Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Stated quirks

With the generous notice given by Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick that he will not stand for a fourth term in 2008, a couple of realities kick in: First, other candidates for the office now gain a sporting chance to actually be elected, and second, the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee will not have to face the difficult prospect of possibly passing over a standing Stated Clerk for re-election.

As I read Kirkpatrick’s letter-- genuine and gracious as it was--I found the wording especially interesting in a couple of quirky instances.

A work, or just plain work?
I noticed that Kirkpatrick referred to his position as his work, as in “While this work has been a great blessing…”. Others might have written “this ministry,” or “this office,” but Kirkpatrick appropriately chose a term used in the Book of Order (G-6.0502) for a ministry calling. The section, concerning of all things renunciation of jurisdiction, begins, “When a church officer… persists in a work disapproved by the governing body…” [emphasis added].

So what am I getting at? Well, I have found it troubling that the most recent version of the proposed new Form of Government (FOG) adjusts that term from “a work” to just plain “work,” distorting and broadening the meaning considerably through the mere removal of the indefinite article. The proposed FOG wording may change twice again prior to General Assembly, but the proposed FOG rewrite (5/7/07 draft) reads: “When a minister persists in work disapproved by the presbytery…” (new G-2.0309b, and see also new G-2.0210 for the same wording for elders).

Why the fuss? It’s important.

Should the new Form of Government replace our current one, a pastor or elder would not need to persist in a formal ministry or call (a work) disapproved by the presbytery to be considered to have renounced jurisdiction and thus lose his or her ordination. In fact, if the minister or elder simply “persists” in doing any mere activity the presbytery might frown upon--preaching funny, writing letters to the editor, pastoring a church that doesn’t pay per capita, attending a New Wineskins conference, or whatever else might displease presbytery--it might consider that “work disapproved by the presbytery,” which could have draconian consequences for the officer.

So, back to Cliff: He understands that his calling and position as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly was a work, his work that was a great blessing to him. It is too bad that the new Form of Government doesn’t similarly realize the difference between “a work” that is a calling, and just any old item of “work” one might perform.

A search committee or a nominating committee?
Kirkpatrick wrote: “I am making this announcement now so that the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee … will have ample time to search diligently and discern whom to propose to the 218th General Assembly (2008) for election as the next Stated Clerk” [emphasis added]. Such advance notice is a considerate gesture. Kirkpatrick is kind.

But will it actually be the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee’s (SCNC) job to go out and beat the bushes to find our next Stated Clerk? Are the members to search high and low until they find exactly the right person to propose to General Assembly for election?

Not by the Standing Rules amendment approved by General Assembly in 2006. Under the new rules for the nomination and election of the Stated Clerk, the SCNC receives applications of all who want to stand for the office, interviews the candidates, and proposes one from among them to be the SCNC nominee. The SCNC job is therefore responsive and discerning; it is not to scare up candidates or to be proactive.

Therefore it is not exactly accurate for Kirkpatrick to write that the SCNC will have time to “search diligently,” since the committee won’t be searching! They will need to use ample discernment, however, to settle on the best nominee out of a field of possible candidates who take the initiative to apply. (By the way, potential nominees not chosen by the SCNC--and only they--will still have an opportunity to be nominated from the floor at General Assembly.)

I find it rather revealing that even in his friendly, generous swan song, apparently Clifton Kirkpatrick just didn’t get it quite right as an interpreter of our policy. That has been one of the problems all along.

Labels: , ,