The Ecclesiastical Route 5

5. Tangles (1)

The need for the “ecclesiastical route” for proposals has been a point of debate in our churches. GS 2010 sought to clarify things but GS 2013 considered itself compelled to undo what GS 2010 had decided to. There is some evidence of uncertainty at GS 2016 regarding overtures, but not really of confusion, other than of terms.

The manifestation of “confusion” (if not “bureaucratic mess”) arose at GS 2019, and again at GS 2022. In this article I will begin to review what happened at these two synods. So much happened that there will be four articles in total on the tangles encountered.

Bear with me, we’re leaving the pavement and will be doing a lot of 4WD rock-crawling. The following overview is not intended to be exhaustive with respect to everything done. Rather, the intention is to discover tangles and knots. As we do so we will begin to distill some of the intended principles and purposes of the ecclesiastical route. And we will come to the point where it will be clear, we need to rethink this.

Ten Overtures and other submissions

Both GS 2019 and GS 2022 each received 5 overtures. As I am not necessarily concerned with the substance of the overtures, but with the process for dealing with overtures, I will not describe them, but simply list them as they will be referenced in this and following articles. Each reference indicates which broadest assembly last approved the overture for submission to general; then, in parentheses, the origin of the overture (i.e. where the ecclesiastical route began); and finally, an indicator of the topic.

GS 2019 received the following overtures:

  • RSW 2018 (Denver-Emmanuel, TPH [Trinity-Psalter Hymnal]),
  • RSW 2018 (Aldergrove, TPH),
  • RSW 2018 (Willoughby Heights, Licensure),
  • RSE Nov 2018 (Hamilton-Cornerstone, Licensure),
  • RSE Nov 2018 (Toronto-Bethel, LS Forms).

GS 2019 also received the following submissions that are relevant for our purposes:

  • Appeals (3 in total) against RSE 2017 refuse to adopt an overture on the TPH,
  • Request for Revision regarding the expression “confessions” in liturgical forms
  • Appeal Hamilton-Blessings against RSE Nov 2018’s refusal to adopt an overture on CO art. 55,
  • Letters from 5 churches regarding the appeal re RSW Nov 2018 on CO art. 55,
  • Appeal Chilliwack against RSW 2018 for treating an appeal against a classis decision to adopt an overture as a submission on the overture and not an appeal.

GS 2022 received the following overtures:

  • RSE 2020 (CCO*, Hymn Cap) – *GS 2022 was not informed which church initiated the overture at Classis Central Ontario.
  • RSE 2020 (Burlington Waterdown-Rehoboth, Bracketed Qualifier),
  • RSW 2021 (Winnipeg-Redeemer, Hymn Cap),
  • RSE 2021 (Ancaster, location of prep. exams),
  • RSE 2021 (Flamborough-Redemption, LS Forms).

GS 2022 also received the following submissions that are relevant for our purposes:

  • Appeal Winnipeg-Redeemer, GS 2004 re Hymn Cap,
  • Appeal Chilliwack, RSW 2021 re Hymn Cap Overture,
  • Appeal/Overture Hamilton-Blessings, RSE 2020 re expression “confessions” in liturgical forms; this appeal had “an overture or request” “embedded in it”,
  • Appeal Burlington-Fellowship GS 1980 and GS 1983 re liturgical forms.

Who submits?

Who should submit the overture to a major assembly?

Should it be the local church that originally wrote the overture? RSW 2018 (Denver TPH) was submitted by Denver to RSW 2018, with the approval of Classis Manitoba.

(RSW 2018 art. 4 agenda 5.10 and 5.11)

Should it be the broader assembly that last considered the overture? RSW 2018 (Aldergrove TPH) and RSW 2018 (Willoughby Licensure) were submitted to RSW 2018 by Classis Pacific East and Classis Pacific West respectively.

(RSW 2018 art. 4 agenda 5.1 and 5.3)

The question may seem pedantic but is relevant, for the answer will indicate who owns the overture as it travels the ecclesiastical route.

Assume, for a moment, that it is the responsibility of the church. Now imagine a situation where a local church submits an overture to a classis, gets approval, then submits it to a regional synod, gets approval but sees the overture changed in a manner it does not agree with, can the local church refuse to submit to general synod the overture as adopted by regional synod? If yes, that church is lording it over other churches. If no, that church is being lorded over by a broader assembly.

Where general synods are concerned, in 2019 and 2022, all adopted overtures were submitted by regional synods. This is also presumed by the Synod Guidelines, which state: “Since matters on the agenda of general synod involved the churches in common, regional synods shall distribute copies of adopted overtures to all the churches in the federation no later than five months prior to the convening of a general synod.” (Emphasis added).

(Synod Guidelines I.F)

GS 2022 received an overture which was “embedded” in an appeal against a regional synod decision not to adopt the overture. GS 2022 denied the overture but did say: “Since this overture has already been considered by a Regional Synod, a church can take over this exact same overture and submit it directly to GS 2025, at least six months prior to the synod, also distributing it to all the churches, analogous to Synod Guidelines I.F.” A motion to amend these words to “To be considered, the overture should be sent to the next RSE, which can then decide whether to submit the overture to the next general synod as per Synod Guidelines.” was defeated. This suggests that there is an exception to the rule that only a regional synodcan submit an overture to a general synod.

(GS 2022 art. 78)

Who submits the overture to a major assembly? The minor assembly, with this exception: if it concerns an overture which has been rejected by a minor assembly, and regarding which an appeal has been sustained by the major assembly, the overture can be submitted by a (any) church to the (next) major assembly of the same sort that sustained the appeal.

Are tweaks permitted?

Can a major assembly revise the substance of an overture presented to it for adoption and submission to a broader assembly?

Both RSE 2018 and RSW 2018 received an overture on licensure which, originally, had been identical. RSE Nov. 2018 made changes to the overture. RSW 2018 decided not to, figuring that amending the overture should be the role of general synod. Instead, it considered “it is more proper for general synod than a regional synod to consider amendments to this overture” and decided “to request GS 2019 to consider the following amendments to the overture.”

(RSE 2018 art. 7, RSW 2018 art. 20 rec. 3.3)

GS 2019 did not judge the changes made by RSE Nov. 2018 to be improper. GS 2019 did decide, however, not to adopt most of the changes RSE Nov. 2018 had made as they were “cosmetic”. GS 2019 considered the amendments proposed by RSW 2018, adopting one and not the other. No mention was made of whether RSW 2018 should have made these changes itself.

(GS 2019 art. 85)

RSW 2021 took it upon itself to tweak an overture it had received; mindful that GS 2019 had not determined that RSE 2018 had been wrong in tweaking an overture. GS 2022 was confronted with the question of tweaking when a church appealed this decision of RSW 2021 to make substantial changes to an overture before submitting it to GS 2022. The fact that the question was asked indicates that the answer was not known. Since GS 2022 denied the appeal it is clear that it was convinced that overtures can be amended as they travel the ecclesiastical route.

(GS 2022 art. 76 rec. 4.1)

Can a major assembly revise the substance of an overture presented to it for adoption and submission to a broader assembly? The two most recent general synods have assumed “yes”.

In summary

We reviewed two tangles that have been untangled in recent years. As to who submits an overture to the major assembly, it is the minor assembly, with one exception (that is too complicated to describe in this summary). As to whether a broader assembly may tweak an overture as it travels the ecclesiastical route, the answer is “yes”.

Six tangles to go…

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