Thursday, February 03, 2011

The NFOG and Manual Madness

After spending some time studying the proposed New Form of Government for the PCUSA that we will be voting on this Saturday in Presbytery of New Covenant, I have concluded that the NFOG is not yet ready for approval.

The Task Force worked hard and delivered a proposal that has some good things in it, but as a past member of our presbytery's PJC, I am concerned about the issues raised by the GAPJC which have become a subject of controversy this week on the internet as well as what appears to be a strengthening of the hierarchical structure of the denomination and the weakening of connectionalism and consistency between the presbyteries.

But the major issue I want to raise here is the requirement that sessions, presbyteries and synods create "Manuals of Operations".

This means that PJC's at all levels must not only interpret and apply the constitution, but also the manuals of councils in their jurisdictions. In effect this expands the NFOG to include all of these manuals, some of which are yet to be created, approved and put into practice.

As one who revised an extensive operations manual for my tall steeple church a couple of years ago, let me assure you that this will be a burden and diversion from mission for most congregations, not to mention the presbyteries. As for the synods, it seems this requirement is giving them a reason to continue to exist when they should be dissolved.

The revision I was involved in took about 9 months and not only my time, but the time of another elder and several staff members of the church. In the hope that I could find a template for the manual, I contacted several other large churches across the country and found that NOT ONE of them had such a manual. So we had to work from scratch. Will our manual pass muster if the NFOG goes into effect? Who knows?

Since presbytery must review and approve session manuals, synod must review and approve presbytery manuals, and General Assembly must approve and review synod manuals, this requirement seems to represent a move to a more hierarchical system of church government.

The vote on the NFOG is coming up this Saturday in Presbytery of New Covenant. I'm voting against it.  If it fails  across the denomination, I hope these issues will be addressed in a subsequent  revision after the next General Assembly.


John Edward Harris said...

Thanks for a thoughtful reflection. We have not yet voted and will not vote for another two months. I still have not made up my mind and may not until I hear the debate on the floor. Your post, however, has nudged me a little more toward the "no" position.

Jules said...

I was recently having a phone conversation with another RevGal sister about NFoG, in which I admitted that I hadn't studied it yet, since we don't vote until the end of March.

I consider this the second prompt to get off my duff and study this thing. AS a member of a very busy Synod PJC for six years, I'm sure I will have some informed opinions.

Thanks for your insights.

RevDi said...

I am not finding a reference in nFOG that mandates approval of one "council's" manual by the next higher council. Can you direct me?

Rev Kim said...

Thanks for this. We're also voting on Saturday. Prayers for all!

Quotidian Grace said...

Rev Di--
The provision of G-1.0103 of the NFOG together with the instructions in the Advisory Handbook "Policies and Procedures Guide for the Work of the Session"appear to require presbyteries to review the session manuals. Paul Hooker's online resource "What Is Missional Ecclesiology", offered as a guide by the OGA to the NFOG, states "as sessions guide and govern the work of congregations, as presbyteries nurture, guide and govern the work of sessions, and as synods and the General Assembly support and govern the work of presbyteries" has been interpreted by the Presbyterian Coalition to mean that presbyteries will need to review and approve these manuals, and on up the chain. Maybe that review will be done like our minute reviews are done?

In any case, these manuals become part of our form of government and will have to be considered and interpreted by PJC's, in addition to the constitution, where the facts of the case warrant.

Quotidian Grace said...


You can find a copy of the PJC's statement to the 219th GA regarding judicial precedent here: Information Sheet on GA2191.pdf

Julie said...

QG, I agree. And the issue of manual writing and approving and amending and monitoring is not the only one that makes me see this as a more hierarchical document than is good for us.

When the 2008 GA returned the proposed FOG to the Task Force, it restricted membership of that group to the current team plus new members who could be chosen only from the GA committee that considered the proposed document that year. Some of the Task Force members have been working on this for almost 20 years. While I admire that passion and dedication, I also question whether it does not also bring with it the burden of too much "ownership" of some of the nFOG - making it very difficult to give up cherished ideas and include needed changes if the Task Force continues as it is. I DO think our FOG needs some tightening and cleaning; I hope that a completely new Task Force will be put in place to do this - working from the proposed FOG we have now but with, perhaps, a bit more openness to comments and concerns from the rest of the denomination. Like the GAPJC....

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks, Julie. I appreciate your reminder about the history of the FOG task force. Now I recall thinking at the time of the 2008 GA that it was a shame they didn't add more fresh thinking to the group.