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 wants to help you find resources to support the overtures and be successful in navigating the process.
Overtures consist of two parts: the Recommendation and the Rationale.
The Recommendation appears first in bold type and is a statement of the action you want the GA to take. It can have several points but a clear concise statement of one or two actions is usually most effective.
The Rationale is where you make your arguments, your reasons for the Recommendation, and you can also include points of information and references to past actions of General Assemblies or existing policies of the PCUSA. It is most effective when it is brief, to the point, and informative.
These overture drafts 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. They 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. This overture template may help you in framing an overture that may bring positive outcomes for the concerns of your session and congregation.
A Word About Concurrences
Since an action of the 2012 General Assembly all overtures must have the approval of at least two presbyteries. If you initiate an overture from your session it must be approved by your presbytery and at least one other concurring presbytery in order to qualify as business at the General Assembly. Also, 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. 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.
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 often, 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, and there is at least one other concurring presbytery, 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. PPL can assist you if questions or concerns come up.
There are rules that apply to writing and submitting overtures
The rules of the G.A. require that all overtures 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.
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.
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.
Deadlines for overtures to the 22nd GA (June 18-25, 2016), Portland, OR
120 day deadline: February 19, 2016 (overtures requesting amendment to or interpretation of the Book of Order or New Form of Government)
Overtures not received by the applicable deadline will be returned to the originating governing body.