Overtures are an effective way for the lower governing bodies to communicate with the whole church in matters that concern us all. The process may seem cumbersome, but the outcome can be significant positive change. Presbyterians Pro-Life and other renewal partners want to help you find resources to support the overtures and be successful in navigating the process.
The overture drafts on this web page have come from the Board of Directors of PPL and others concerned about what the Presbyterian Church (USA) says and does in regard to human life. These overture drafts reflect PPL’s concerns about abortion policy of the PC(USA) and other life issues which have direct implications for the theological and spiritual life of the Church.
Ordinarily, initiatives such as these overtures and commissioner resolutions comprise less than 10% of the business at any General Assembly. The bulk of business is brought through reports from church committees and entities.
You are invited to leaf through these drafts to see if your own concerns are expressed here. If you find a topic or topics of interest, read through the overture draft. Add, subtract, or reword the sections in the “Resolve” and “Rationale” sections, so that the overture becomes tailored to the thinking of your session on the matter. Do not retain any language with which you do not agree or that you do not understand. However, if you agree with a draft but need supporting data or background information, Presbyterians Pro-Life can help you with that.
A Word About Concurrences
If you send up an overture that is close in intent and wording to an overture from another presbytery, the Office of the G.A. will ask if you wish to concur or withdraw. We encourage you to concur. If you know an overture already exists on the subject, you may write a separate rationale statement of your own. In that way your overture will be business before the G.A., your written rationale will be additional argument in support of the action you are seeking, and you will be permitted to have an overture advocate speak to your overture before the committee at G.A. It can be advantageous to show that more than a single presbytery has the same concern. Please keep in mind that every presbytery is made up of multiple sessions and an overture from a presbytery always represents the majority of the sessions of a presbytery.
The drafts in this packet also can be used as a format for writing an overture on a subject of concern that you do not find in this collection. The Office of the General Assembly uses a format that begins with a statement of resolve (what you are asking the G.A. to do) followed by a statement of rationale. The examples in this collection use that format. Overtures to G.A. from previous years can be found in the journal of previous G.A.s, which pastors receive.
Most overtures begin as the work of an individual or small group
An overture is simply a statement that asks the G.A. to take some action. Most overtures begin as the work of an individual or a group of people. These individuals draft the overture and ask their sessions to approve the overture and send it on to their presbytery for its approval. If the presbytery approves the overture through a vote of its commissioners, it is sent on to the G.A. It is prudent to follow up by checking with the Office of the G.A. to be sure your overture has been received before the deadline. It’s a good idea to check out the wording of your overture with G.A. process veterans. This step can help avoid unintended consequences. Many renewal partners offer this help.
There are rules that apply to writing and submitting overtures
The rules of the G.A. require that overtures without financial implications sent from the presbyteries and synods must be forwarded to the Stated Clerk and must be postmarked no later than forty-five days before the convening of the G.A. Overtures with financial implications must be submitted no later than sixty days before the convening of the G.A. Overtures proposing an amendment to the Constitution, asking for interpretation of the Constitution, or dealing with authoritative interpretation must be postmarked no later than one hundred twenty days before the convening of the General Assembly. Overtures also may be faxed or emailed. Be sure to verify that it has been received.
Overtures not received by their respective deadlines are not considered by the G.A. They are returned to the presbytery, and you will have to start again. Biennial G.A.s will mean a much longer delay if your overture doesn’t make the deadline. You also may be facing the necessity of another vote by your presbytery if the deadline isn’t met. Presbyteries often have their own deadlines. You will want to find out what those are from the Stated Clerk of your Presbytery.
Knowledge of the pertinent rules regarding overtures in the Manual of the General Assembly, the process your own presbytery follows on overtures, and the rules of parliamentary procedure, are all helpful in increasing the prospects of success for an overture. Preparation for presenting and defending your overture, both in presbytery and at the General Assembly, is essential to the success of the overture.
The Standing Rules of the G.A. now also require consultation. The rule says, "Presbyteries or synods submitting overtures with a recommendation(s) that affects the work or budget of a General Assembly entity(ies) shall submit evidence that the affected entity(ies) has (have) been consulted. If such evidence is not submitted, the Stated Clerk shall recommend that the overture be received and referred to a future session of the General Assembly so that consultation may take place.” We recommend that when your overture is sent to the Stated Clerk, you attach a request that it be distributed to any entity whose budget or work might be affected by it, inviting them to consult with the presbytery regarding any comments or concerns that they have.
Timing, and organizing support for the overture are important
As a practical timetable, try to get your overture to your session as early as possible in the fall since the session may choose to spend some time studying or revising your proposal. Be aware of the meeting schedule for your presbytery and its committees so your overture can be brought before the presbytery in a timely manner. Sometimes both sessions and presbyteries will want first and second readings.
At each level (session, presbytery, and G.A.) it is possible for that governing body to adopt, not adopt, take no action, or amend the overture. When your session considers the overture, be sure that you or informed session members can explain and support everything included in your draft. Often, a presbytery committee will review the overtures and make recommendations to the presbytery. Since questioning by that committee will probably be thorough, be sure representatives supporting the overture are at that meeting and are well-prepared. Before the presbytery meets to act on the overture, it is important to know the wording of the motion that will be used to bring the overture before the presbytery (e.g. will it be a motion to Aadopt@ the overture? a motion to "not adopt"?) so that you can help supporters of the overture to speak effectively to the motion on the floor during the debate and you are clear about the meaning of a "yes" or "no" vote.
One of the tactical points which often is neglected is the importance of mobilizing support for the overture at the presbytery meeting where the overture will be debated and the vote taken. It=s important to "get out the vote" in terms of voting presbytery delegates, and it's important to put some effort into preparing delegates to defend the overture effectively in floor debate at the meeting. Think about planning a meeting for sympathetic presbytery delegates at which you can discuss points to be made in debate and how the debate itself will be handled. Please take the time to acquaint other supportive churches in your presbytery with the overture. Their support at the presbytery meeting can be crucial.
When the overture is adopted, don't consider your work done until a good overture advocate is named
The presbytery will name someone to advocate for your overture at General Assembly. You will want to be prepared for that in advance. The overture will gain a better defense at G.A. if the advocate is not a commissioner. Those who serve as both commissioner and as overture advocate can expect to divide their time between committee responsibilities and advocacy responsibilities that may take the commissioner out of committee and even to another location in order to defend the overture. Work to have an overture advocate named who can devote full time to being a resource to the G.A. committee considering your overture. Rules pertaining to overture advocates are in the Manual of the General Assembly.
Postmark deadlines for overtures to the 220th GA (2012), Pittsburgh, PA.
120 day deadline: March 2, 2012 (overtures requesting amendment to or interpretation of the Book of Order or New Form of Government)
60 day deadline: May 1, 2012 (overtures having financial implications for current or future budgets)
45 day deadline: May 16, 2012 (all other overtures)
Overtures not received by the applicable deadline will be returned to the originating governing body.
For assistance in any part of the overture process please don’t hesitate to Contact Presbyterians Pro-Life at 412-487-1990 or by