Twelve years in the making, the 222nd General Assembly (2016) is poised this June to adopt a new Directory for Worship for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
First, the document (item 14-04) will be thoroughly reviewed by the Assembly Committee on Theological Issues and Institutions before it goes to the full Assembly for adoption and then on to the church’s 172 presbyteries for ratification in the coming year.
The Directory—part of the denomination’s Constitution—gives standards and norms for the ordering of worship in PC(USA) congregations and councils. It also lays out the theology that underlies Presbyterian worship, “outlines appropriate forms for worship and highlights connections between worship and Christian life, witness and service.”
The long-awaited revision of the Directory for Worship—which was first adopted in 1983 at Presbyterian reunion—was launched by the 2004 General Assembly with the goal of “evaluating [the Directory’s] influence and effectiveness in guiding sessions, pastors and higher governing bodies (now called “councils”) in planning and conducting worship that is authentically Reformed and culturally appropriate.”
After conducting research, a staff team from the Office of the General Assembly and the Office of Theology and Worship reported to the 2006 Assembly that a revised Directory for Worship would be “more accessible and helpful” if it were shorter and better organized. That Assembly agreed but delayed work on the new Directory due to ongoing consideration of a new Form of Government (nFOG).
After the nFOG was approved in 2010 and ratified by the presbyteries the following year, work on the new Directory for Worship heated up. A broad consultation was held in 2013 to look at the initial draft of the document. A revised draft was presented to the 2014 Assembly, which commended it to the church for study and comment, with comments due on July 1, 2015.
A further consultation was held in October 2015 and further suggestions were incorporated into the final proposal, which is now before the Assembly. In the spirit of the nFOG, “the revised Directory for Worship seeks to foster freedom and flexibility, with openness to a broader range of worship styles and cultural expressions.”
Assembly Committee 14 will also consider:
- An overture from Kiskiminetas Presbytery (item 14-01) that seeks to restore the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship (W-4.9000) from “between two people” to “between a man and a woman.”
- A request from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (item 14-12) to create a Special Committee to Study the Reformed Perspective of Christian Education in the 21st Century. The committee would be charged to examine the historic and current roles of Christian educators in the PC(USA) and ecumenically, to study current employment trends for Christian educators and how they can be a more effective resource to the whole church, and to consider how to diversify the corps of PC(USA) Christian educators for the benefit of smaller membership and racial ethnic and immigrant congregations.
- An overture from Southeastern Illinois Presbytery (item 14-03) that would remove baptism as a prerequisite for receiving the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, arguing that children whose parents choose not to have them baptized as infants and people new to the faith who have not yet been baptized, among others, are currently excluded from the sacrament.
- The Committee on Theological Education’s selection of the Rev. Craig Dykstra and the Rev. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld as recipients of the PC(USA)’s Award of Excellence in Theological Education (item 14-11), which was established in 1996 to “honor a person who has made an outstanding lifetime contribution to theological education in and for the PC(USA).”
- Confirmation of new members of the Boards of Trustees of the 10 PC(USA) seminaries (item 14-06) and two new seminary presidents (item 14-07): the Rev. Leanne Van Dyk at Columbia Theological Seminary, succeeding the late Steve Hayner; and the Rev. David Esterline at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, succeeding the retired William J. Carl III.
- An overture from Cascades Presbytery (item 14-02) calling for the PC(USA) to endorse the Clergy Letter Project, a statement by upwards of 14,000 religious leaders, including 13,000 Christian clergy, that affirms the teaching of evolution, insisting that “religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth” and that “as a scientific theory [evolution] does not contradict the existence of God, but can be seen as a natural, creative process in God’s creation.”