaching elders, and with the concurrence of the existing presbyteries (those to which the affected congregations already belong).

“The petition (to create a provisional presbytery) shall include a plan outlining the missional purposes of the proposed presbytery and continuing covenant relationships with existing presbyteries,” the recommendation states.

The commission also adopted a recommendation to allow presbyteries to dismiss congregations, with the approval of all the affected councils, to temporarily join another presbytery, either a provisional one or an existing one, within certain parameters.
The congregation would be temporarily dismissed to another presbytery within the synod, or to another geographically contiguous synod, although “the congregation shall continue to affiliate with the presbytery of origin for the purpose of mutual blessing,” the recommendation states. Per capita or mission funds from that congregation could be divided according to a covenant between the presbytery of membership and the presbytery of origin.

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