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Form of Government Revision Committee meets early

Meetings offered committee a chance to ‘learn and talk’ about weighty document

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While most other committees of the 219th General Assembly (2010) are waiting to begin on Sunday, the Form of Government Revision Committee opened its meetings Friday, looking for a way to understand the substantial document and overtures it must consider during this year’s assembly.

The committee is taking a look at the latest revision of the document submitted by the Form of Government Task Force that was created by the 217th General Assembly. The first document created by the task force was submitted to the 218th General Assembly two years ago, but that Assembly referred the document to an expanded task force and recommended a churchwide study of the proposed revision.

During the intervening two years, the present task force considered questions that arose during the 218th General Assembly, online feedback from the task force’s Web presence, questions and concerns that task force members heard in travels around the country, and critiques from others throughout the church.

When a committee member asked the Rev. Tim Beal, moderator of the committee, if Friday’s meetings were just an opportunity to learn and talk, Beal responded, “I think that’s an accurate description.”

Many members of the Assembly committee that considered the original revision of the Form of Government in 2008 indicated they didn’t have enough time to examine the document and complete other aspects of their committee work.

Moving this Assembly committee’s team-building and housekeeping work to Friday, along with presentations from PC(USA) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and the Form of Government Task Force and small group discussions, were designed to alleviate problems caused by time constraints.

Parsons used a variety of metaphors to speak of change in the church. For example, he described how families traveling along the Oregon Trail often packed more belongings than they could carry for the long journey and ended up leaving many of those belongings along the trail – materials for a great rummage sale.

“They didn’t leave Grandma out there on the trail,” he said, “but they left a lot of other stuff behind.”

When the Form of Government Task Force made a presentation of its work to the committee, the Rev. Dan Williams, co-moderator of the task force, told the committee, “We understand the challenge you face in trying to digest our work.”

He and Carol Hunley, an elder member of the task force, described the revision as a “blueprint” for the church rather than a document that included a description of the “arrangement of the furniture.”

The task force’s page on the PC(USA) website notes that its full report “includes recommendations to add Foundations of Presbyterian Polity as a new section to the Book of Order as well as a proposed revision of the Form of Government and an advisory handbook.”