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 church members in good standing disagree with the decision of their session or presbytery, they may file a complaint; if the complaint is denied, they may carry it to the next-highest court.
However, there are restrictions about how an appeal or complaint may be filed. There is also a time limit. The SJC (Standing Judicial Commission) forbids documents in a complaint or an appeal to be sent electronically. Calculation of the time limit begins after the notification of the court’s decision in the complaint and appeal.
Overture 9 from Platte Valley Presbytery seeks to clarify how appeals and complaints must be filed to the higher court and when the “countdown” for filing begins.
Platte Valley formulated the overture after they received an appeal and struggled to understand the BCO requirements concerning its filing. They 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). In addition, they found no clear provision forbidding the electronic transmission of documents, though the SJC had ruled that electronically transmitted documents were out of order.
Platte Valley is proposing that the BCO provisions on these matters reflect the provisions of the SJC’s manual. These provisions set exact parameters for notification of the court’s decision and what constitutes a timely notice of appeal; they also 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.
“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.”