2015 General Assembly Of The Free Church Of Scotland

abb92709-4c93-44fe-8b75-2ef076924200About three hours ago the Free Church of Scotland convened their 2015 General Assembly in St. Columba’s Free Church in Edinburgh. The meeting will run until Thursday. Certainly looks like it will be an interesting meeting so here is some info about following along and what you might expect.

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 @stcsfreechurch and the hashtag will be #fcga.

The new Moderator of the General Assembly is The Rev. David Robertson of St. Peter’s Free Church, Dundee, 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). He is also a  co-founder of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and you can hear him on the Centre’s podcast, Quantum of Solas. Update: Rev. Robertson is writing about GA on his blog this week.

Other individuals to watch on Twitter are Iain D. Campbell at @revdridc, Martin MacLean at @shug_1980 and Gordon Matheson at @JediRev. I will update as others appear active at this meeting. Update: Rev. Matheson was kind enough to let me know that he would not be following GA closely this year but he recommended following Robert Macleod at @macleod_robert.

Reading through the reports there is a lot of important business coming before this assembly but none that struck me as being of the nature to attract a lot of outside press coverage. For those concerned with presbyterian polity it will certainly be interesting. One of these items is from the Board of Trustees report where they suggest that the size of the Assembly be increased – nearly doubled – so that decisions reflect more of the members of the presbyteries and there is a better connection to the presbyteries.

Acknowledging the paradox, this is immediately followed by a section talking about the shortage of ruling elders and the General Assembly. The report points out:

Over the past decade it has become increasingly difficult to identify sufficient elders with availability for the duration of the Assembly. Many of the younger men are not able to take time off their regular employment so as to attend the whole Assembly. This has meant that some Presbyteries have been unable to commission men from within their own bounds and in some cases have had to make do with fewer elders to represent them than should have been the case.

The proposed solution is to allow presbyteries to rotate elders around so that they always have the allotted number but it could be a different individual each day. I look forward to the discussion of the polity, administrative and operational points made in that debate which is docketed for tomorrow morning.

The Board of Ministry in their report is bringing a new scheme for paths into ministry in response to requests from last year’s Assembly. In this day and age individuals approach the ministry from a variety of angles and the proposal includes acknowledgement of previous training, flexibility for those getting their theological education part time as well as a path through apprenticeship training. Again, an interesting discussion we can look forward to on Thursday.

Convening the General Assembly today is a bit auspicious as it is the 172nd anniversary of the 1843 Disruption that formed the Free Church. However, it is worth noting that the branch meeting now is just a small portion of the original church as most of the churches merged first with the United Presbyterians in 1900 and then that branch merged with the Church of Scotland in 1929.

But 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.

2015 General Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland

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Tomorrow morning the 2015 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will convene in Edinburgh and will meet for the following week. This promises to be an interesting Assembly with a couple issues the will probably have a significant future impact on the Kirk on the docket.
So if you are interested, here is some helpful information to follow along with this Assembly.

  • 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 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 as well as the Daily Papers which will contain late-breaking changes. 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, although it is disappointing to see that the essential An Introduction to Practice and Procedure is under revision and not available.
  • A brief order of the docketed events and reports can be found on the General Assembly 2015 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.

On Twitter the starting point is the Kirk’s main feed at @churchscotland and the official hashtag #ga2015. 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. Similarly, the Church of Scotland Youth will likely be tweeting at @cosy_nya and now there is a an account for the NYA Moderator, currently Rachel Hutcheson, at @NYAModerator.

In suggesting personal accounts to follow, let me start with two individual accounts that are worth following as the Assembly gets rolling. The first is a past Moderator of the Assembly, the Very Reverend Lorna Hood. After ending her term as Moderator she has really taken to Twitter and is always a good read at @revlornascot. The second person 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 commissioner this year 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) who is working with the youth reps. Two more that are always interesting are another past Moderator of the Assembly the Very Rev. Albert Bogle (@iTalker) and Glasgow theologian Douglas Gay (@DougGay). I will update with more as the Assembly gets under way. UPDATE: I would add Marc Falconer (@marcfalconer81) to the list and he is also blogging the Assembly.

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. For those of us not in Edinburgh we look forward to seeing pictures, both on the Church of Scotland Facebook page and a gallery to be posted after the event. It is also worth noting that the Living Stones theme and the picture of people forming the cross see on the Heart and Soul poster are being used in a number of other places for this Assembly.

Concerning the business before the Assembly there is a nice summary of each report on the Life and Work site. One of the initiatives that was just kicked off ahead of the Assembly meeting is a recruitment effort to get more people training for the ministry that is titled “Tomorrow’s Calling.” Got to give props on that solid Presbyterian double meaning. It includes a national media campaign to recruit ministers and you can see the six-minute video on the Tomorrow’s Calling web page. In addition, it has its own #tomorrowscalling hastag on Twitter.

The Church and Society Council will be bringing a report which touches on many areas including economic and social justice in Scotland and continues the concern for tax structures and economic issues within the region. Their report has an Appendix with additional readings and reflections on Common Wealth? Sharing through tax and giving. In addition, they celebrate and encourage the continuation of the high political engagement seen in the Independence Referendum last fall.

Finally, the issues of Same-sex Marriage will be coming back to the Assembly after the presbyteries approved new language that, while affirming the traditional view of marriage, allows congregations to have more flexibility in extending a call to a same-sex partnered pastor if they chose. This legislation requires a final approval by the Assembly. In addition, concerns have been raised whether ministers will be able to exercise religious freedom on conducting marriages and if that would withstand a legal challenge. The former is docketed for Thursday and the latter for the opening day, although that is just a report with no further action requested.

So that is what I see at the moment. As things develop I will try to update here or blog about them. But as always, our prayers and best wishes are with the whole of the Assembly for their meeting and Spirit-led discernment.

The Latest US Religion Demographic Data

Ah, the Siren Song of new data…

In case you were not on social media yesterday the Pew Research Center released their new report on American’s Changing Religious Landscape and it is all over the interwebs from national mainstream media, to local news outlets, to the religious news sources to bloggers to the people in the pew. And don’t worry if you have missed it because it probably only quantifies what you already know. I like the way Derek Rishmanwy put it on Twitter:

The cool thing about Pew numbers is how versatile they are; bloggers can wear them with triumph, grief, & multiple shades of schadenfreude!

And a nod to Andrew Wilson and his tweeted observation:

Ironic, a few days after the UK discovered just how inaccurate polls can be, to see so much excitement / distress in the US over … a poll.

All that to say, I initially thought I would just look at it and say “Nothing to see here. Move along folks.”

But remember that my mantra is “I never met a data set I didn’t like,” so casting caution to the wind I jumped into the fray. Now join me as I drill down into a very small piece of the data released with this report.

First, in the event you have not taken a look, let me give you the bullet points everyone else is focusing on. Between the last survey in 2007 and this one in 2014:

  • The proportion of the population identified as part of mainline denominations has dropped 3.4% from 18.1% to 14.7% of the population
  • At the same time those classified as part of evangelical Protestant churches has dropped 0.9% from 26.3% to 25.4%
  • There was a 1.2% gain in non-Christian faiths (now 5.9% of the total population) and a 6.7% gain in what they identify as Unaffiliated which has grown to 22.8% of the population.

Now, Pew favors reporting in percentages since they are most interested in the proportional interplay of groups. But it is instructive in this case to convert this into absolute numbers. So in 2007 the estimated population of the U.S. was about 301.6 million. By 2014 it had grown to 318.9 million. Using the above numbers that means that the mainline decreased from 54.6 million to 46.9 million. However, in an absolute sense the number of evangelical Protestants grew from 79.3 million to 81.0 million.

OK, now my two biggest pet peeves about this data set. (Yes, this data set pushes the limits of meeting data sets I didn’t like).

  • The basic categories for Protestants are mainline, evangelical and historically black. In other words, if you are not the first or the last you must be evangelical – that mushy category that is tough to define. So, for example, you are combining into a single group those that subscribe to the Westminster Standards with those that have “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no name but the name Christian.” I think this classification could be a bit more granular.
  • The category Unaffiliated is similarly a catch-all, at least at least as I look at it. The category includes Atheists (3.1% of the population), Agnostics (4.0%) and Nothing In Particular (15.8%). Furthermore, the Nothing In Particular are further divided into Religion Not Important (8.8%) and Religion Important (6.9%). Jack Jenkins over at Think Progress dissects this corner of the classification a bit more.

Specific to that first bullet point though, Appendix B says:

Protestant respondents who gave a vague answer to denominational questions (e.g., “I am just a Baptist” or “I know I am Methodist but don’t know which specific Methodist denomination I belong to”) were placed into one of the three Protestant traditions based on their race and/or their response to a question that asked if they would describe themselves as a “born-again or evangelical Christian.”

OK, so if I am PC(USA), but don’t know or admit that I am PC(USA) and acknowledge to being born again, I get placed in the Evangelical Presbyterian category. Likewise, someone in another Presbyterian tradition that does not identify which one but does not consider regeneration to be technically the same as being born again, they would be placed in the mainline. To this point the report goes on:

Overall, 38% of Protestants (including 36% of evangelical Protestants, 35% of mainline Protestants and 53% of those in the historically black Protestant tradition) gave a vague denominational identity, necessitating the use of their race or their born-again status (or sometimes both) to categorize them into one of the three major Protestant traditions.

That appendix does list 16 different Evangelical Presbyterian categories that were reported, some of which were specific (exempli gratia: Presbyterian Church in America, Cumberland Presbyterian, Bible Presbyterian), some of which are ambiguous (does Reformed Presbyterian refer to the RPCNA or to the Hanover Presbytery?) and some are general catch-all categories like Ethnic Presbyterian and “Presbyterian, ambiguous affiliation.”

[I will note that the main report does have a two page section (beginning on page 30) on identifying evangelicals and they discuss how it can be by denomination (so Presbyterians are never evangelical), by the born-again test, or by a more detailed analysis of their beliefs. The latter is outside the scope of this report but they expect another report on that later.]

So in the report of data they group Presbyterians into three categories: the mainline PC(USA) and two Evangelical categories: PCA and everyone else. I found it interesting that in the population numbers reported in that appendix the size of the PC(USA) and the size of the Evangelical everyone else was the same with each being 1.1% of the population in 2007 and 0.9% in 2014. The PCA held steady at 0.4% of the population. For comparison purposes, if the PC(USA) had about 1.7 million members in 2014 and the US population was 318.9 million that means that only 0.5% of the population of the US was a member of the PC(USA). So based on the Pew results the adherents, or those who identify with the PC(USA), almost doubles when you consider how people self-identify or the survey classifies ambiguous answers.

Moving on to the detailed data, I will focus only on Presbyterians and refer only to the breakout pages for Presbyterians. There is one for Mainline Presbyterians generally and a subset for the PC(USA). Similarly, there is one for Evangelical Presbyterians and the subset for the PCA. So keep in mind that for the the general evangelical numbers, about half are the PCA. In addition, since I am not sure what a mainline Presbyterian who is not in the PC(USA) is I will simply focus on the PC(USA) data. But there is another 0.5% of the population that they classify as being mainline without being PC(USA).

And as I start this drill-down let me add this warning: I will be looking at small changes in some of the categories but my interest must be tempered with caution, or even skepticism, because the table of Margins of Error shows that for these sample sizes the margin is between +/-7% and +/-5.5%. That means that while many of the differences between the numbers below are interesting, very few of them are statistically significant.

So let’s start with Age.

I find it interesting that differences between all the Presbyterian categories were so similar in the 2007 survey. In general, they all had about 10% in the 18-29 age group, and 30% in each of the other age groups – 30-49, 50-64 and 65+. Yes, there are some slight differences but the pattern looks solid and there are uncertainty ranges (and the ambiguous classifications) to consider so I don’t get too concerned about that range.

Between 2007 and 2014 the PC(USA) and the PCA show very similar patterns of change in the age ranges. The youngest range stays the same, the 30-49 range decreases markedly ( -11% for the PCA and -9% for the PC(USA) ), the 50-64 range also remains the same and the 65+ range increases markedly ( +12% for the PCA and +6% for the PC(USA) ). The general evangelical as a whole shows less change in each category except that there is a marked increase in the 50-64 range ( +6%).

Gender composition

In terms of gender composition the PC(USA) remained steady at 45%/55% men to women. The PCA and the overall general evangelical both had a 5% shift from men to women.

Racial composition

Each of the groups became more diverse over the last five years with the PC(USA) dropping from 91% to 88% white, the PCA from 86% to 80% white and the general group from 88% to 81%.

For the PC(USA) the change was distributed over all the other categories with Black respondents increasing from 4% to 5%, Asian from 2% to 3% and Latino from 2% to 4%.

In the PCA it was a similar pattern for Black adherents with an increase of 5% to 6%. Asian members decreased from 4% to 3%. The biggest increase was in the Other/Mixed category jumping from 1% to 5% and a noticeable increase in the Latino category from 4% to 6%.

For the combined general evangelical category the Black percentage increased from 4% to 6%, the Asian from 3% to 5%, Other/Mixed from 1% to 4% and Latino was constant at 4%.

Income and Education

These two demographic measures appear to have some correlation as you might expect. For the PC(USA) the peak in annual household income shifted from the $50,000-$99,999 group in 2007 (37%) to the $100,000+ group in 2014. Actually, considering the margin of error the two bins are pretty close in 2014 with that lower bin having 29%. For education, the distribution is pretty flat in 2014 with just about 25% in each of the categories – High School or less, Some College, College, Post-graduate.

The interesting thing across all three classifications of Presbyterians for income is that it is bi-modal as they have binned it. In all the cases there is a lower peak in the <$30,000 bin. For 2014 the PC(USA) it is 24%, for the PC it is 27% and for the general evangelical it is 28%.

For the PCA and general evangelical the income distributions have their primary peak in the $50,000-$99,999 range with 31% in the PCA and 21% in the general. Likewise, the education peak for both groups is in the Some College bracket with 37% of the PCA and 35% of the general.

I suggested the income/education correlation, but another one comes to mind. Is the apparent correlation age reflecting the higher incomes in the PC(USA) does an older demographic with higher earning power or with more two-wage earner households account for that result.

Switching and Retention

The last set of data I want to look at is the information on individuals switching denominations and the retention of members. For this we need to turn to the section in the full report beginning on page 32. Overall, 19.0% of the country grew up in the mainline Protestant church. In the survey the measurement is that 10.4% of the population has left, 6.1% have switch into the mainline giving 14.7% now in the mainline. For evangelical Protestants the numbers are 23.9% that grew up in it, 8.4% left, 9.8% joined and now 25.4% are in that category.

Looking at all Presbyterians, 3.0% of the population grew up in a Presbyterian church of some flavor. Those who have left make up 2.0% of the US population and those that have joined make up 1.1% for a current total of 2.2% of the population.

Now, returning back to that margin of error stuff – in compiling all this data is struck me that there are some interesting differences between these three groups, but based on the demographic data in the report these three groups of Presbyterians are not that different after all.

So where do we go from here?

One thing that struck me was the “the sky is falling” response. As I said in the early discussion there is nothing new about these demographic changes. A lot of attention is being paid to the Unaffiliated growth but this group comes in a number of flavors and I am not sure combining them gives much insight. Looking at the data my interpretation is that the Nothing in Particular category has now become the point for loosely or barely affiliated individuals to now identify with. As Ed Stetzer puts it in his helpful analysis

One of the primary reasons it appears as though “American Christianity” is experiencing a sharp decline is because the nominals that once made up (disproportionately) Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism are now checking “none” on religious affiliation surveys.

In the long view what is happening now is more of a pruning or consolidation. A vital core is still there for the church to move forward.

However, this consolidation does not seem to favor the mainline. There are enough theories as to why that is the case that I won’t go there now. But I think the same principle applies — there is pruning and consolidation going on with that branch. The key will be finding a central core and shared vision to organize around in the years ahead.

Can the mainline do that? It will be interesting to see. There is certainly a lot of pruning going on in the PC(USA) although you will get significant discussion as to whether there the mainline is the core that needs to be pruned or the part that is being shed in the consolidation. But with the Split-P’s the divisions come and reunion later comes as well. We will have to see which groups can develop strong cores or whether the declines will overtake them before they can.

I also wanted to add that for purposes of forecasting future trends grouping and reporting the data a bit differently would be useful. The primary example is the age data where the ranges are large enough that having a report with shifted age ranges so that individuals in the 2007 report are in the same group in the 2014 report would be useful. Even better, maybe a report with the age ranges reflecting the customary demographic groups – Builders, Boomers, Gen X and Millennials – could be considered. The purpose of course is to isolate the groups to see if they fit the oft-reported trends. Similarly, when dealing with something like household income it would be helpful to not just see it in the bins but also report the quartiles of the data.

So there are a few of the things I was chasing here. A couple other items jump out at me but this close to the opening of the Church of Scotland General Assembly convening that I want to chase those any further. Lots to think about here so something to return to later if times get slow. And there is always that report on Evangelical Protestants. But for now…

… On to Edinburgh

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of January 2015

Hit a busy spot in my schedule and fell behind and things are about to get really busy with Assembly meetings starting, but I will see what I can get cranked out here.

For the second half of January, here are a few items that caught my attention.

There was a theme about the church protecting and helping the poor expressed from various branches around the world be it a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana:

Presbyterian Church urged to protect the poor – from GhanaWeb

Or the words about economic justice from a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to the Northern Ireland Executive:

Presbyterian Church voices concern over vulnerable – from Belfast News Letter

Or a church in Rochester, New York, responding to the severe cold of the winter to fast-track permits to host a homeless shelter:

Downtown United Presbyterian Church to be Interim Homeless Shelter – from WXXI News

 

A party in a church basement in Portland had a shooting occur in the street right outside. The party was not a church function but rented out for a private party.

Party in church basement leads to possible gang shooting, ‘people running all over,’ police say – from The Oregonian

Tabor Space changes party policy after shooting – from KOIN

 

A bill permitting assisted suicide is making its way through the Scottish Parliament and some Scottish  churches, including the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland, are uniting against it:

Bill raises questions about life and death – from Stornoway Gazette

Religious leaders to speak out on legalising assisted suicide – from stv news

However, a later article grabbed headlines when it quoted the Very Rev. Sandy McDonald – former Moderator of the General Assembly and father of actor David Tennant – in support of the legislation

David Tennant’s terminally ill father pledges support for assisted suicide – from Best Daily

However, in just the last few days the report has come back and church opposition is still present but there does not appear to be support for the bill from the members of parliament:

Church reaffirms opposition to assisted suicide bill following health committee report – Church of Scotland press release

Prof addresses assisted suicide conference – Free Church of Scotland press release

Setback for campaigners as MSPs fail to back Assisted Suicide Bill – from The National

 

From the Presbytery of Chicago, the presbytery was sued for alleged sexual abuse at a presbytery-run youth center

Seven men file sex abuse suits against Chicago Presbytery – from Chicago Tribune

Lawsuits allege abuse at West Side Presbyterian ministries – from Chicago Sun Times

 

A major gift to a seminary, the largest in its history

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary bequeathed $20 million – from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

Also from Ghana — a new President of the Presbyterian University College

Rev Prof Obeng inducted as PU College President – from spyghana

An appeal to let the missions run the mission schools

Hand over our schools to us to manage – Presby Church demands – from GhanaWeb

And

Church to clamp down on indisipline – from spyghana; “The Presbyterian Church of Ghana (PCG), has entreated Ministers, Catechists and Presbyters of the Church to abide by its tenets and principles in the discharge of their duties.”

 

A statement showing solidarity on racial justice issues

Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Presidents Issue Open Letter on Racial Justice – from Planet Princeton

 

And in New Zealand, the church working on racial reconciliation issues with the indigenous peoples:

Non-Maori urged to connect with Maori – from Radio New Zealand

Presbyterian Church to lead Waitangi Day dawn ceremony for first time – PCANZ press release; “For the first time in the history of the Presbyterian Church, its ministers, led by the Church’s Māori Synod, will conduct the Waitangi Day dawn ceremony at Waitangi.”

 

A church’s community project in northern Scotland is at full capacity. It was opened during the General Assembly with a royal visit.

Stornoway community project celebrates success after royal opening – from Stornoway Gazzete

 

Some news about individual churches and their buildings

Two Presbyterian Churches get historic landmark status – from Paterson Times (New Jersey)

 

And finally, a retirement

Farewell to the Royal Navy’s top ‘bish’ as chaplain of the fleet retires – from The News; “For the past four years, the Reverend Scott Brown has presided over a sizeable parish made up of 77 vessels and all the souls of the Royal Navy… Rev Brown, who is only the second ever chaplain of the fleet to be of the Church of Scotland, has served in the post for the last four 
years.”

And the funeral for Ernie Banks at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

Fans, former teammates, friends pay respects at Ernie Banks visitation – from Chicago Tribune

That’s it for now. Until next time have a good one.

General Assembly Season 2015

It is the First of May, the day I have traditionally used to mark the start of the General Assembly Season. (Although you will see it started a bit before that.)

There is lots of excitement ahead this year so get ready.

Here is this year’s line-up as I know it now. I will update as I clarify additional Assembly and Synod meetings.

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60th General Assembly
and 150th Anniversary of the founding
Presbyterian Church in Taiwan
7-10 April 2015

 

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Synod
The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
5-7 May 2015
Mt. Druitt, N.S.W.

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Tasmania
12 May 2015 (begins)

 

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General Assembly
Church of Scotland
16-22 May 2015
Edinburgh

 

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland Continuing
18-21 May, 2015
Edinburgh

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland
18-21 May 2015
Edinburgh

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of South Australia
25 May 2014 (begins)
Naracoorte, S.A.

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
1-4 June 2015
Belfast

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82nd General Assembly
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
3-9 June 2015
Dordt College
Sioux Center, Iowa

 

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)141st General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Canada
4-8 June 2015
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C.

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140th General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America

7-10 June 2015
Huntsville, Alabama

 

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Synod
Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland
8-10 June 2015
Bready

 

 

Reformed_Presbyterian_Church_of_North_America_(banner)
Synod
Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
8-12 June 2015
Bonclarken
Flat Rock, North Carolina
Concurrent with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

 

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211th Stated Meeting of the General Synod
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
9-11 June 2015
Bonclarken
Flat Rock, North Carolina
Concurrent with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America

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43rd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in America
8-12 June 2015
Chattanooga, Tennessee
(And the logo at left was proposed last year and referred so we will see what the report back is.)

 

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General Assembly
United Free Church of Scotland
10-12 June 2015
Perth

 

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185th General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church
19-26 June 2015
Cali, Columbia

 

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35th General Assembly
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
23-27 June 2015
Orlando, Florida

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Queensland
21-25 June 2015

 

 

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N.S.W. State Assembly
and 150th Anniversary Celebration
Presbyterian Church of Australia
in the State of New South Wales

29 June 2015 (begins)
Croydon, N.S.W.

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79th General Synod
Bible Presbyterian Church
6-11 August 2015
Cape Canaveral, Florida

NYA_0National Youth Assembly
Church of Scotland
14-17 August 2015
Stirlingshire
(Technically not a governing
body, but still an Assembly I track)

pcv_logo
General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Victoria
5-8 October 2015

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Western Australia
30 October 2015
Peppermint Grove, WA

 

And in case you were looking for one of these high-profile GA’s, they are not annual events and you will have to wait for next year:

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 in the queue.  (Maybe this will give me some motivation to finish those up.)

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. Please play both 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!

Church of Scotland Statistical Report (And Comparison to the PC(USA) )

As I was looking through the reports to the Church of Scotland General Assembly 2015 I found the most recent statistical report at the end of the Legal Questions Committee Report.

The numbers in the report help to quantify the comments about the declining number of adherents in the Kirk. For example, over the last year the number of individuals On the Rolls has declined from 398,389 to 380,163, a decrease of 4.6%. Since 2003 – the time span covered by the report – the Total on the Rolls has decreased 31.3% from 553,248. Similarly, back in 2003 there were 1546 congregations, in 2013 it had dropped to 1389 and in 2014 the number had further dropped to 1379. Since 2003 it reflects a 10.8% drop and a 0.7% decrease in the last year.

Looking at the categories of membership change, over the last decade I found it interesting that membership loss to the Church Triumphant (deaths) was almost always right around half of the losses. Removals by transfer shows a fairly steady decline while removals in the other category are consistently higher than transfer but jumps around a bit. On the plus side, admissions by Profession and by Resolution run about equal while admissions by Certificate are a bit higher. However, in the bottom line the number of removals was about three times the number of admissions in 2003 and they gradually diverge over the next decade until by 2014 the removals were more than four times higher than the admissions.

Considering the similar patterns seen in the PC(USA) I thought I would compare the two data sets to see how similar they are.

The numbers for 2014 for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are not out yet so the decade drop to 2013 will be considered. The PC(USA) numbers can be found in the annual Comparative Statistics reports.

In 2003 the PC(USA) reported 11,064 congragations and 2,405,311 members. The Church of Scotland had 1,546 congregations and 553,248 total on rolls. In 2013 the PC(USA) had 10038 churches and 1,760,200 members. The Church of Scotland had 1,389 congregations and 398,389 total on rolls.

The decade drop in number of congregations is 9.3% for the PC(USA) and 10.1% for the Church of Scotland. The membership drop is 26.8% for the PC(USA) and 27.9% for the Church of Scotland. A difference of just about 1% for each of the measurements.

Since the two branches have significantly different numbers of congregations and members I have plotted comparison graphs using their numbers normalized to 2003 and so it shows the proportion of members or churches in each of the following years. The red line and points are for the Church of Scotland the the blue line and points are for the PC(USA).

CofS_PCUSA_Congregations_2014CofS_PCUSA_Membership_2014

There are some interesting differences between the plots, particularly the higher rates of decline for the Church of Scotland earlier in the time period and an increased rate of decline for the PC(USA) in the last few years. But overall, declines for both are fairly steady and very similar.

This raises all sorts of questions about why this is. This is too limited a data set to really speculate too far, but similar combinations of factors are certainly in play for both. On the one hand they have been wrestling with very similar internal discussions and actions regarding the role of same-sex partnered leaders within the church. On the other hand, they both have the bigger cultural issues that are causing the decline of mainstream/established churches throughout the western developed world. Figuring out the interplay and strength of those two components, and some others we might be able to think of as well, will take a much broader set of data to consider.

The strength of the similarity came as a bit of surprise to me because of the accounts I see about the rapid decline of Christianity in Europe (exempli gratia) and I expected to see Scotland declining noticeably faster than the American branch. If there are significant differences between the continents, this either speaks well for the Church of Scotland or poorly for the PC(USA), or both. More work is needed here.

It is probably worthwhile briefly noting one additional statistical item from the report and a point of significant divergence between the two branches. The final table in the Church of Scotland report shows that at the end of 2014 there were 215 vacant charges, just about one-fifth of all the charges in the Kirk. Furthermore, 39 students were training for the ministry. In the PC(USA) the Church Leadership Connection Applications and Positions Report shows that there are currently 45 Head of Staff positions being searched for and over 800 individuals who might want those positions. There are 213 solo pastor positions in the search process and 1421 individuals who are searching for such a position. And in 2012 – the last year these statistics are available for – there were 12,807 active teaching elders and 1,078 candidates for 10,262 churches. (And for those not familiar with the PC(USA) system, candidates are those students in the final stages of training or those who have finished and not yet ordained to a call.) And yes, I have skimmed over a whole bunch of nuance in both sets of numbers, but it does show the marked difference between the scarcity of Church of Scotland clergy and the abundance of PC(USA) clergy.

The membership and congregation data is however an interesting and enlightening comparison and it shows two related and culturally similar Presbyterian branches in similar circumstances. I will keep an eye out for additional data sets which may throw more light on the forces which might be controlling the similar behaviour. But that is what I see in the data now – your mileage may vary.

Postscript: If you are interested in the data set and the calculations you can view them on a Google Sheet.

Earthquake in Nepal: Science And Response

It has been a while since I have made some scientific comments about an earthquake so for those of you who are not aware, I am an earthquake geologist and part of my day job is research and public outreach related to earthquakes.

Needless to say the earthquake over the weekend in Nepal got my attention and my response may be a bit surprising – no surprises here.

If you have been following the coverage you know that the most commonly reported magnitude measurement puts it at 7.8 although another slightly different magnitude measurement scale gives is a value of 8.1. For the record those of us in the business don’t spend a lot of time fretting the differences between the scales. Let’s just say that they all measure the event in slightly different ways and each has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The bottom line is that it is a big earthquake.

The most interesting scientific result to me is the finite fault model. This is a method of reconstructing the behavior of the earthquake as the fault breaks and it is interesting to note that the fault started breaking on the west end and broke to the east. In addition, the larger fault offsets were in the eastern portion and both of these circumstances would have increased the damage in the Kathmandu area. In addition, at 15 km deep it was relatively shallow and therefore more destructive. In addition, Kathmandu sits in a basin with soft sediments which would also amplify the shaking for a couple of different reasons. The circumstances of this quake were not in its favor.

You may have caught in the news coverage that there was a slightly larger earthquake in this area back in 1934 so these events do occur on a regular basis. There have been some other smaller earthquakes in the area but this event does overlap with both the 1934 event and the previous substantial event back in A.D. 1255. The Earth Observatory of Singapore has a nice page with a lot of technical information about the event. There is also a set of slides from IRIS (available in a PDF file) that gives a great overview of the event.

The bottom line is that this is a plate boundary where India is colliding with and going under Asia — very large earthquakes are to be expected. The Himalaya are being pushed up and Southeast Asia is getting squeezed out the side. In fact, this event moved Kathmandu about 10 feet south and raised the central Himalaya a little bit and Mt. Everest is most likely a bit taller, but think in terms of an inch, not feet. The majority of the motion is horizontal and this was a pulse in the constant shortening of Asia that is bringing Beijing closer to New Delhi. [Update: My initial uplift calculations were a bit off and Mt. Everest appears to be on the far side of the flexture line and is actually now an inch shorter.]

Aftershocks will continue for a while but with a couple in the magnitude 6 range and a good number of magnitude 5 events everything is looking typical. The big question is triggering and whether the stress redistribution of this event will make another large earthquake more – or less – likely. It would seem that triggering another earthquake is likely but it is best to think on the scale of decades to centuries and not a few days, months or years.

So what Presbyterian news has come out related to this?

First, branches are reporting on the status of their workers in that area: The missionaries from the neighboring Mizoram Synod are reported safe and have declined evacuation and will continue working there. Similarly, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Church of Scotland have reported that their workers are safe and furthermore that all the workers with their partner agency, the United Mission to Nepal, are safe. And the Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Northern Ireland returned from Nepal the day of the earthquake and the church reports that members and workers with the Free Presbyterian Church of Nepal are shaken but safe.

Second, work has kicked into high gear across the Presbyterian family to solicit relief aid for the country. A quick rundown:

I will keep updating that list as I hear of more branches who are reaching out with aid for that country.

As we look ahead prayers for the country are certainly in order. The death toll has passed 5,000 and based on the building styles and the disruption of communication with smaller villages I think the Prime Minister’s estimate of 10,000 dead is unfortunately a real possibility. Thank you for your prayers and however you can help out in this disaster.

PCI SPUD Overnight 2015

SPUD-logo-purpleAs I hit the button to publish this post the annual SPUD Overnight of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is about to begin.

As youth input into the General Assemblies of the different Presbyterian branches go, each has its own particular flavor. In the Church of Scotland the National Youth Assembly meets a full nine months before the GA and through a multi-day deliberative process of their own they write deliverances that contain material that will be presented directly to the commissioners at the Assembly in their own report. In the case with the Young Adult Advisory Delegates of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), they do not meet beforehand but during the Assembly they gather in the evenings late at night and hear about the issues the Assembly is considering.

The PCI SPUD Overnight is a bit of both of these. While it does not directly generate business of its own to go to Assembly, it is a time of deliberative consideration of items that will be considered by the Assembly just over a month later. It is a time of discussion and providing input and feedback to the Assembly, through their representatives. The discussions are wider ranging then just the business of the Assembly and also aim to equip the attendees to work back in their home congregations. And yes, there is time for a bit of fun as well.

This year’s Overnight kicks off at 7 PM local time today, 24 April, at the Faith Mission Centre in Portadown, Northern Ireland, and runs until 9 PM the next day. Each congregation is invited to send representatives to the event.

The SPUD web page includes a short video about the event and the presenter, Helen from the SPUD working group, specifically mentions topics within the church like outreach, community, and youth leadership, as well as the wider societal issues such as “abortion, the conscience clause and sexuality.”

If you want to follow along on social media the starting points are the PCI SPUD Youth Assembly Facebook page and their Twitter feed @pciSPUD. They are promoting the hashtag #useyourvoice, but it is not exclusive to this event. Other official Twitter feeds that might be active during the event are the one for PCI YAC – the church’s Youth And Children Board of which SPUD is a part – at @PCIYAC, as well as the church’s official assembly feed at @pciassembly.

It is worth noting that SPUD is active throughout the year in many different ways, as you can see on their PCI YAC web page. In particular, their GA Fringe event was a success last year so they will be doing it again this year. And in addition to this Overnight event, they did regional events with the SPUD On Tour theme.

So as the SPUD delegates gather we wish them a good weekend of discussion and fun and look forward to their input at the Assembly in just over a month.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of January 2015

OK, we are getting caught up a bit – at least I am into the current year.

But I am going to start by including a few older ones around a single theme: There were recognitions of three missionaries over the past couple of months culminating in early January with the centennial of the death of Mary Slessor, a Church of Scotland missionary to what is now Nigeria. A few of the headlines from both Scotland and Nigeria:

‘The Queen of Okoyong': The legacy of Mary Slessor – from BBC News

Plaque commemorates ‘extraordinary’ missionary Mary Slessor – from stv News

Mary Slessor: PCN honours late missionary with commemorative ceremony – from Pulse Nigeria: “The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria AkwaSynod will be holding a commemorative service to celebrate the centenary celebration of Mary Slessor’s death. “

The previous month Jane Haining was in the news as a BBC documentary about her premiered. She was a Church of Scotland worker in Budapest who refused to leave her work when the Nazis invaded and ultimately died in Auschwitz. (Unfortunately, it appears the documentary is not available online.)

Jane Haining: The Scot who died in Auschwitz – from BBC News

Finally, a Presbyterian Church of Ireland missionary was honored in India for his work there:

Presbyterian missionary remembered in India – from Presbyterian Church in Ireland; “A former Presbyterian missionary who served in India has been honoured during a special ceremony held recently at the Gujarat United School of Theology. Rev. John Faris and Miss Linda Jackson represented the Presbyterian Church of Ireland as the Ted Jackson Computer Training Centre and new library were officially opened in Ahmedabad.”

 

And in news on mission workers currently serving, an attack on a Northern Irish medical missionary:

Maud Kells: Brave humanitarian shot in DR Congo will not be deterred – from Belfast Telegraph

 

And now, a few other things that caught my interest…

From the Reformed Church in South Africa, after the general synod meeting was divided on the issue, a special synod will be called to discuss it:

Special synod to decide on Reformed Church women ministers – from The Citizen

 

A new General Assembly Moderator is inducted in Ghana:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church gets new Moderator – from Ghana News Agency

 

A new story related to a continuing discussion around the PC(USA):

Edison minister fights divestment policy: Presbyterian cleric says national body ignores Jewish voices – from New Jersey Jewish News

 

And in Scotland, opposition to a new opt-out system for organ donors:

Free Church of Scotland blasts organ donor plans – from The Scotsman; “The Free Church of Scotland has voiced its opposition to a blanket opt-out system for organ donation. The religious group claims specialist nurses and better education on organ donation in schools would be far more effective in increasing the number of donors.”

 

Also out of Scotland, the Kirk is a partner in providing a more friendly atmosphere for visiting families at a youth correctional facility:

Family bus scheme launched at Polmont youth prison – from BBC News

 

Over the last few months there have been several very interesting church-sponsored workshops around the globe. In this time slice there was one by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland:

‘Living and dying well’ conference draws key speakers – from a Presbyterian Church in Ireland news article; “Hosted jointly by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Union Theological College, the theme of the event is ‘Living and Dying Well’ and will address the ethical, pastoral and legal issues surrounding attempts to legislate in favour of assisted suicide.”

 

A few things about buildings, starting with the continuing saga of the Greyfriars Church of Scotland in Port of Spain, Trinidad:

Move to save ruins of Greyfriars church – from Trinidad & Tobago Guardian

Bid to settle Greyfriars demolition out of court – from Trinidad Express

Greyfriars owner, PoS Council in talks – from Trinidad & Tobago Newsday

In Texas, the oldest house of worship in town, originally built by Presbyterians, and later used by other denominations, has been vacant for over a decade is being converted to community space in a private initiative:

Edna leader restore church for community – from Victoria Advocate

Help with a new roof for a church in New York:

Historic Le Roy church receives landmark grant – from The Daily News

And from Scotland, a new proposal for a historic but abandoned church property but with concern for the adjoining cemetery:

Proposals to convert Kinfauns Church into luxury house back on the table – from The Courier

 

And remembrances of three notable gentlemen:

In Ireland, Mr. Jonathan Simms, MBE, a supporter of the Boys Brigade and other youth programs, remembered in a service led by the GA Moderator:

‘He had time for everyone – a rare quality’ – from Carrick Times

In the U.S., Professor Ed Farley of Vanderbilt Divinity School:

Remembering Nashville theologian, musician Ed Farley – from The Tennessean

And Syngman Rhee, seminary professor and the Moderator of the PC(USA) 212th General Assembly (2000):

Syngman Rhee, Presbyterian and ecumenical leader, dies at 83 – from The Christian Century

PC(USA) mourns loss of former Moderator and ecumenical leader – PC(USA) press release

Moderator Announcement From The Presbyterian Church In Canada – The Rev. Karen Horst Moderator Nominee

A few minutes ago the Presbyterian Church in Canada made their expected April 1st announcement of the results of the voting for Moderator of the General Assembly. We would like to congratulate The Rev. Karen Horst upon her selection as the Moderator Nominee for the 141st General Assembly in 2015.

The announcement contains no new information or quotes so I will reprint here my summary from last month when I profiled all six candidates:

The Rev. Karen Horst – Currently serving the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Orillia, Ontario, she began her work in the diaconal ministry helping with educational resources and leader training. She has served extensively in the wider church including on numerous committees at the national level and as the convener of Presbyterian World Service and Development committee for six years. She has been the emcee for two national Presbyterian Women’s Gatherings and she served on design teams for Youth Triennium with the PC(USA). In her interview in the Record she talks of her passion for “the alleviation of suffering for humans and creation itself,” a motivation reflected in her time working with PWS&D. Under concerns she speaks of “the growing polarization between ideologies.” For fellowship and recreation she and her husband enjoy riding with her church’s “motorcycle gang.”

This summary is drawn in part from a much longer profile and interview that appeared in the Presbyterian Record.

Our congratulations to Rev. Horst on her selection and prayers and best wishes for the General Assembly and her moderatorial year.