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Chapter XVI
Congregational Meetings

1. Meetings of the congregation shall be called by the session. A stated meeting shall be held at least once annually to consider the affairs of the congregation. Other meetings shall be called when the session deems it to be for the best interests of the congregation or when requested in writing to do so by one-fourth of the communicant members of the congregation in good and regular standing. Only those and all those persons who are communicant members of the congregation in good and regular standing shall be entitled to vote. Voting by proxy shall not be permitted, nor shall anyone be allowed to vote except when the vote is being taken.

Comment: Given that the session is the governing body of the local church (see FG 13), meetings of the congregation are and can be called only by the session. A congregation may not meet by its own determination to do so, as only a judicatory of the church (session, presbytery, or general assembly) may: the congregation is not a judicatory and thus is dependent on the session as the judicatory having jurisdiction over it. The session must call at least one congregational meeting a year to consider “affairs of the congregation,” commonly to hear reports of the pastor(s) and various committees, to approve budgets, elect elders and deacons, and the like. This annual congregational meeting is likely what most people think of when they hear “congregational meeting.”

Other meetings of the congregation to deal with matters outside of the annual meeting may be called by the session, either upon the session’s initiative or by a request of at least one-fourth of the communicant members of the congregation “in good and regular standing.” That designation (“good and regular”) means that those eligible to request a special congregational meeting must be members who are not under judicial censure of any sort, “good” meaning that their standing is not bad and “regular” meaning that their standing is according to the rule, the meaning of regular. Only communicants with such good and regular standing will be able to vote in any such meetings (regular annual meetings and called special meetings). And, as noted at earlier points, only those present for the deliberations in a meeting are properly ready and eligible to vote. This is why the OPC prohibits all proxy voting: to vote in a meeting, one needs to be present, to hear all the discussion/debate, able to enter into such if needed or desirable.

It should be noted that telephone and video conference presence should not be considered any sort of proxy so long as all participants can hear each other and take part in discussion/debate, all voting together at the time the vote is taken. Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised now recognizes such, and it would be good and fitting for local by-laws to make proper provisions for this.[1] It would also be fitting, arguably, for this church order to be amended to reflect the legitimacy of such more clearly in order to avoid needless, endless debates about this. Even without such amendments, however, electronic meetings can take place within the bounds of the current book. It is fatuous to argue that the current FG forbids electronic meetings. It simply makes no specific provisions for them, and they are permissible insofar as they can accommodate all that the FG requires for regular meetings, particularly of the smaller bodies (sessions and presbyteries). Whether a general assembly could practicably meet electronically seems dubious to this writer.

2. The provisions of Section 1 of this chapter shall apply to a mission work which may hold a congregational meeting in its area when duly called by its session or presbytery. Such a congregational meeting may be held when at least one member of the session is present and when a quorum of communicant members of the mission work as designated by the session is present.

Comment: Mission works are congregations not yet organized and self-governing. Consequently, mission works do not yet have their own sessions. However, when the overseeing session or presbytery of a mission work (some mission works operate under the authority of the session of their planting mother church; others, under the authority of the presbytery, usually a committee thereof) deems it necessary, they can call for a congregational meeting of the group that forms the mission, in the location of the mission work ordinarily. The overseeing body of the mission work (session or presbytery) shall have at least one of its ministers or ruling elders present at the meeting. The quorum for the meeting shall be determined by the body having proper oversight of the mission work.

3. Public notice of a meeting of the congregation shall be made at the worship services on the two Lord's Days prior to the meeting or by circular letter at least ten days prior to the meeting. When the meeting is called for the transaction of specific matters of business no business shall be conducted except that which is stated in the notice.

Comment: Public notice of a meeting of the congregation is to be given sufficiently in advance of the meeting. There are two ways to give such notice: either by announcement at the worship services for the two Lord’s Days before the date of the meeting or by a letter sent to the congregation by mail at least ten days prior to the meeting. This is the present rule and must be adhered to, though more up-to-date forms of digital communication might prompt amendments to this FG that would allow a meeting on shorter notice if needed. Such would need to be adopted, however, and the rule in place stands.

When the meeting is other than the annual congregational meeting, which deals with general matters, that is, when a congregational meeting is to be called for a specific purpose, only the specific matters of business having to do with that specific purpose may be considered. Often calls to such meetings, in addition to specifying the matter(s) of business to be on the agenda, include a notice that “matters germane” may also be considered. This means that while the meeting is to stick to what the call to the meeting specified as the business of the meeting, things clearly and closely related to it may be considered, though those particular items were not enumerated or specified in the call itself. It is important that the meeting adhere to the terms of the call and not address matters not in the call. Only matters in the call are in order and properly before the body. For a special meeting of the congregation to treat matters not stipulated as before it, is a potential abuse of power, especially since all need to be notified as to what the proper subject matter of the meeting is, especially if they deem it important and wish/need to rearrange their schedule to be there to engage in debating and voting.

4. The moderator and the clerk of the session shall serve as moderator and clerk respectively in congregational meetings. In the event that it is impracticable or inexpedient for either or both of these to serve, the session shall appoint others from among its number, or request a minister or ruling elder of the presbytery to serve.

Comment: The first sentence needs no exposition. The session’s moderator is the congregation’s; this is also true for the clerk. It is the case that the session may ask someone else to serve as moderator, clerk, or both when it is “impracticable” or “inexpedient” that either or both of them serve. Inclement weather, for example, on the night of the congregational meeting may make it impracticable for the clerk of session to attend the meeting and prevent him from serving as the congregational meeting clerk. The session may appoint another of its members (or request a minister or ruling elder from the presbytery) to serve as the clerk pro tempore. As to the matter of inexpedient, it would be inexpedient, e.g., for the pastor, as moderator of the session, to moderate a congregational meeting that was called for the purpose of asking the pastor to resign. Again, the session may ask one of its other members to moderate or, and probably best in this example, ask a minister or ruling elder of the presbytery to preside at the meeting.

5. The clerk shall keep a correct record of all the business transacted at the meeting and preserve it with the records of the session. Minutes of the congregational meeting shall be approved by the congregation before the close of the meeting.

Comment: The clerk of session is to act as clerk at meetings of the congregation and, as such, is to take minutes of congregational meetings. These minutes are to be preserved in the same book of minutes in which the session keeps its minutes. Approval of the minutes of congregational meetings is to take place before the close of the meeting. This is different than the minutes of sessions or presbyteries and is more like the minutes of general assemblies, the approval of which takes place before the close of the assemblies. This is because congregational meetings occur more rarely and may be so differently constituted that the minutes of a particular congregational meeting should be approved in that meeting of the congregation by those present at that meeting.

6. When the laws of the state require, the congregation shall transact business as a corporation. All other business shall be conducted in the congregational meeting.

Comment: This section reflects that congregational meetings, certainly the typical annual congregational meeting, may also involve meetings of the corporation. The corporation is the local congregation organized as a legal entity so that it can conduct necessary business in broader civil society. The laws of the state, for example, may require a congregation to transact business in its corporate capacity when buying or selling property, constructing or modifying buildings, getting needed permits, etc. Entities that have a legal corporate existence also have a board of trustees that acts as the ordinary interface with the civil authorities in carrying out the will of the corporation, serving, among other things, as authorized signatories for the corporation. This is described later in this Form of Government in Chapter 32.

Most civil entities require those acting as part of a corporation to have attained their legal majority. In such corporation meetings, only those members in good and regular standing and eighteen years of age or older are eligible to vote. This contrasts with the vote in the congregational meeting (for officers, e.g.) in which all communicants in good and regular standing enjoy the right to vote, regardless of age.

7. A congregation may withdraw from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church only according to the following procedure:

a. Before calling a congregational meeting for the purpose of taking any action contemplating withdrawal from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the session shall inform the presbytery, ordinarily at a stated meeting, of its intention to call such a meeting, and shall provide grounds for its intention. The presbytery, through representatives appointed for the purpose, shall seek, within a period not to exceed three weeks after the presbytery meeting, in writing and in person, to dissuade the session from its intention. If the session is not dissuaded, it may issue a written call for the first meeting of the congregation. The call shall contain the session's recommendation, with its written grounds, together with the presbytery's written argument.

b. If the vote of the congregation favors withdrawal, the session shall call for a second meeting to be held not less than three weeks, nor more than one year, thereafter. If the congregation, at the second meeting, reaffirms a previous action to withdraw, it shall be the duty of the presbytery to prepare a roll of members who desire to continue as members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and to provide for the oversight of these continuing members.

c. The presbytery shall be given the opportunity, at any congregational meeting at which withdrawal is being considered, to dissuade the congregation from withdrawing.

Comment: It is, of course, not the case that the OPC, as a rule, would want any of its congregations to withdraw from the denomination. We would rather that any disaffected congregation work through the difficulties that it believes confront it in being a member congregation of the OPC. To that end, both the presbytery and the denomination more broadly (the assembly and its agencies, especially) should do what it can to reconcile the differences between the entities in question so that the congregation contemplating leaving will not find it necessary to do so.

For a congregation to leave without good reason, such as “the OPC has departed from Scripture and Confession,” or the like, savors of schism. This assumes, it should be noted, that the allegation of doctrinal departure is baseless. If the allegation is true, all persons of good will should take all available administrative and judicial steps to restore the church to fidelity. In general, all parties should do all within their respective places and powers to insure that congregations that have matters that make remaining within the OPC difficult (ones that do not indicate infidelity on the part of the OPC) should endeavor to resolve such. Perhaps even outside organizations that promote reconciliation could beneficially be called in when a congregation proposes to leave the OPC in an attempt to help all the parties attempt to reconcile their differences.

In any case, the FG does provide an orderly procedure for a congregation seriously contemplating leaving the OPC to follow. When a session wants to leave with sufficient resolve to do so, wanting to call a congregational meeting for the purpose of urging the congregation to vote to leave the OPC, it ought to notify its presbytery of its desire in this regard. Such notice shall normally be communicated to the presbytery not at a special meeting, ordinarily, that would likely have a lesser compliment of commissioners, but at a stated meeting, which would, more likely, have a full complement of ministers and elders from the regional church. In communicating to the presbytery about its desire to leave the OPC, the session in question should provide the presbytery its grounds for its determination.

The presbytery is not to drag its feet in this matter but should respond to the statement of intention to leave with the furnished grounds no later than three weeks after the adjournment of the meeting of presbytery. The presbytery should appoint several representatives from among its members both to write a letter seeking to dissuade the session desiring to leave and to meet in person with the session to press home the reasons that the session should desist in its course of seeking to leave the OPC. If after such communication and meeting the session remains adamant in its intent to leave, the session may proceed and call a first meeting of the congregation for the purpose of its considering leaving. The call to the meeting shall include not only the session’s statement of its desire to leave but also the grounds for such, together with the communication of the presbytery seeking to dissuade the session from recommending that the congregation withdraw from the OPC. The presbytery has the right to have representatives present at this or any subsequent meeting of the congregation considering withdrawal in order to seek to dissuade the congregation from voting to leave the OPC.

If the congregation votes in the majority to leave the OPC at this first meeting, a second meeting shall be called not more than a year, and not less than three weeks, from the first meeting. If at this second meeting the congregation votes to leave the OPC, the relevant presbytery shall prepare a roll of members from the leaving congregation of those that wish to remain in the OPC. These members remaining in the OPC will be placed either on the rolls of the regional church or another church of the presbytery acceptable to the session of that congregation and the members who desire to remain. Again, the whole process presupposes that the OPC does not want a congregation to leave and that the presbytery will seek to dissuade it from doing so. If the congregation persists in its desire to leave, the FG at this point provides an orderly process for its withdrawal.

Chapter XVII
Congregations without Pastors

1. A congregation without a pastor shall continue to meet on the Lord's Day for the purpose of prayer, the singing of praises, and the hearing of the Word of God. When a minister or licentiate is not available the session shall be responsible for the conducting of services. A sermon or exhortation in accord with the standards of the Church shall be presented by reading, recording, or oral delivery to the congregation.

Comment: A congregation without a pastor continues to meet as it did when it had a pastor, customarily securing pulpit supply. The congregation needs to have prayers offered, praises sung, and the Word of God preached in its worship service, whether or not it has a pastor. If a minister or licentiate is not available to preach in a congregation without a pastor, the responsibility for bringing the Word falls on the session, which may have someone deliver an exhortation, read a sermon, or have a sermon presented by recording. This means that the Word of God is to be presented or proclaimed in some fashion in every service of worship.

2. The presbytery may supervise a church that is without a pastor through a ministerial advisor (cf. Chapter XIII, Section 6) or a committee. Such supervision includes cooperation with the session, or with any authorized committee of the particular church, in the supply of the pulpit and in the seeking and securing of a pastor.

Comment: A church without a pastor shall not be bereft of pastoral guidance. Every such church shall enjoy presbyterial oversight, either through a ministerial advisor or a committee, with the session’s approbation (FG 13.6). The supervision includes working with the particular church, its session or a duly authorized committee of the church, in supplying the pulpit and in the pastoral search process. While a congregation and its session needs freedom to search for and call as pastor a man of its own choosing, it is my opinion that local congregations without pastors, especially if they have no other local associates or teachers on site in the absence of a pastor, could do well with more presbyterial guidance in its pastoral search. In too many of our churches, congregations without pastors are left to “fend for themselves” and could often use more assistance from the presbytery in the process of pastoral search and call.

3. Under ordinary circumstances only ministers and licentiates of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church shall be employed as regular supplies in congregations without pastors. However, other ministers or licentiates may be employed as regular supplies upon approval of the presbytery.

Comment: Generally, only ministers and licentiates of the OPC shall serve as regular supplies in congregations without pastors. Note that the FG does not define what a regular supply is. One might surmise that any particular person regularly engaged to preach, say monthly or more, would properly be considered regular supply. The qualifier “under ordinary circumstances” recognizes that someone may be secured regularly who is not of the OPC (perhaps an area PCA minister without call), but such irregular arrangements (not an OPC minister or licentiate) should ordinarily occur only upon the approval of presbytery. A NAPARC minister (in one of the other member denominations) may be employed, for instance, as a regular supply, with the approval of the presbytery.

Endnote

[1] RRONR (12th ed.) “Appendix: Sample Rules for Electronic Meetings.”

Alan D. Strange is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as professor of church history and theological librarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana, and is associate pastor of New Covenant Community Church (OPC) in Joliet, Illinois. Ordained Servant Online, May 2021. A list of available installments in this series appears here.

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Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

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