What Is An Overture?

One of the most-discussed functions of the annual PCA General Assembly is the review of Overtures. What are Overtures? What do they do? Where do they come from?

What is the Purpose of Overtures?

The Overtures most commonly discussed leading up to each General Assembly are Overtures to amend (make changes to) the Book of Church Order (BCO) - part of the PCA's constitution. However Overtures can have other purposes. Here are just a few:

  • Form a Study Committee to study and report on a particular issue
  • Combine, divide, or change the boundaries of Presbyteries
  • Change the Rules of Assembly Operation (RAO) - the guidelines about how General Assembly is operated
  • Join or leave organizations of churches
  • Make a public statement on a current issue

What is the Format of an Overture?

Each Overture begins with a heading that gives a summary of the purpose of the Overture plus the person or party submitting the Overture.

The remainder of the Overture includes the proposed change or action, and reasons for that action.

Some Overtures begin with several "Whereas" paragraphs and conclude with a "Therefore, be it resolved ..." Others begin with "Be it resolved ..." and conclude with a section titled "Rationale".

In either case, the "Be it resolved" section explains what action or change the Overture requests and the "Whereas" or "Rationale" gives the arguments in favor of that change.

The bottom of the Overture is required to list when the Overture was voted on at the Presbytery level. More on this below.

All lines of an Overture are numbered to make it easier to discuss specific sections or words within the Overture.

Where do Overtures Come From?

Anyone may write or help to draft an Overture. However, only a member of Presbytery may submit an Overture to Presbytery. Members of Presbytery include all of the Teaching Elders (TEs - Pastors) in churches in that Presbytery and certain Ruling Elders (REs - Elders) representing each church.

Most commonly Overtures are submitted to the Presbytery by a session. If the Presbytery passes the Overture, it will be sent to General Assembly from the Presbytery.

If the Presbytery fails to pass the Overture, the church session (or, in rare cases, an individual Elder) may submit the Overture to General Assembly. It must be noted at the bottom of the Overture that it did not pass at Presbytery.

How are Overtures Numbered? 

The simple answer is that Overtures are numbered in the order in which they are submitted to the General Assembly. The first Overture submitted for an upcoming General Assembly will be Overture 1. The second will be Overture 2, and so forth.

One exception is when Overtures from a previous year have been referred forward - in other words, a previous General Assembly deferred decision-making on that Overture until the next year. In that case the Overture will be numbered with the year it was originally submitted followed by a hyphen and the Overture number given the year it was submitted.

For example Overture 2021-14 would be an Overture originally submitted in 2021. That year it was the 14th Overture submitted. The 2021- prefix helps to distinguish it from the current year's 14th submitted Overture which would be number with a simple 14.

Another exception is when Overtures are vacated. If an Overture is published and given a number and then later removed (perhaps because those who submitted it changed their minds or it is discovered that it was submitted improperly) a number may be "vacated". An Overture submitted later may be given that number in its place.

For example, if fifteen Overtures have been submitted, numbered 1 through 15, and then the third Overture is vacated, a sixteenth Overture submitted may be given the number 3.

What do the Columns in the Overtures Chart Mean? 

You can find a chart of the Overtures for the upcoming General Assembly here.

The first column lists the number the Overture was assigned when it was published (see the section above for information on how Overtures are numbered).

The second column lists the Presbytery (or sometimes session or individual) that submitted the Overture.

The third column lists the General Assembly committee to which the Overture is Assigned. (More on that in this article on General Assembly Committees.)

The final column lists the Overture title as given in the heading of the Overture itself. This title is hyperlinked so that you can view a PDF of the actual Overture by clicking the link.

What questions do you have about Overtures to the General Assembly?

About the author 

Lynna Sutherland

Lynna has been in the PCA since 1982. Four generations of her family have participated in PCA church planting. Lynna has been around long enough to see the good, the bad, and the ugly and her particular calling is to equip the people in the pew to understand their church government and to advocate for victims of abuse in the PCA.

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