In a church judicial case, when a session or presbytery finds a person guilty of an offense, that person has the right, under our Book of Church Order (BCO), to file an appeal. And when a church member in good standing disagrees with the decision of a session or presbytery to whose jurisdiction he or she is subject, that person may file a complaint. If the complaint is denied, he or she may carry it to the next highest court.
However, the BCO restricts the method by which an appeal or complaint taken to the higher court may be filed. There is also a time limit. The Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) requires that the written documents in a complaint or an appeal may not be sent electronically. The time limit calculation begins after the notification of the decision of the court in the complaint and appeal.
Overture 9 from Platte Valley Presbytery and Overture 34 from Philadelphia Presbytery seek to clarify how appeals and complaints must be filed to the higher court and when the “countdown” for a filing deadline begins. However, their recommended resolution for the way appeals and complaints may be filed are significantly different.
Platte Valley found the language concerning notification confusing, as the BCO speaks of two different notifications — notification of a decision reached and notice of appeal of that decision. Both presbyteries found no clear provision forbidding the electronic transmission of documents, though the SJC had ruled that electronically-transmitted documents were out of order.
Overture 9 from Platte Valley proposes that the BCO provisions on these matters reflect the provisions of the Manual of the SJC. These provisions set exact parameters for notification of the court’s decision and what constitutes a timely notice of appeal, and make clear that documents related to an appeal or a complaint may not be transmitted electronically.
Jacob Gerber, stated clerk of Platte Valley, argues that everybody involved will benefit from the BCO change they are proposing. “We have attempted to clarify these two issues for both appeals and complaints,” he says, “for the benefit of the appellant or complainant, the lower court, and the higher court.”
Overture 34 from Philadelphia also clarifies the language concerning the different notifications, by devoting a separate sub-paragraph for each. However, in contrast to Platte Valley, Philadelphia proposes that electronic filing be allowed at all levels, including filings to the SJC.
Greg Hobaugh, clerk of Philadelphia Presbytery, says that the reason for the overture was confusion within the presbytery concerning the phrase “Written notice of Complaint” in BCO 43-2 as it now stands.
“Some members read the phrase and thought it only allowed certified mail,” he says. “Other members thought ‘written”’ was contrasted with ‘verbal.’” In their minds, an email was considered to be a written statement.
Overture 34 implicitly endorses the latter view.
Both proposals have been referred to the Committee on Constitutional Business for review of their compatibility with the rest of the constitution and to the Overtures Committee for its recommendations.