The Presbyterian Church's Foundational
Principles for Governance
Chapter 7 - Governing Bodies
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall be governed by representative bodies composed of elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament. These governing bodies shall be called session, presbytery, synod, and General Assembly. Officers of each of the governing bodies shall be a moderator and a clerk. Governing bodies may provide additional officers as required.
Governing bodies of the church have no civil jurisdiction or power to impose civil penalties. They have only ecclesiastical jurisdiction for the purpose of serving Jesus Christ, and declaring and obeying his will in relation to truth and service, order and discipline.
All governing bodies have authority, power, and responsibility, in conformity with the Great Ends of the Church, the Historic Principles of Church Order, the Historic Principles of Church Government, and the Principles of Presbyterian Government. They have authority to frame symbols and speak on issues of faith and doctrine, give counsel in matters of conscience, and decide issues properly brought before them. They have the power to establish plans and rules for the worship, mission, government, and discipline of the church and to do those things necessary to the peace, purity, unity, and progress of the church under the will of Christ. They have responsibility for the leadership, guidance, and government of that portion of the church which is under their jurisdiction, with particular attention to implementing the church’s commitment to inclusiveness and participation.
All governing bodies of the church are united by the nature of the church and share with one another responsibilities, rights, and powers. The jurisdiction of each governing body is limited by the express provisions of the Constitution, with powers not mentioned being reserved to the presbyteries, and with the acts of each subject to review by the next higher governing body.
All meetings of governing bodies shall be opened and closed with prayer.
Any member of a governing body has the right to dissent or protest any action of that body.
Presbyterian polity is based on the interdependence of governing bodies, which is given life through active consultation with representatives of higher and lower governing bodies in matters of planning and implementing the mission and administration of each governing body.
A governing body may delegate particular aspects of its task to councils, boards, agencies, commissions, and committees, but always on the basis of accountability to the governing body.
Minutes and all other official records of church sessions, presbyteries, synods, and General Assemblies are the property in perpetuity of said governing bodies or their legal successors.
If a higher governing body learns at any time of any irregularity or delinquency by a lower governing body, it may require the governing body to produce any records and take appropriate action.
Commissions and Committees
Commissions appointed by governing bodies may be either administrative or judicial, except in the case of sessions, which may appoint only administrative commissions.
A commission is empowered to consider and conclude matters referred to it by a governing body.
A commission has absolute discretion and may employ additional procedural process such as that afforded in cases of judicial process, either when requested by parties to the case or on its own initiative.
A committee is appointed or elected either to study and recommend appropriate action or to carry out directions or decisions already made by a governing body.
Specific Governing Bodies
The session of a particular church consists of the installed ministers of the Word and Sacrament and the elders in active service, all of whom are entitled to vote. An installed minister of the Word and Sacrament shall be the moderator of the session and the session shall not meet without the consent of the moderator.
The session is responsible for the mission and government of the particular church and has the responsibility to maintain regular and continuing relationship to the higher governing bodies of the church. It has such additional responsibilities as are assigned in the Constitution.
Session is fully responsible for all funds and financial transactions of the particular church. Back to top
Presbytery is a corporate expression of the church, with such ecclesiastical, pastoral, and programmatic responsibilities as are assigned by the Constitution. A presbytery consists of all ministers of the Word and Sacrament who are its members, and all the particular churches within a certain district.
A presbytery shall determine the ministers of the Word and Sacrament who shall be its continuing members. When the presbytery meets as a governing body, the particular churches are represented by such elder commissioners as are assigned by the provisions of the Constitution.
Preparation for the Office of Minister of the Word and Sacrament
Those who are to be ordained as ministers of the Word and Sacrament prepare for their task under the direction of the presbytery. Presbyteries shall enter into, and shall dissolve if necessary, a relationship with those preparing to become ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
Ordination is an act of the whole church carried out by the presbytery, setting apart a person to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament. Ordination shall occur when all constitutional provisions have been met and a call for service to a church or other work in the mission of the church that is acceptable to the candidate and the presbytery has been received. Ordination takes place in a service of worship
Establishment and Dissolution of Pastoral Relationships
The pastoral relationship between an installed minister of the Word and Sacrament and a particular church shall be established and dissolved only by presbytery.
Every minister shall be a member of a presbytery, and under its jurisdiction. Back to top
Synod is a unit of the church’s life and mission with such ecclesiastical, pastoral and programmatic responsibilities as are assigned by the Constitution. When the synod meets as a governing body, its presbyteries shall be represented by such elected minister and elder commissioners as are assigned by the provisions of the Constitution. Back to top
The General Assembly
The General Assembly is the highest governing body of this church and is representative of the unity of the synods, presbyteries, sessions, and congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The General Assembly has such ecclesiastic, pastoral, and programmatic responsibilities as are assigned to it by the Constitution. When the General Assembly meets as a governing body, the presbyteries shall be represented by such elected minister and elder commissioners as are assigned by the provisions of the Constitution. The General Assembly constitutes the bond of union, community, and mission among all its congregations and governing bodies.