Overtures to General Assembly 2014

by Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Bundick, Stated Clerk

Attendees at the 2012 General Assembly - Photo by Danny Bolin

Attendees at the 2012 General Assembly – Photo by Danny Bolin

At the November, February and April assembly meetings, the Presbytery of Chicago considered and voted on proposed overtures to the General Assembly.

What is an overture? For that matter, what is the General Assembly?

General Assembly: Every two years (including this June in Detroit), Presbyterians from all over the country gather together at the General Assembly to worship, pray, make new friends, and address together the business before the national Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The business comes from two main sources: GA committee and commission reports, and overtures from synods and presbyteries.

Overture: An overture is a formal request to the General Assembly to do something, such as amend the Book of Order (the PC(USA) constitution), form a committee to study an issue or perhaps make a statement on a matter of national importance. When presbyteries and synods approve overtures, they are not binding the conscience of members of the presbytery. They are instead simply stating that the issue is significant enough to warrant national consideration.

Once an overture (or a committee report) is submitted to the General Assembly, it is assigned to one of 15 different committees, based on the topic. The committees review, sometimes amend, and then recommend either approval or disapproval of each of the overtures placed before them. These recommendations go to the full General Assembly when it meets in plenary session. Some overtures, such as a request to form a study committee, go into effect automatically if they are passed by the full General Assembly. Others, such as proposed amendments to the Book of Order, also have to be ratified by a majority of the presbyteries.

In November 2013, the Presbytery concurred with an overture:

  • To require temporary pastors in more than half-time time positions to participate in the pension and medical plans of the Board of Pensions.

In February 2014, the Presbytery of Chicago voted to send five overtures to the General Assembly:

  • To amend section W-4.9000 of the Book of Order to change the definition of marriage (thus allowing Presbyterian teaching elders to perform same-gender marriages);
  • To issue an authoritative interpretation (a binding constitutional interpretation) affirming pastoral discretion in performing marriage ceremonies (including same-gender marriage ceremonies);
  • To distinguish in its liturgy between the terms used for Biblical Israel and those applied to the modern state of Israel;
  • To call on all countries to halt the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for military and surveillance use; and
  • To call for meaningful action to reduce gun violence.

At the April 2014 Assembly, Chicago Presbytery approved three additional overtures:

  • To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide; and
  • To encourage the U.S. government to take steps to end violence and promote transparency and healthy development in the Congo.
  • To affirm the importance of adequate maternal and child nutrition during the 1000 days from the beginning of pregnancy to the child’s second birthday.

Stay updated on the proceedings of the 221st General Assembly on their website. 

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