Tuesday, June 21, 2016

As the Sausage Turns

Before I get into Sausage Making, Chapter 2, I want to give you a heads up.

The new Co-Moderators of General Assembly have said that they want to remember Kelly Allen on the floor of General Assembly TOMORROW, Wednesday afternoon, about 4:10pm San Antonio time (2:10 Portland time). If you'd like to watch from home, go to the denomination's website, www.pcusa.org, and on the home page there's a place for you to click to watch live streaming from the Assembly.  They only stream when the body is in session, so if you tune in an hour early there probably won't be anything for you to see. But if you are there at the stroke of the hour, the tribute to Kelly should take place shortly after that.

Now. It's been another day of sausage-making around the halls of the Oregon Convention Center. Josh Robinson's committee, The Way Forward, is having a working dinner this evening and will probably be one of the last committees to finish their work. Others were finished earlier today. Folks are all over the map. Our intrepid commissioners, minus Bill and Josh, gathered this morning for a group check-in and a photo op before scurrying off to their committee work. Shown left to right are Carol, Anne, Tom, Bruce, Amy, Geoff and Madelyn.

To illustrate the process, let me tell you about the fortunes of the overture I followed today.

While I was still in the Presbytery of Santa Fe, I worked on an overture which (after arriving at the Assembly) became known as 05-01. That's because it was the first overture assigned to Committee 5, Mid Councils. The VERY short story is that the overture asked this assembly, the 222nd, to rescind an action taken by the 221st assembly two years ago. That action was to require our 16 synods to reconfigure themselves into, oh, 10-12. I'll spare you all the other reasons why I believe it's a good idea to rescind that action, but I will say that if the committee had decided merely to take no action, then action would have begun to reconfigure all the synod boundaries across the country.

Stay with me on this.

So in the life of this particular overture, the committee this morning heard 30 minutes of testimony from the Mid Council Commission 2, the group that decided to shrink the number of synods. Then they heard 30 minutes of testimony from a working group of folks from synods across the country who had prepared a report which also asked that the action be rescinded. Next on the docket was to hear from those who supported Overture 05-01. I spoke first, since the overture originated in my presbytery. Fifteen other presbyteries and one synod also thought it was a good idea, so we had sixteen concurrences (like sixteen people seconding a motion). About half of those bodies sent people who also wanted to speak to the overture. And so I think a total of six of us ended up speaking in the course of about 15 minutes in favor of the overture. After the body heard somewhat similar testimony on another overture, the committee went into small groups to discuss what they'd just heard, and then broke for lunch.

Short story: the committee spent a little over two hours just listening - to overture advocates, and to each other.

After lunch, we came back together and 05-01 was the first order of business. The Moderator asked the body if someone was prepared to make a motion. There was a little silence, and then one woman moved that the committee DISAPPROVE 05-01.

Not exactly what I wanted to hear! But at that point, I was only an observer in the gallery and was not allowed to say a thing.

So the conversation raged back and forth. There was some confusion that a vote in FAVOR of the motion was a vote AGAINST rescinding the overture. There was curiosity about what the financial implications would be. Resource people went to find an answer for the committee, but their answer only addressed what the action would cost the General Assembly. They had not addressed how much reconfiguring synods would cost each synod and, ultimately, each presbytery. (That had been one of my points - no one had fully assessed the financial cost) Experts were brought in to answer the committee's questions. Some in the gallery THOUGHT they were the experts that could answer questions. Debate raged back and forth.

Someone moved to call the question. There was confusion as to how to deal with that. (Answer: a motion to call the question DOES require someone to second it, but it is not debatable; the body must vote immediately on whether or not to continue debate) This motion must pass by a 2/3 majority; there was not a large enough majority, and so they were back to debating the motion. They probably did so for about 10 more minutes, and then someone else moved to call the question. This time, it passed.

They moved directly to a vote. We all held our breath. The motion FAILED, 15-27.

At that point, there was nothing at all on the floor. So the Moderator suggested that another motion be posed. A committee member moved to APPROVE 05-01. There was no further discussion, since they had already discussed it in such detail. When they moved to the vote, 05-01 PASSED, 28-15! The time was about 3:30; four hours thirty minutes to pass one item of business.

Shortly after this vote, the committee voted to add an additional comment to the overture, which basically encouraged the synods to continue working together creatively, to engage each other in mission, and for the wealthier synods to offer financial support to those less wealthy.

Enough sausage making! But hopefully now you can see that what began as a thought and a conversation about a year ago had made the journey through the leadership of the Presbytery of Santa Fe, to the body of the Presbytery, to the internal processes of sixteen other councils, to a committee of the General Assembly. Because the vote was not overwhelmingly positive, it will likely not be placed on the consent agenda in the plenary session. That means that it could be debated all over again, and that it may not automatically pass on the floor. Time will tell. Until that moment, all bets are off.

Reports are coming quickly now from all of the committees regarding their work and results. Because I was making my own sausage in Mid Councils today, I didn't have a chance to observe other committees. But we will be hearing about the other committee actions by morning, I'm sure.

If you'd like to follow all the action, the body will be back together again in plenary tomorrow afternoon. You can tune in to see the memorial to Kelly, and then stay tuned to see how the body moves forward with its business from the other committees.  Now is when it will start to get interesting; and you thought sausage making was a challenge!


  1. I love you, Sallie Watson! And I love your ponderings. Keep up the good work.
    Nancy McCranie

  2. awesome explanation of the process