On Saturday, September 10 First Presbyterian Church of Bradenton (Florida) presented four overtures (see below) to the Peace River Presbytery. Elder Al Munn, vice-chair of the Bills and Overtures committee moved to have these overtures sent to committee. This motion passed. The overtures will be submitted to the full presbytery for an up or down vote at the November stated meeting.These 3 overtures, and concurrence with a fourth from Mississippi all make a certain amount of sense, and I hope they receive the courtesy of honest and respectful debate.
The first overture is to direct General Assembly agencies to neither advocate for or against abortion, but rather leave it up to individual congregations to "voluntarily support organizations and ministries that best reflect the convictions of those individuals and congregations." A quick comment on this: It recognizes the diversity of opinion with the PC(USA), which is not always evident in official communications. Further, it is one thing to say this, and quite another to have compliance, as we have seen with the recent GA directive that agencies of the PC(USA) neither advocate for or against the Federal Marriage Amendment.
The second overture relates to reapportionment of the presbyteries within the synods, in an attempt to place presbyteries on a more equal footing from one region to another. My gut reaction is that reapportionment is a tremendous opportunity for mischief, although it is true that there are inequities in the numbers of members in the various presbyteries. Also, the less dense states in terms of population really cannot be expected to have as many members as an eastern urban presbytery without becoming so large as to make travel unfeasible.
The third overture relates to the "Property held in trust" sections of the Book of Order. This is one that has compelling arguments on both sides. I have seen presbyteries deal with congregations that have expressed a desire to affiliate with a different reformed denomination by appointing an administrative commission, only to see the vast majority of members leave without the property. In other words, the PC(USA) loses the people, but keeps the building. I have seen other presbyteries counsel with the congregation in a pastoral way, and once satisfied that this is indeed what the congregation wants, sell the property for a nominal price, thus preserving the concept of the "property held in trust." The California courts seem to be ruling in favor of the congregations at this time, and it remains to be seen as to whether it is the beginning of a trend in the law. In any event, we really ought to be able to deal with these issues in a more pastoral way than we have.
The fourth overture is to concur with a Mississippi presbytery's overture to ask the GA to revisit the divestment issue regarding Israel. The recent pastoral letter from the denomination leadership seems to indicate that things will not happen quickly, and the next GA will have an opportunity to discuss this again, and perhaps mitigate the apparent one-sidedness of the last GA's actions in this area.