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The Historical Development of the Book of Church Order

Chapter 20 : The Election of Pastors

Paragraph 2 : Of Proceeding to Elect

20-2. Every church should be under the pastoral oversight of a minister, and when a church has no pastor it should seek to secure one without delay.
A church shall proceed to elect a pastor in the following manner: The Session shall call a congregational meeting to elect a pulpit committee which may be composed of members from the congregation at large or the Session, as designated by the congregation (see BCO 25). The pulpit committee shall, after consultation and deliberation, recommend to the congregation a pastoral candidate who, in its judgment, fulfills the Constitutional requirements of that office (e.g., BCO 8, 13-6 and 21) and is most suited to be profitable to the spiritual interests of the congregation (cf. BCO 20-).
The Session shall order a congregational meeting to convene at the regular place of worship. Public notice of the time, place, and purpose of this meeting shall be given at least one week prior to the time of the meeting.

DIGEST:
At its formation in 1973, the PCA adopted without change the text of the 1933 PCUS edition of the BCO. That 1933 edition in turn dated to a major revision enacted in 1925. Within the history of the PCA, the first change to this paragraph was adopted at the Second General Assembly, following recommendations from the Constitutional Documents Committee. The Committee recommended new wording that stipulated the election of a pulpit committee as part of the process and deleted what had been the final sentence of the paragraph as it originally stood. [cf. M2GA, 2-70, 1., page 59].
To explain this amendment in 1974 and the seemingly sudden institution of a pulpit committee as part of the process, it may be helpful to look at an amendment adopted by the PCUS in 1940 [M80GA, p.73-74]. The idea of using a nominating committee to do the basic work of pastoral search for the congregation appears to become part of the official process with that PCUS amendment. While the PCA looked to the 1933 edition of the PCUS BCO as the exemplar for its Proposed Book of Church Order, we should not forget that the PCA's founding fathers had been living with and using the PCUS BCO as it existed from 1934 up until 1973, and that while there were reasons for working from the 1933 PCUS edition, it is likely that there were some aspects of later editions that were appreciated and found useful. For reference, see the 1940 amendment to the PCUS BCO posted below.
The most recent change to BCO 20-2 dates to 1999 [M27GA, 27-12, Item 3, p. 56], following an amendment from Potomac Presbytery [M26GA, 26-55, III, Item 7, p. 200] which sought to clarify the role of the pastor search committee. That overture had first come before the Twenty-fifth General Assembly the previous year, but was remanded to Potomac Presbytery for revision. When revised and presented in 1998, it was then approved and sent down to the Presbyteries for their advice and consent. The presbyteries voting 42 for and 9 against, the 27th General Assembly (1999) then voted to adopt the amendment.

BACKGROUND & COMPARISON:
PCA 1974, 21-2 [M2GA, 2-70, 1., p. 59]
Every church should be under the pastoral oversight of a minister, and when a church has no pastor it should seek to secure one without delay.
A church shall proceed to elect a pastor in the following manner: The Session shall call a congregational meeting to elect a pulpit committee which may be composed of members from the congregation at large or the Session, as designated by the congregation (see Chapter 26).
The Session shall order a congregational meeting to convene at the regular place of worship. Public notice of the time, place, and purpose of this meeting shall be given at least one week prior to the time of the meeting.

PCA 1973, 21-2, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 139
Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 21-2, Proposed text, p. 26
PCUS 1933, XXIII, § 122
PCUS 1925, XXIII, § 122
Every church should be under the pastoral oversight of a Minister, and when a church has no Pastor it should seek to secure one without delay.
A church shall proceed to elect a Pastor in the following manner:
The Session shall order a congregational meeting to convene at the regular place of worship. Public notice of the time, place, and purpose of this meeting shall be given at least one week prior to the time of the meeting. It shall always be the duty of the Session to call a congregational meeting when requested to do so by one-fourth of the persons entitled to vote.

PCUS 1879, VI-3-1
Every church shall elect persons to the offices of Pastor, Ruling Elder, and Deacon in the following manner, viz : Public notice shall previously be given by the Session, that the church is to convene at the usual place of public worship for such purpose; and it shall always be the duty of the Session to convene them when requested by a majority of the persons entitled to vote.

PCUS 1869 draft, VI-3-1
Every Congregation shall elect persons to the offices of Pastor, Ruling Elder, and Deacon, in the following manner, viz: Public notice shall previously be given by the Session, that the Congregation is to convene at the usual place of public worship for such purpose; and it shall always be the duty of the Session to convene them, when a majority of the persons entitled to vote in the case shall, by petition, request that a meeting be called.

PCUS 1867 draft, VI-3-1
Every congregation shall elect persons to the offices of pastor, ruling elder, and deacon, in the following manner, viz: Public notice shall previously be given by the session that the congregation is to convene at the usual place of public worship for such purpose; and it shall always be the duty of the session to convene them, when a majority of the persons entitled to vote in the case, shall by petition request that a meeting be called. This notice should, if possible, be given from the pulpit on the Lord’s day, at a sufficient time before the meeting to admit of its general circulation throughout the congregation.

COMMENTARY:
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order (1898)

102.--I. Every church shall elect persons to the offices of Pastor, Ruling Elder, and Deacon in the following manner, viz : Public notice shall previously be given by the Session, that the church is to convene at the usual place of public worship for such purpose; and it shall always be the duty of the Session to convene them when requested by a majority of the persons entitled to vote.
The meeting must be at the usual place of public worship, and after public notice, that those entitled to vote may be able to attend ; and while the meeting must be called by the Session, the Session is bound to call such meeting when a majority requests it, that the right of the people to elect may not be infringed.

AMENDMENTS:
1998 - Overture 2 from Potomac Presbytery [M26GA, 26-55, III, Item 7, p. 200]
"Amend BCO 20-2 to Clarify Role of Pastor Search Committee"
Whereas, the Book of Church Order does not specify the duties of a pastoral search committee appointed by the congregation;
Whereas, in newly planted churches where members may not be fully acquainted with Presbyterian practices and procedures such a lack of specification can and has led to confusion among some of our churches, and,
Whereas, the Twenty-Fifth General Assembly remanded an overture from Potomac Presbytery [M25GA, 25-45, III, Item 2, p. 179] for refinement, which work is now accomplished,
Therefore, Potomac Presbytery overtures the Twenty-Sixth General Assembly to amend the Book of Church Order 20-2 by adding a new concluding sentence to the second paragraph, after the words "as designated by the congregation (see BCO 25).", as follows: "The pulpit committee shall, after consultation and deliberation, recommend to the congregation a pastoral candidate who, in its judgment, fulfills the Constitutional requirements of that office (e.g., BCO 8, 13-6 and 21) and is most suited to be profitable to the spiritual interests of the congregation (cf. BCO 20-6)."

1997 - Overture 8 from Potomac Presbytery [M25GA, 25-45, III, Item 2, p. 179]
"Amend BCO 20-2 To Clarify Role of Pulpit Committee"
Whereas, the Book of Church Order does not specify the duties of a pastoral search committee appointed by the congregation; and
Whereas, in newly planted churches where members may not yet be fully acquainted with Presbyterian practices and procedures such a lack of specification can and has led to confusion;
Therefore, Potomac Presbytery overtures the Twenty-Fifth General Assembly to amend the Book of Church Order 20-2 by adding a new concluding sentence to the second paragraph, after the words "as designated by the congregation (see BCO 25)", as follows:

"This pulpit committee shall, after consultation and deliberation, recommend to the congregation a pastoral candidate who, in its judgment, fulfills the Constitutional requirements of the office (e.g., BCO Chapters 8, 13-2 and 21) and is most suited to be profitable to the spiritual interests of the congregation (cf. BCO 20-6)."

Adopted at the Twenty-Ninth Stated Meeting of Potomac Presbytery held on February 8, 1997 at Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Annapolis, Maryland. Attested by: /s/ Richard R. Larson, Stated Clerk.

Recommendation:
2. That Overture 8 from Potomac Presbytery be remanded to Potomac Presbytery for refinement. Adopted.
Grounds:
1. The title of the Committee needs to be brought into conformity with BCO 5-11.
2. The relation of the Pulpit Committee to the Session needs to be further defined.
3. The BCO references cited need to be checked to make certain they are germane.
4. More detailed grounds for the change need to be specified.
----------------------------end of text related to Overture 8 (1997)---------------------------------

BACKGROUND:
1940 - PCUS BCO, Paragraph 122 [M80GA, p. 73]:
"Every Church should be under the pastoral oversight of a Minister, and when vacant, shall promptly proceed to elect a Pastor in the following manner: The Session shall call a Congregational meeting to convene at the regular place of worship to elect a Nominating Committee representative of the whole Congregation, whose duty it shall be to nominate a Minister to the Congregation for election as Pastor. Public notice of the time, place and purpose of the meeting shall be given at least one week prior to the time of the meeting. The Nominating Committee shall confer with Presbytery's Commission on the Minister and His Work, as provided in Paragraph 76-a. When the Committee is ready to report it shall notify the Session, which shall call a Congregational meeting at the regular place of worship for the purpose of acting on the report of the Nominating Committee. Public notice of the time, place and purpose of the meeting shall be given at least one week prior to the time of the meeting. The same procedure shall be followed in the selection of an Associate Pastor.



Chapter Index [links are to Paragraph 1 in each chapter]:
FoG..
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5.
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
I. King & Head of Church
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§4
§5
RoD
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
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43
44
45
46
II. Preliminary Principles
§1
§2
§3
§4
§5
§6
§7
§8
DfW
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
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