2016 General Assembly Of The Free Church Of Scotland

abb92709-4c93-44fe-8b75-2ef076924200Tomorrow evening we begin with concurrent General Assemblies as the Free Church of Scotland 2016 General Assembly convenes at Buccleuch Free Church in Edinburgh. The meeting will run until Thursday. It is always an interesting meeting so here is some info about following along.

  • UPDATE: As anticipate there will be a live stream but only the audio. That will be enough. You can find the player within a news article. ORIGINAL: The Assembly is usually livestreamed but I have not found a link yet. Hopefully the location change to Buccleuch will not preclude the live streaming, and a tweet from Buccleuch is suggestive that there will be a stream. I will update here if the link is posted tomorrow.
  • There is a draft programme for the week available online
  • The advanced set of reports are available on the Reports page and Supplemental Reports may be released throughout the week.
  • Daily updates are expected in the news stream.
  • If you need the polity documents you can check the Acts of Assembly and Free Church Practice.

To follow along in social media you should be checking the official Free Church Facebook page as well as their Twitter feed @freechurchscot. The host church can be followed at @BuccleuchFC and the hashtag looks to be #fcga16, although keep an eye on #fcga as well. In addition, I would suggest also keeping an eye on the Twitter account for the official publication, The Free Church Record (@The_FC_Record). Also, the seminary, Edinburgh Theological Seminary (@ETS_Edinburgh) and its principal Iver Martin (@IverMartin) should be informative.

For extensive coverage of the Assembly I would encourage you to keep an eye on The Rev. David Robertson of St. Peter’s Free Church, Dundee, the outgoing Moderator of the General Assembly. He is a pastor who is well known within the Free Church as well as around the world through his writing, speaking and internet presence. While the Free Church has moved away from the nickname The Wee Frees, Rev. Robertson has embraced the title The Wee Flea and can be found by that title on both his blog as well as on Twitter (@theweeflea). I would expect Rev. Robertson to be writing about GA on his blog this coming week.

Other individuals to watch on Twitter are Iain D. Campbell (editor of the Record) at @revdridc, Martin MacLean at @shug_1980 and Robert Macleod at @macleod_robert. I will update as I see others commenting on the meeting. UPDATE: Several additional individuals on Twitter but let me first point out @jedirev, the moniker of Gordon Matheson.

The Free Church news feed has posted previews of several of the committee reports and recommendations they will bring. Edinburgh Theological Seminary Board will be discussing their expanding enrollment, new initiatives in distance learning and efforts to produce an annual theological journal. The Psalmody and Praise Committee will bring details of a new smartphone app to digitally access their Sing Psalms hymnal content as well as the interest in the hymnal itself from outside Scotland. The Board of Ministry will discuss an initiative where they hope to find funding for ministerial apprenticeship programs to give candidates and young ministers more mentoring as well helping assess their gifts for ministry. The Board will also be looking at consolidating portions of the Acts of Assembly into a single unit related to admission to the ministry. The Mission Board will be discussing their work around the world as well as emphasizing how even small increases in support, such as adding £50 or £100 per month, can have significant impact on their work. Finally the Trustees will give thanks for a relatively good budget situation helped by increased giving this past year, principally from new congregations within the church. The Trustees also hope to announce an new Principal Clerk for the Assembly who will begin in that position next year.

The Free Church Assembly is always interesting and I look forward to a stimulating week. And in the case you are trying to juggle both live streams, remember that in the evenings the Free Church usually has no competition.

So best wishes to the Free Church on their Assembly and we pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your discernment throughout.

2016 General Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland

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Tomorrow morning the 2016 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will convene in Edinburgh for their annual week-long meeting. While the hype in the main-stream media probably exceeds the reality – more on that in a minute – it should still be an interesting meeting with all the usual pomp, ceremony, formality and of course interesting discussion that we come to expect of this GA.

If you are interested in following along, here are some starting points to help you:

  • There will be live streaming of the proceedings and you can connect to the stream appropriate for your device from the media page.
  • Most of the Documents pertaining to the Assembly are linked from the General Assembly Publications page. This includes the Proceedings and Reports volumes, known as the Blue Book (and it is back to its blue cover this year) in several different electronic formats including the traditional PDF as well as MOBI and EPUB formats for your eReaders. There is also a separate Order of Proceedings. The Daily Papers will contain late-breaking changes are available on the Papers, minutes, letters, and speeches page. There is an option to subscribe to notifications of new documents being posted. In addition, there is a General Assembly App with versions for Apple iOS and Android.
  • Reports are also available individually from the Reports and minutes page.
  • If you need to refer to the documents about how they do this decently and in order most of those are linked from the Church Law page. Unfortunately the essential “An Introduction to Practice and Procedure” is still listed as under revision and not available.
  • A brief order of the docketed events and reports can be found on the General Assembly 2016 page.
  • And from the media page there will be regular daily updates in print, audio and video if history serves. And as always, hosted by the Rev. Douglas Aitken.

What we all want to know of course is how to follow along on social media and there will be no lack of that. You can begin with the Church of Scotland’s official Facebook page as well as the Facebook page for the National Youth Assembly.

On Twitter the starting point is the Kirk’s main feed at @churchscotland and the official hashtag #ga2016. There is an official account for the Moderator of the General Assembly, @churchmoderator, but during the Assembly we will have to see how much opportunity there will be to tweet. Similarly, the Church of Scotland Youth will likely be tweeting at @cosy_nya and the official account for the NYA Moderator, currently Hanna Mary Goodlad, is at @NYAModerator. The church’s official publication, Life and Work, is also a good source for information on the web, on Facebook and on their Twitter feed @cofslifeandwork. In addition, while it is a personal account, you can follow the editor, Lynne McNeil, at @LifeWorkEditor.

This year I would also suggest three semi-official accounts. The account Church Scotland Voices with weekly rotating contributors at @churchscovoices will be curated by GA commissioner Andrew Kimmitt (@akimmitt). The official photographer will be Andrew O’Brien at @AndyOBrienPhoto. And during the Assembly I. D. Campbell (@idcampbellart) will be the artist-in-residence painting people from the Poverty Truth Commission (@PTCScotland).

In suggesting personal accounts to follow, let me start with two past Moderators of the General Assembly. The first is the Very Reverend Lorna Hood who is always a good read at @revlornascot and has been very active the past few years with projects related to Srebrenica justice and remembrance (@SrebrenicaUK). The other is the Very Reverend Albert Bogle at @italker who has been getting some recent traction with the Sanctuary First ministry (@sanctuaryfirst) that is now seeking to become a completely online church. Another well-connected individual to follow is Seonag MacKinnon, the head of communications for the Kirk, who tweets on her personal account at @seonagm.

In suggesting other personal accounts let me begin with the Rev. Peter Nimmo of Inverness who is a member of the Church and Society Council (@ChurchSociety01) and always a good source of information at @peternimmo1. Others I regularly follow from the Kirk include Darren Philip (@darphilip), Alistair May (@AlistairMay) and Michael Mair (@MichaelMair). Another who will probably weigh in, whether or not he is in Edinburgh, is Glasgow theologian Douglas Gay (@DougGay). I will update with more as the Assembly gets under way.

Once again the Assembly will have its annual Heart and Soul festival on the Sunday afternoon of the Assembly week that will again be happening in Princes Street Gardens near the Assembly Hall. The theme of both the Assembly and the Heart and Soul event this year is “People of the Way.” One of the new features of Heart and Soul this year will be link-ups with concurrent local events throughout Scotland.

Concerning the business before the Assembly there is a nice summary of each report on the Life and Work site. Three items in particular have been in the news. The first is the Columba Declaration for mutual recognition between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England. After the Moderator of the Kirk spoke at the CofE General Synod in February the Archbishop of Canterbury will participate in the CofS debate on the Declaration as part of the Ecumenical Relations Committee presentation on Wednesday. (I hope to post a few of my observations and thoughts on this in the next couple days.)

The big mainstream media coverage the last few days – which has even made it over here to the states – relates to the Legal Questions Committee report on Saturday and specifically item 14:

14. Instruct the Committee, jointly with the Mission and Discipleship Council and the Theological Forum, to research the implications for the Church of Scotland of the development of online church and report to the General Assembly of 2018.

The body of the report itself focuses on new technologies and particularly their application to voting and administrative contacts. There is mention of the changing nature of membership in that section of the report and one, just one, reference to sacraments in general that says “As fewer people join up in the traditional sense and as they make choices which include ever greater interaction with the Church through online access and social media, questions arise about online membership and even about access to the sacraments while not being physically present in the congregation.” The next line begins “There are no easy answers…” It should be an interesting discussion but the report is really concerned with particular administrative items yet in looking forward does contain an invitation to start thinking more broadly about issues that will arise. However, it is nowhere near the invitation to approve online baptisms as the media reports would make you think. The Church of Scotland issued a press release to put the reports into perspective.

Finally, the Assembly Arrangements Committee report contains the results of a review of the Assembly operations and response to many suggestions that have been made. Some, like biennial assemblies or moving out of Edinburgh, are recommended against based on factors considered in the study. The committee does seek permission to further review one suggestion, moving the Assembly to the second week of June so more young adults are available following completion of university exams. This discussion will also occur on Saturday and there is a Kirk press release on this as well.

So fasten your seat belts and get ready for the full week of Presbyterian action. As always, our thoughts and prayers are with the commissioners and officers of the Assembly and we look forward to following along with your discernment process.

A Presbytery PJC Ruling On A Same-Sex Marriage Policy In The PC(USA)

I typically do not chase presbytery PJC rulings but rather wait until there has been a review by either a Synod PJC or the GA PJC so that they have had a chance to be digested a bit by another commission. However, a recent case is, as the decision notes, “…a question of first impression in this Presbytery and to the knowledge of this Commission in the PC(USA).” So here we go.

The case heard by the Permanent Judicial Commission of Salem Presbytery is Thomas E. Morgan – Complainant v. Session, First Presbyterian Church, Asheboro (North Carolina) – Respondent. My thanks to the Layman Online for making the full text available.

The circumstances of the case are rather straight-forward — A remedial complaint was filed against FPC Asheboro regarding a policy their session put in place that says, in part:

The Session will exercise due discretion in affirming marriage service requests, but affirms that all marriage services conducted at First Presbyterian Church shall reflect the understanding that Christian marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman.

The complaint alleges that this conflicts with the Book of Order section F-1.0403 which says, in part:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall guarantee full participation and representation in
its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership.
No member shall be denied participation or representation for any reason other than
those stated in this Constitution.

With that in mind, the case boils down to the new language regarding marriage, W-4.9, and the placement of the final section (W-4.9006) that says:

Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.

The question before the Commission was whether this language would permit a session to take a categorical stand in a church policy. The PJC said it does not and that section W-4.9 represents a process that must be followed and requests for marriage services must be handled on a case-by-case basis. More specifically, the decision says that the earlier sections of W-4.9, those involving meeting with the teaching elder and counseling, must happen first before a decision is made about the appropriateness of the marriage. They point out that this is a “shall” phrase in the Constitution where it says that following their request the couple “shall receive instruction from the teaching elder.”

The decision’s decisive paragraph says:

A categorical decision by the session not to permit any marriage by a couple of the same sex on church property without consideration of their commitment to each other, their understanding of the nature of the marriage covenant and their commitment to living their lives together according to its values is inconsistent with the process required by W-4.9001-9006. There is absolutely no question that W-4.9006 authorizes a session to prohibit any marriage on church property contrary to its discernment of the Holy Spirit and understanding of the Word of God. However, that authority is granted in the context of a process that requires the teaching elder to counsel with every couple seeking Christian marriage whether they are of the same sex or not. With regard to each such couple, the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session and the session is authorized to determine whether that couple may be married on church property. By adopting and publishing a policy that categorically excludes any same sex couple from being married on church property, the session has contradicted the policy requiring inquiry and counselling [sic] for any couple seeking a Christian marriage, including same sex couples. The logical effect of this policy will be to discourage any same sex couple desiring Christian marriage to seek counsel from the teaching elder called by the congregation or to seek permission to be married on church property regardless of any other circumstances. A categorical prohibition of same sex marriage on the property constitutes a categorical discrimination against same sex couples who present themselves for consideration for marriage in the congregation.

In one of the more interesting parts of the commission’s discussion they let the session off the hook a bit by pointing out guidance, but not authoritative language, in two document ( here is one of them)  from the Office of the General Assembly does specifically say that sessions can make a categorical prohibition. The commission goes on to say that the statement is not a General Assembly decision and is not pertinent to the decision they rendered.

It is worth reiterating at this point that this decision is from a presbytery PJC and has limited application. If appealed and upheld it would gain authoritative status.

There are no concurring or dissenting opinions filed with the decision.

This decision is reminiscent of the remedial cases regarding ordination standards and the various GAPJC rulings that there could be no categorical standards or explicit lists of essential tenants but each candidate must be considered on an individual basis. From a polity point of view this decision falls right in line with that.

What the session’s policy has fallen into is a typical polity trap of the apparent intent of the new language, as evidenced by the FAQ of the General Assembly Stated Clerk, versus how the actual authoritative language has been read by the commission. It is easy to see how they saw this as a process and, based on the precedent of the ordination standards decisions, decided that this too must be a case-by-case process.

A number of possibilities come to mind to clarify or reverse this thinking and return to what seems to be acknowledged as the intent of the 221st General Assembly. One is of course to have it reversed on appeal to the GAPJC but there is no assurance they would read intent into it either. Another would be to have the 222nd General Assembly issue an Authoritative Interpretation, possibly using business item 14-01 that asks for changes in W-4.9 as a vehicle for this while not necessarily granting the direct request of that overture. But judicial commissions might not agree and are under no obligation to uphold a GA AI, as we have seen in previous cases of “polity ping-pong.” Or, maybe we will see this in an overture to the 223rd General Assembly that asks for W-4.9006 to become W-4.9003 and current sections W-4.9003-5 be renumbered. Or maybe the GAPJC will agree with the presbytery PJC and the implications of that are left as an exercise for the reader.

Let me end with this thought — Part of section F-3.03 reads:

Provisions of any part of this Constitution are to be interpreted in light of the whole Constitution. No provision of the Book of Order can of itself invalidate any other. Where there are tensions and ambiguities between provisions, it is the task of councils and judicial commissions to resolve them in such a way as to give effect to all provisions.

By interpreting the W-4.9 as a process for which W-4.9006 is the culmination of the process, is this using one provision in the Book of Order to invalidate another rather than taking the last section as a conscience clause that stands alone? But it can also be viewed that taken as a whole W-4.9006 stands in tension with F-1.0403 and it should be subject to the protection of the equality clause.

Finally, I do have to acknowledge that it is disconcerting that the PJC decision is contrary to clear guidance given by the Stated Clerk’s office following passage of the new language. Furthermore, the clerk’s guidance reflects the intent of the Assembly regarding conscience as section W-4.9006 was not in the original overture or process language of the section but was added by the committee and the Assembly. (Hence its position at the end of the section.) Furthermore, the statement by the committee seeks a proactive process of reconciliation on this matter.

And for one added complexity, there is another tie-in to the 222nd General Assembly here — One of the Co-Moderator Candidates, Ruling Elder David Parker, is from Salem Presbytery. Not a sure thing we will see this come into play at the Assembly, but something to watch for.

These are a lot of words for a topic that has a long way to run. No word on an appeal yet and uncertain if, or how, it will arise at the upcoming General Assembly. All I can say is… Stay Tuned!

General Assembly Season 2016

May 1st – The date on my calendar that marks the beginning of the General Assembly Season. This is our binge year, or we max out on GA’s, as we can include the two biennial assemblies and the triennial one.

So buckle up and here we go.

As always, this is the line-up as I know it – I will update as I clarify additional Assembly and Synod meetings.

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61st General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Taiwan
29 March-1 April 2016

 

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Synod
The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
3-5 May 2016
Mt. Druitt, N.S.W.

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Tasmania
10 May 2016 (begins)

 

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General Assembly
Church of Scotland
21-27 May 2016
Edinburgh

 

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
23-26 May, 2016
Edinburgh

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland
23-26 May 2016
Edinburgh

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of South Australia
22 May 2016 (anticipated) No Assembly this year – see comment below

 

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)142nd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Canada
3-6 June 2016
York University
Toronto, Ontario

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
6-10 June 2016
Belfast

 

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212th Stated Meeting of the General Synod
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
7-9 June 2016
Bonclarken
Flat Rock, North Carolina

 

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General Assembly
United Free Church of Scotland
8-10 June 2016
Perth

 

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83rd General Assembly
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
8-14 June 2016
Sandy Cove Conference Center
North East, Maryland

 

logo+pcusa222nd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
18-25 June 2016
Portland, Oregon

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Queensland
19-23 June 2016
Brisbane Boys College
Brisbane

 

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141st General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America

19-22 June 2016
Nashville, Tennessee
Concurrent with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church

 

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186th General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church
20-24 June 2016
Nashville, Tennessee
Concurrent with Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America

 

01645A81-A5D8-4EB1-9E4C30D14028D30744th General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in America
20-24 June 2016
Mobile, Alabama

 

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36th General Assembly
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
21-25 June 2016
Ward Church
Northville, Michigan

 

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Synod
Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
27-29 June 2016
Indiana Wesleyan University
Marion, Indiana

 

 

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N.S.W. State Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Australia
in the State of New South Wales

4 July 2016 (begins)
Croydon, N.S.W.

 

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80th General Synod
Bible Presbyterian Church
4-9 August 2016
Sharonville, Ohio

NYA_0National Youth Assembly
Church of Scotland
19-22 August 2016
Stirlingshire
(Technically not a governing
body, but still an Assembly I track)

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Australia
12 September 2016 (begins)

 

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Victoria
3 October 2016

 

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Western Australia
28 October 2016
Peppermint Grove, WA

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
15-19 November
University of Otago
Dunedin

 

These are the ones that I am tracking at the moment. I will update as appropriate. If I have missed one, or have information wrong or incomplete, please provide the appropriate information and I will update the list.

And, to make the GA season complete here are two more items…

The first is the series of articles I wrote as an introduction to Presbyterian General Assemblies seven years ago. My GA 101 series consists of the following

GA101: Preface
GA101: Introduction – Why in the world would anybody want to do it this way?
GA101: Connectionalism – The Presbyterian Big Picture
GA101: The Cast of Characters – A score card to identify the players
GA101: The Moderator – All Things In Moderation
GA101: Where does the GA business come from? – Incoming!
GA101: Doing the business of GA — Decently and in Order

Yes, what started as a six part series expanded into seven completed articles with two more unfinished ones (still) in the queue.

And finally, on to the ridiculous. Lest we take ourselves too seriously, a couple years ago I had a little fun with the General Assembly and in the post passed along the GA drinking game and GA Bingo. In addition, Allan Edwards has posted an alternate Bingo card to use or modify for your particular polity. Please play responsibly. 😉

So, for all the GA Junkies out there I wish you the best of GA seasons. May you enjoy the next few months of watching us do things decently and in order!

A Milestone…

I would like to rise to a point of personal privilege…

If you will indulge me for a couple minutes I would like to take some time to reflect on this blog.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my starting to write this strange little piece of niche social media. And looking back I am both surprised and comforted to see that my very first post was a list of several General Assemblies and General Synods in 2006.

I had previously done a series of daily web updates as a commissioner to the 209th General Assembly in 1997. I have preserved that web site and on the archived page from the PC(USA) you can see that they were kind enough to include my coverage, although that link is now dead. And while we might consider it a blog in today’s terminology, that is a word that was not coined until two years later, at least according to the OED. But to my knowledge, I was the first GA commissioner to be posting daily updates on the web during the Assembly.

Nine years later I moved on to this crazy social media technology called blogging. In the last ten years I have posted almost 1100 articles on this blog and while it seems to me that there are almost as many unfinished drafts the stats tell me it is actually an order of magnitude less. And looking at the categories, about two fifths of what I have written somehow involve the PC(USA), about one third somehow relate to a general assembly, and the Church of Scotland comes in a clear second in the denominations with almost one fifth of the posts mentioning them. In all, I have discussed 35 different Presbyterian and Reformed branches from around the world and through history.

It should be no surprise that if I have kept it up for this long I have enjoyed doing it. I view it as one of my hobbies, not as a job, and it helps me process the news and polity developments by studying and writing about them. And being only a hobby, I can write about what I want, how I want and as my time permits.

But the real payoff has been getting to know a good number of you, my regular readers, whether it be in person or virtually. In both the scientific as well as the Presbyterian parts of my life review by others, be it peers or higher governing bodies, is not only appreciated but expected. A sense of accountability is part of our system and comment and critique are appreciated forms of feedback.

Looking to the future I have a lot of ideas and a lot of GA’s I would like to attend. However, I still have my day job as well so I will get to all of them as time and finances permit. I am hoping to make it to Portland for the 222nd General Assembly of the PC(USA) and leading up to that I have appreciated the opportunity to branch out a bit and write some polity articles for the Presbyterian Outlook, one of which was published online yesterday.

So in conclusion, a big THANK YOU for joining me on this weird journey through the polity and news of global Presbyterianism. Thank you for not just reading this blog, but your interaction and encouragement. That has made it what it is.

And now I will return to my seat and thank you for allowing me the privilege of the floor for a few minutes.

Back to our usual presby-geek agenda.

Nominee For The Moderator Of The 142nd General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Canada

It is the first day of April and one of the more serious items we can look forward to on this day each year is the counting of the votes for the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Well the votes are in and this morning the Principal Clerk announced that the sole nominee to be placed before the 142nd General Assembly to serve as Moderator will be the Rev. Douglas H. Rollwage.

Douglas-Rollwage-300x349Rev. Rollwage currently serves as the pastor of Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown, P.E.I., where he as been for 11 years. His ministry began at Strathcona Park Presbyterian Church in Kingston, Ont,. where he had grown up. Between there and Charlottetown he was the pastor at Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church in Scarborough in the Toronto Metro Area.

He holds a B.Th. from Queen’s Theological College (now Queen’s School of Religion) and an M.Div. from Knox College.

In his interview in the Presbyterian Record he shares some interesting glimpses into his faith journey. While coming to faith in a Pentecostal church and beginning his pastoral training in that direction he says “it soon became evident that the Pentecostals and I were not a great match for each other and to our mutual relief we parted ways.”

He goes on to talk about why:

“I’d say what brought me out [of the Pentecostal Church and into the Presbyterian Church] was as much a matter of my growing interest and awareness of church history, which within the Pentecostal church kinda ends with the end of the book of Acts and begins again in 1910. But for me the history of the church and our place within that history is deeply important in our identification as Christians. And so a tradition which was rooted in that history and respected that history was for me very important and that ultimately lead me to the Reformed faith, both in the teachings of Luther and the writings of Calvin.”

Since then Church History has been one of his passions and it is one he shares with others, particularly as he leads trips to Greece, Israel and Turkey, which is highlighted on his Facebook page.

These study tours have a significant synergy with another of his passions – Bible study. In the interview he talks about the importance of scripture and studying it.

“Presbyterians used to be famous for being rooted in the scriptures.” But, he says, “I think that we have moved away from what we once took for granted.”

“How many people in churches go to Bible study anymore?” he asks. “For me Bible study is more important than Sunday morning. Because on Sunday morning we’ve got, what, 20 minutes to give a sermon, to try and inspire and teach and comfort and lead and direct. In Bible study you’ve got an hour and half. You’ve got so much more time to do that plus you’ve got a level of interaction that you just can’t have on a Sunday morning.

“When I look at the leadership of my congregation, session members, board members, committee leaders—these are all people who have had their faith energized and strengthened through their participation in Bible study. That’s where the leadership is drawn from.”

And in what looks like foreshadowing his work as Moderator he continues:

“For us to move forward with credibility and with true spiritual relevance, I think we need to recapture our love for the Bible. It sounds very old fashioned. But I also think that the Bible is more relevant now than it was a generation ago.”

He has served the church locally as a presbytery moderator and nationally as a member of multiple committees including his current service on the Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee. He also serves as a resource person for the Assembly Office. He and his church are active with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank that provides food to those in need around the globe.

He and his wife Dana, a public school teacher, have two children, one a recent college graduate and the other still in college.

He will be formally elected and installed on June 3 as the Assembly convenes at York University in Toronto.

So our congratulations and prayers for Rev. Rollwage for the work ahead. May you have the time to prepare for the Assembly, wisdom and discernment at you lead it and blessings and strength so that your moderatorial year may be a true extension of your ministry.

Church Of England General Synod Discusses The Columba Declaration Tomorrow

The General Synod of the Church of England began meeting today. While that fact alone may be of interest to polity wonks, for the GA Junkies this Synod meeting holds particular interest as they take up the matter of the Columba Declaration, a joint agreement with the Church of Scotland.

According to the agenda for the Synod the Report of the Church of England-Church of Scotland Joint Study Group will begin at 2:30 PM BST tomorrow, 16 February 2016. If you wish to follow along there is a livestream and there are Twitter accounts @c_of_e for the church and @synod for the Synod meeting itself. There is a #Synod hashtag to follow as well.

Of particular note is the address to the Synod by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Angus Morrison early on in the report. According to the Church of Scotland news article it is believed this is the first time a currently serving moderator has ever been given this privilege. In addition, Rt. Rev. and Mrs. Morrison will be the guests of Archbishop and Mrs. Welby at Lambeth Palace during their stay in London.

The action before the Synod has three parts: To welcome the report as a significant development between the two churches; To approve the Columba Declaration; And to request the Council for Christian Unity to oversee the implementation.

We will see how this goes tomorrow in London and we can expect to see reciprocal action at the Church of Scotland General Assembly in Edinburgh in May.

Another Game, Another Venue

You have to admit there is a certain synergy to The Big Game in the U.S. falling during Carnival. I will leave the liturgical and cultural significance of that as an exercise for the reader and instead turn my attention to another game and another venue here in Southern California.

A couple weeks ago I was delighted to read a column by Bill Plaschke in the Los Angeles Times – “Girl Scout’s project provides hope through hoops.” It was about a recreational basketball court built by Claire Dundee as the community service project for her Girl Scout Gold Award. She had taken a small piece of yard at a transient apartment complex and oversaw the construction project that turned it into a small but usable basketball court for the kids in the complex. Mr. Plaschke describes her accomplishment like this:

With her wits and will, during a six-month period that occasionally seemed like forever, Claire Dundee arranged and supervised the construction of a simple court that has been the answer to endless prayers. She initially did it to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award, that organization’s highest honor, but eventually reaped far greater riches, restoring faith in adults skeptical of a teen’s determination and hope in kids who didn’t have a place to play.

She raised the money, convinced the contractor, dealt with the architect, eventually even pushed the wheelbarrow. In the beginning, she was so scared to phone strangers that she would write down a script before every call. But by the end, she was overseeing the pouring of the concrete.

Clair talked about the challenge saying:

“A lot of people said I was crazy,” she recalled. “But I knew something like that would last forever.”

The head of the construction company she worked with, Mansour Jahanbin of Oxford Construction, had this to say about the project and the boss:

“She was my boss,” Jahanbin said. “It was one of those projects that you start at a certain level, and it keeps getting bigger, but it was such a good thing, and she was so impressive, you can’t stop, you’ve got to finish it.”

And a mother at the project told of the importance of the play area and the impact it has had on her son:

“I can see a smile on his face, a change in him, he can come downstairs and just play and be a kid,” she said. “Who knew a court could be so important?”

So yes, Claire did it for the Gold Award, but the court itself is its own testimony in that place:

Yet the Girl Scout has stayed in the background, no initials carved in the concrete, no plaque anywhere, Dundee leaving no personal mark on the court other than her sweat. In fact, she says she’s not even finished, as she insists on painting the court green and adding official lines once it dries from the recent rains.

Read the whole story, I assure you it is worth it. And the LA Times thought enough of this story to put it on the front page of the Sunday sports section, above the fold.

And a personal note to conclude this post: I will acknowledge that this is the first time my post for The Big Game has strayed from American Football. But I did want to include a bit of back-story and why this story grabbed me on a whole lot of different levels. First, I have worked with the ministry that runs the housing complex while in grad school when my small group cooked a monthly meal for their homeless shelter. Second, my daughter also did her Gold Award project using sports, what the rest of the world calls football in her case, as she collected equipment and worked with kids at a community center operating out of a local church. Finally, I work with other projects like this all the time with the Boy Scouts. When I review a project for approval I always ask the young man “Why do you want to do this particular project?” Often that is an amazing insight into the life of that scout and what their passion is. There are a lot of amazing young people out there doing some great stuff for the community.

And so, if you are so inclined, enjoy The Big Game tomorrow. But remember that some of the other match ups out there may ultimately be more important.

Moderator Designate For The 2016 General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Ireland

In their own unique approach to choosing the Moderator of the next General Assembly, all the the presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland meet simultaneously on the first Tuesday Rev-Frank-Sellarof February and chose their candidate from those on the official ballot. And so, having waited for the report from Church House in Belfast, we now know that The Rev. Frank Sellar will be the 177th Moderator of the General Assembly. And unlike the last few years, this vote was not even close with 18 of the 19 presbyteries endorsing Rev. Sellar.

In a post-election quote he says:

“It has been a huge privilege to have been involved in a lifetime of leadership in local congregations, south and north. I’m humbled that the wider church has trusted me with this responsibility, granting fresh opportunities of mission, which this year as Moderator of the General Assembly will bring, not only serving the wider church, but society throughout the whole of Ireland and further afield.”

Rev. Sellar is currently the pastor at Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in East Belfast. A Belfast News Letter article last week described his theological leanings saying he is “an evangelical conservative.”

At this time I will note that one of his distinctions is that he has ministered in both the Republic of Ireland (“the south”) and in Northern Ireland – twenty years in the former and eleven years in the latter. And on a personal note I found it encouraging that his wife is an occupational therapist as I seem to accumulate physical and occupational therapists in my family.

I will write more tomorrow after the traditional statement and press conference as well as the local press reaction.

But, we do extend to Rev. Sellar our congratulations and prayers as he prepares to moderate the upcoming General Assembly as well as for his whole moderatorial year.

Ballot For The Moderator Designate Of The Presbyterian Church In Ireland General Assembly

About 24 hours from now the presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will vote on who will be the Moderator Designate for the 2016 General Assembly. The ballot was announced last week and there are three nominees for the position. They are, in alphabetical order:

It is worth noting that Revs. Bell and Sellar were also on the ballot last year.

The nominees were covered in the Belfast Newsletter and the brief bios there include a notation of their theological leanings.

The lack of any women being nominated has been noted and was called out by The Rev. Dr. Ruth Patterson in a Belfast Telegraph column by Alf McCreary. Dr. Patterson was the first woman in any denomination to be ordained as a minister in Ireland and was twice on the Moderator ballot herself. No female nominee has yet to be elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCI. Mr. McCreary developed this theme a bit further in his column three days later where he talked about “How Presbyterians have lost ground over gender equality.”

So there is the prologue. We will be waiting tomorrow to hear the results of the presbytery voting and look forward to Wednesday morning’s traditional news conference.

Stay tuned…