Robert's Rules of Order

New ministers and elder commissioners to Boston Presbytery may find it helpful to look at this overview of some of the basics of parliamentary procedure as we follow it here.  Every presbytery has its own style in following Robert’s Rules of Order, and you may discern in our meetings a distinctive mix of informality along with an emphasis on certain technicalities.  Always, though, we seek to hold to the principles of fairness on which parliamentary law is based, working together with genuine regard for the rights of the majority, the rights of the minority, the rights of individuals, and the rights of Presbytery as one part of the whole Body of Christ.

[For those interested in looking at the subject in more depth, an excellent basic resource for sessions and individuals is the booklet “Parliamentary Procedures in the Presbyterian Church (USA)” by Marianne L. Wolfe, P.R.P., available through the Office of the General Assembly.  (Those interested in looking at the subject in very great depth will enjoy the authoritative text, Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised (11th ed., pub. 2011), and also might want to go to www.robertsrules.com and to www.parliamentarians.org.]

Some Parliamentary Basics

The Moderator.  The Moderator of the Presbytery of Boston (usually addressed as “Moderator,” whether elder or minister, male or female) is elected to preside over our meetings, and under our Constitution “possesses the authority necessary for preserving order and for conducting efficiently the business of the body” (G-3.0104).  As needed, the Moderator rules on points of order.

Making a motion.  A motion is made and brought to a vote through these steps:

  1. Stand, or raise your hand, so that the Moderator can give you a turn to have the floor as the recognized speaker.
  2. When you are recognized, give your name and say whether you’re a minister or an elder (identifying your congregation if an elder).
  3. State your motion, e.g., “Moderator, I move that the Presbytery of Boston enter the Boston Marathon.”
  4. After another person has seconded the motion (without needing to be recognized), the Moderator will usually restate your motion to be sure everyone has heard it.  Then you are entitled to be the first speaker, addressing your statement to the Moderator.
  5. The Moderator will call for discussion of the motion, and will recognize members who wish to speak for or against it.
  6. After restating the motion to be sure we’re all clear about what we’re voting on, the Moderator will call for all those in favor of the motion to say “aye” or “yes,” and all those opposed to it to say “no,” and will announce whether the motion has passed.

Amending a motion.

  1. During debate on a motion, the Moderator may recognize a speaker who moves that the original motion be revised.  For example, “Moderator, I move to amend the motion by inserting the words ‘the Presbytery Council of’ so that the motion would read ‘that the Presbytery Council of the Presbytery of Boston enter the Boston Marathon.”
  2. If this motion to amend is seconded, the Moderator will recognize speakers who wish to debate the amendment.
  3. Following debate and restatement of the motion to amend, the Moderator will call for the vote on the amendment (not on the original motion).  If the amendment passes, the newly amended main motion must be voted on.  If the amendment doesn’t pass, the original motion is the one to be voted on.  (Rarely, we might be in the situation of having to debate and vote on amending an amendment.)


A Very Short Glossary of Very Familiar Actions

  • Division of the house (or “of the assembly’) -- a request for a re-vote using a show of hands or by standing (“standing division”), to permit a clear count of the votes on either side
  • Move to postpone [to a particular time] -- a debatable motion considered to be more workable and less manipulative than “tabling” indefinitely.
  • Call for the order of the day -- a request that the meeting hold to its own docket , moving directly to the item of business scheduled for that time by the earlier vote to approve the docket
  • Point of order -- a request that the Moderator rule on whether matters are proceeding regularly according to Robert’s Rules
  • Move the previous question -- This motion requires a 2/3 majority. 
  • The maker of the motion ‘to move the previous question’ (close debate and immediately take the vote) must be recognized by the moderator and the motion must receive a second. It is never in order when called from the floor.  This motion should never be considered when it is used to prevent legitimate debate”
    -- “Parliamentary Procedures in the Presbyterian Church (USA),” p. 14, emphasis in the original.
  • Move to adjourn -- usually greeted with smiles all around

rev. November 2011