2017 National Youth Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland

As I write this the 2017 National Youth Assembly of the Church of Scotland will be getting underway in Stirling. This event is a bit different than the rest of the Assemblies on my list in that it is not the highest governing body of a Presbyterian denomination. However, I appreciate this event because it is Assembly-like in its process and provides a forum for young adults (ages 17-25) to gather and discuss contemporary issues and how they interact with society and their faith. Furthermore, their discussions and conclusions are presented to the Church of Scotland General Assembly the following May. (If you are interested in more detail, have a look at the National Youth Assembly report to the 2017 Assembly as well as their Joint Report with the Church of Scotland Guild related to inter-generational initiatives in the church.) In addition, other entities within the Kirk, like the Church of Scotland Guild (as indicted above) and the Go For It initiative work with the NYA and its leadership.

So this year’s Assembly convenes this evening, Friday 21 July and will adjourn mid-day on Monday 24 July. It will be meeting again this year at Gartmore House in Stirlingshire. The Kirk put out their story on it yesterday.

The discussion topics this year are Young People and Discipleship (which is tied in to Year of Young People 2018), Interfaith, and Priorities of the Church. The NYA Facebook page is one way to follow along with these discussions and has links to some videos related to the discussions. For Young People and Discipleship, there are some additional themes with video links, such as Participation and Leadership, Education, and Health and Well Being. There is also a video introducing the organization Interfaith Scotland related to the second discussion topic.

A belated congratulations to the incoming leadership of the NYA. They were introduced in a press release a couple months back and will begin their one-year term this evening. The incoming Moderator is Robin Downie of Lochcarron who is currently a hospitality employee – a barman to be specific – but plans to pursue a career in nursing. He has been active with church work including volunteering for six months at Blythswood Care and working at an orphanage and teaching English with the Roma community. The incoming clerk is Catriona Munro originally from Paisley but now calls Stirling home. She is active in many ways with her home church as well as with the NYA team over the last couple of years. And she has been presented with her sign of office.

Besides Facebook the best way to follow along is probably Twitter so keep an eye on the hashtag #nya2017. You should also be looking at the official NYA account (@cosy_nya) as well as the NYA Moderator Account (@nyamoderator).  The NYA will be covered by the curated account Church Scotland Voices (@churchscovoices) under the operation of Gigha Lennox for the weekend who can also be found on her personal account, @Little_isle23. The incoming officers can be followed on their personal accounts as well with Robin at @robin_downie and Catriona at @atrionacmunro. We will have an appearance of the Church of Scotland Moderator, Rt. Rev. Dr. Derek Browning, who tweets at the official account (@churchmoderator). Might see something on the Moderator’s official Facebook page as well. Other groups include the Go For It initiative who will probably be there (@GoForItcofs) and the Kirk Guild (@cofsguild). There are some foreign and ecumenical delegates to the NYA so maybe the representatives from the United Reformed Church’s Youth Assembly in January (@URC_youth) will be there again. I will also include the official Kirk account @churchscotland. Finally, keep an eye on the outoing clerk Lyndasy Kennedy (@GhettoSmurf90) and the soon-to-be former Moderator Andrew MacPherson’s personal account (@StAndrewMac).

And so, with that, we begin another exciting weekend with NYA 2017. Best wishes to the new Moderator and Clerk and to all those in attendance. Our prayers are with you. It will probably take a bit for some of their deliberations, decisions and recommendations to be processed and reported, but we look forward to hearing about those when they are ready. Have a wonderful weekend of fellowship, discernment and spiritual renewal.

 

186th Synod Of The Reformed Presbyterian Church Of North America

We are on the eve of the opening of this Synod which has a particularly heavy schedule to pack into a three day meeting. But as we prepare for this meeting let me comment on the origins of this branch, with apologize to those for whom this is familiar territory. The U.S. is so full of “split-P’s” that it is worth reminding ourselves that the Reformed Presbyterians and Associate Presbyterians have their origin story in the Covenanters and Seceeders in Scotland and came across to the colonies as independent branches. And while they have their own convoluted history since then, it should be remembered that in their tradition they stand on their own apart from the mainstream/mainline of Presbyterian branches in both Scotland and America.

OK, on to what is happening this week.

The 186th Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America will convene bright and early tomorrow morning, June 28, at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, IN.

This is not a meeting with a livestream so we are out of luck there, but so far there is a bit of Twitter chatter so that will probably be our connection. In addition, there is so far no site I have seen with posted dockets, schedules or reports. I will update if that changes. The Constitution is available for download to see their confessional and polity standards.

There are three official places to look for information. First, they have an active Facebook page and I would expect that to have a nice variety of updates and pictures from the meeting. Second, their official media group, RP Witness Magazine, has a nice web site of news items where daily updates will be posted. There is also a Flickr channel, however that has not been updated in two years so we will have to see if there is any new activity this year.

Finally, there is Twitter. Still not sure if the hashtag for the meeting will be #rpcna or #RPSynod2017 and there is an official feed for the RP Witness Magazine (@RPWitnessMag). I would note that there is indeed an official Twitter account for the RPCNA (@RPCNA) but there have been no tweets. Looking at the early action it appears that Nathan Eshelman (@pastoreshelman) will be actively tweeting so might be worth a follow. [*I have added a note related to Nathan at the end.]  Finally, in the category of “there is one in every crowd,” you just might want to keep an eye on John Knox (@fakeRPCNA) and see if he weighs in on Synod. And I will update all this info as warranted when the meeting gets under way.

As I mentioned above, this looks to be a very busy meeting as discussed by the RP Witness in their Synod Preview article. The article begins:

Recent Synods have worked to make the business of Synod more efficient and effective, partly in the hope of requiring less time of delegates and making it feasible for more ruling elders to attend.

This is a year that will test the practicality of shorter Synods, as there is a mountain of work to handle in a three-day schedule, including some very important issues.

The article gives a list of several important items to be considered by the Synod in the allotted time. Here is that list and my attempt at a brief description about each of them:

  • Special Committee on Vocalized Prayer: Is the Directory for Public Worship prescriptive or descriptive when it speaks of elders leading prayers in worship?
  • Special Committee Addressing Ruling Elder Participation at Synod: As noted in the quote above, recommendations on how to get better participation of ruling elders in Synod. Interesting that the ARP also reflected on this issue.
  • Special Study Committee on Gender Identity: Presents the paper “Gender as Calling: The Gospel & Gender Identity” for adoption as a standard for the church.
  • Special Committee on the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ (interim report): An interesting and timely report in progress dealing with the difficult issue of whether in civil elections to only vote for those who live lives that truly follow Christ.
  • Judicial Review of Communication 2016-2: complaint by members of a session and presbytery regarding the beverage used in the communion cup: The presbytery requires the use of wine in communion, a decision that belongs to the session. The Review recommends to drop charges and that all parties seek unity. (And that is simplified way too much.)
  • Judicial Review of Communication 2016-4: appeal of a presbytery’s actions by a retired RP minister: The teaching elder submitted a paper to his presbytery regarding his favorable views on ordination of women to the eldership. The presbytery found them outside the standards and recommended removing his ordination. A Special Committee reviewed the proceedings and recommends that the presbytery be found to have acted with “undue haste.” Presbytery says views are clear and due process was followed so Committee’s primary recommendation should not approved. Teaching elder accepts primary recommendation with concerns. Alternate recommendations are provided.

This list does not include a Special Committee that looked at the Directory for Church Government section of the Constitution and is making the recommendation that all sections related to establishing churches be consolidated into a single, new chapter.

A few other items of business caught my interest. The report of the Board of Trustees of the Synod which brought to the attention of the Synod issues in at least one state with the church’s Trust Clause and that it would not always stand up to neutral principles of property law. The Trustees will be looking at ways to make language in property documents more robust. A communication from a presbytery asks for a slight but notable rewording of the quorum requirements for meetings of a presbytery and the Synod to be very clear how many church must be represented and how many of the commissioners must be ruling elders. Another communication from a presbytery deals with a specific church which is unable to make its assessment payments to the Synod multiple years in a row and asking if there is a solution. They propose paying the presbytery assessment first and the Synod only if the church’s finances that year are good enough.

As I noted at the beginning, the quantity of the business before this assembly is high and the importance of many items is notable. So as the Synod begins our prayers are with the elders, ruling and teaching, who have gathered and we ask for the Spirit’s leading in their discernment of God’s will. We wait to see how they are led and the decisions they make.

 

*Off topic side note related to Nathan: He is one of a quartet of pastors that host a podcast called The Jerusalem Chamber that is walking through the WCF one section at a time. I have found it to be interesting listening for confessional Presbyterians.

37th General Assembly Of The Evangelical Presbyterian Church

As I begin this post let me make two prefatory comments: First, there are two other meetings this week which I regret I do not have the time to preview. These are the GA of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland (hashtag #gaqld17) and the joint General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of America (hashtag #cpga17). Second, in a related comment, I had hoped to be at the EPC GA in person this year since it is in my neck of the woods. The missing posts and the canceled trip are both due to a family commitment that happened this week so my time and tether are both short right now.

But on to the topic of this post, the 37th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church which began yesterday at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, near Sacramento, California. (And as Fair Oaks notes, it is in partnership with four other churches in the area.) According to the schedule Tuesday began with workshops in the morning and classes as part of the Leadership Institute in the afternoon. There will be Leadership Institute plenary sessions the next two mornings and business will convene Wednesday afternoon. Committees of Commissioners will meet later on Wednesday and Thursday morning if needed. Then the Assembly returns to plenary business sessions Thursday afternoon and running through Friday – as long as it takes to get the work done.

The Assembly meeting will be live streamed and it appears that plenary programs outside the business meeting will be part of the streaming.

There is a lot of information online, most linked through the Documents page. Here are some of the links for information about Assembly business and operation:

As for social media, there is a bit of that out there. There is a Facebook page for the EPC that is currently being updated regularly with Leadership Institute items. The official EPC Twitter feed is @EPChurch and the declared official hashtag (#epc2017ga) has sprung to life. There is also a feed for EPC Student Ministries (@EPCStudentMin) and the Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah (@Jeff_Jeremiah ) -but neither has been active for a while.

As for individuals, strong live tweeting going from Matthew Everhard (@matt_everhard), Joshua Brown (@PastorJoshBrown) and Heather Strong Moore (@StrongHeather).

A couple of items of business stand out. I mentioned above the Preliminary Position Paper on Human Sexuality, which was provisionally adopted by the last GA and has been under study by the church this year. This is part of ongoing work and the Ad Interim Committee that considers revisions plans for additional work later this year, but the National Leadership Team will be bringing the recommendation that the Paper be approved.. There are two Overtures from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies related to the Report. One would add fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness to the section on the standards for leaders. The other overture would have an Ad Interim Committee consider the Human Sexuality paper and the Sanctity of Marriage paper (not available online) to eliminate duplicate issues between the two documents.

Another interesting report is that of the Ad Interim Committee on Ministerial Education. While there are no action items in that report, it describes the new education requirements beginning on January 1 of this year. These include a fourth ordination exam in original language exegesis and change in specific course requirements. There is also a Mentored Apprenticeship Program that is being tested. Going forward, they hope to clarify the position of Commissioned Pastor.

And the Stated Clerk’s report has a couple of items related to the dynamics of the denomination. One of those is funding the budget and the use of Per Member Asking was reviewed. There was some significant discussion but sticking with the asking for support on a per member basis is currently the plan. The other interesting note relates to the growth in the denomination. Traditionally GA’s have been hosted by individual churches but with the growth there are now a limited number that are capable of hosting the meeting. The Assembly will consider options and provide input on how they should proceed in the future.

With that, I will wish the EPC commissioners well and we will be lifting them up in our prayers as they meet. I am sorry I can not be there this year but I look forward to observing this particular assembly at a future time.

45th General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In America

The 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America convened their plenary sessions last night, 13 June, in Greensboro, North Carolina and will continue through noon on Friday 16 June. In their first action following worship they elected RE Alexander Jun the Moderator of the Assembly. The theme of the Assembly is “Come To The Table.” The meeting will be live streamed and they have their GA app available for several platforms to follow along. There is also a ShareFile! app there for registered commissioners to download reports and other documents.

While the full volume of reports is available only to commissioners, the docket and overtures are available on-line. [Tech note to the GA organizers – it is once again the case this year that you might want to change the title in the GA docket PDF properties so it no longer says “40th General Assembly.”] A more general schedule of events is also available. There is a nice page with links to all the forms and schedules for the meeting. And the Zika Virus Advisory is still on the web site, although I don’t think it is as applicable this year as it was last year in Mobile.

To track the polity of the PCA you can access the Book of Church Order online.

News updates will be posted through the official news website and online publication byFaith.

Turning to social media, you will probably want to keep an eye on the byFaith Magazine Facebook page. There are numerous opportunities to follow the meeting on Twitter including the official feed from byFaith (@PCAbyFaith). The hashtag for the Assembly is #pcaga. For pictures, keep an eye on the PCA Flickr site.

Other related Twitter accounts include Reformed University Fellowship (@RUFnational), PCA Discipleship Ministry (@PCACDM), and the Mission to North America (@pcamna). I would also include in this group the denomination’s schools, Covenant College (@CovenantCollege). and Covenant Seminary (@covseminary).

As for individuals to watch – round-up the usual suspects. Some who will be at the meeting and are, or will probably be tweeting include Fred Greco (@fredgreco), Ligon Duncan (@LigonDuncan), Sean Michael Lucas (@SeanMLucas), Melton L. Duncan (@MeltonDuncan), and Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby) and his Reformed African American Network (@RAANetwork). Having included one organization there I will also mention Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing (@prpbooks) and Reformed Theological Seminary (@ReformTheoSem). (And as a note, there are other Twitter accounts for the different RTS campuses.) Let me also include Jim Moon Jr. (@jimmoonjr) and Allan Edwards (@edwardsae1) who in past years has given us the Bingo Card and the Selfie Scavenger Hunt. And for a Twitter feed that is posted decently and in order there is the @PCAPresbyter himself.

Regarding business to the Assembly, from the social media chatter the hot topic will be the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church. This report was authorized by the last GA and attempts to balance a recognition of women’s gifts for service in the church with the PCA’s understanding of the complimentarian nature of ordained office. It comes with a pastoral letter and nine recommendations. Among those recommendations is one that says:

3. That sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly strive to develop, recognize, and utilize the gifts, skills, knowledge, and wisdom of godly women in the local, regional, and national church, and particularly consider overtures that would allow qualified women to serve on appropriate committees and agencies within the church.

There is another recommendation that, after quoting the Book of Church Order adds:

6… Thus, for the well-being of the church, the committee recommends that sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women of the congregation to assist the ordained leadership; these godly, unordained women have often historically been referred to as deaconesses.

This one is sure to elicit a discussion about the nature of deaconesses and any parallels it may have to the ordained office of deacon. An opportunity to recognize and incorporate all in a more inclusive ministry or the camel’s nose under the tent? This report is docketed for 2:45 PM EDT on Thursday afternoon.

That report will be preceded at 2 PM by the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Racial Reconciliation, a continuation of a discussion that began two years ago and as part of last year’s discussion this Ad Interim Committee was formed.

Having the news update from Monday, we know the recommendations of the Overtures Committee (OC) of Commissioners and can anticipate a few other items of business. Overture 2 was advanced on a divided vote and will come with a minority report. It would give the BCO section on Solemnizing of Marriage full constitutional authority and is aimed at “strengthening the PCA’s public witness to a biblical definition of marriage.” Overture 16 was advanced with a near unanimous vote and would add a requirement that congregational meetings for a church to withdraw from the PCA would have a higher quorum requirement of one-half of the members. And Overture 18 has both practical considerations and polity nuances for the polity wonks in the audience. It would require requests for ad-interim or study committees come only by presbytery overture. The rationale for the overture argues that assembly business, particularly those items strongly connected to doctrine, should be bottom-up and not top-down. In other words, business like this should be generated from the presbyteries not committees of the higher judicatories. It also points out that having it come as presbytery overture provides a path that allows assembly debate, amendment and perfection of the requests.

All this and more is on the table for the next three days. It should be an interesting meeting and a barometer, or maybe a Rorschach test, of where the PCA is at the present time. Be ready to read the tea leaves.

Our best wishes to the commissioners and leaders of the PCA General Assembly for this important meeting and prayers for your discernment the next few days. May the Spirit guide you in your work.

213th Stated Meeting Of The General Synod Of The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

arpc_2846216So extending my analogy from the last post, we started yesterday juggling three balls in the air. At this time two of those GA’s have concluded – the OPC and the PC Canada. With the PC Ireland GA still going strong let’s look at the new ball in the air, the 213th Stated Meeting of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

The meeting began yesterday evening, 6 June, and continues until tomorrow, Thursday, 8 June, at the church’s Bonclarken conference center in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

The basic documents for the meeting are posted. First, there is the tri-fold program that summarizes the meeting. The rest of the meeting documents and information are being hosted on a Google share. The document names are fairly clear, but Index A does contain a list of the reports and whether for Committee or Synod and is helpful to find specific reports of interest.

For the doctrinal and polity standards of the ARPC you can check out their Documents page which has all of those, plus some national forms, in one place.

While there is no live stream, the ARP’s official media outlet takes up the challenge nicely. ARP Magazine will be extensively covering the meeting on their news feed, Facebook page and on Instagram. The news feed will also be the place to look for daily updates every evening. They are also the official Twitter feed for the meeting as well (@arpmagazine) and the hashtag is #arpsynod2017, but they tell us to check #arpmagazine as well. Other official and related entity feeds that may or may not be active include the main @ARPChurch, Outreach North America (@ONA_ARP), World Witness (@theworldwitness), and Erskine Seminary (@ErskineSeminary). The latter two are significantly fresher than the first pair.

Looking at the initial Twitter action it looks like Muswell Hillbilly (@WVPitt) and Robert Flight (@rflight79) are actively tweeting the activities. It is also worth noting that Iver Martin (@IverMartin), Principal of Edinburgh Theological Seminary of the Free Church of Scotland, is also attending the meeting.  It is a short meeting, but I will try to update with others as the meeting progresses.

One of the bigger items coming to the Synod this year is a draft of a new Book of Discipline to be received by the Synod and distributed to the church for comment this year, anticipating adoption of the final version at next year’s Synod meeting. A couple items of interest from the Committee on Inter-Church Relations. One is the invitation from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America to hold concurrent meetings in 2019. The second is the proposal to enter into Fraternal Relations with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales. And worth noting that the Rev. Iver Martin is at the meeting as the fraternal delegate from the Free Church. There’s also an interesting contribution from the Committee on Worship whose report contains a white paper on a Directory of Private and Family Worship and whose recommendations include one to form a special committee to consider if one should be adopted.

For the GA Junkies, Polity Wonks and Presbygeeks out there, I wanted to share a memorial (frequently considered overtures in other branches) from Second Presbytery. The concern is that the valued Presbyterian fundamental of parity between teaching elders and ruling elders is frequently a problem at presbytery and the Synod meeting with teaching elders being the dominant group in the commissioners present. The solution proposed is a specialized Point of Order they are calling a “Parity Challenge.” Not a challenge to get the ruling elders there but a parliamentary procedure to challenge a vote so that the parity of the two different groups of elders can be considered. The proposed addition to the Form of Government is:

2.13 In order to promote the unity, peace, purity, and prosperity of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, presbyters have the right to invoke “Parity Challenge” at all prebytery [sic] and General Synod meetings. A “Parity Challenge” may be called as a point of order immediately after any action of the court. When challenge is called, the court’s action is delayed until subsequent, immediate votes are taken of both elders and ministers by group. A simple majority vote of both groups is required for the challenged action to stand, otherwise the challenged action is revoked.

Seems like a creative way to handle an imbalance in elders but not sure how that discussion will go. (If anyone at the meeting wants to report back on this business item I would be interested in the arguments on each side.) If nothing else, I will put it in the polity book I am writing. 😉

So, in the midst of this General Synod we pray for their deliberations and look forward to hearing how they are guided by the Holy Spirit in their business.

 

2017 General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Ireland

bushAt this point it seems a bit like juggling where you keep adding one more ball to the collection that are in the air. It started with the OPC General Assembly. Add the 143rd GA of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Today we add the next one…

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland convened their 2017 General Assembly in Belfast a little while ago with a worship service and the installation of the new Moderator, the Right Rev Dr Noble McNeely. The Assembly runs through Friday 9 June. With the meeting under way here is some info to help follow along:

  • The live stream is embedded in the main Assembly page and further down the page a few of the streaming highlights for the week and even further down a summary docket of report dates and times.
  • The special Wednesday evening program is themed “Everyday Disciples” – the new Moderator’s theme for the year – and will be live streamed. In addition, following the Assembly’s adjournment there will be the traditional Youth Night on Saturday evening, which will also be live streamed. It’s theme is “(UN) Faithful – A faithful God and His unfaithful people, lessons from Hosea
  • More background for the Assembly can be found on the Assembly Resources page and the reports coming to the Assembly can be viewed individually on the Reports Page or as a whole by downloading the Blue Book.
  • The polity documents include the main document, The Code, as well as the helpful A Guide to Assembly Procedure.
  • The News page will carry official press releases and news items including the pre-Assembly press release which contains a rundown of the major moments and business at the Assembly this year.

There are plenty of social media contact points for the Assembly, beginning with the official Twitter account @PCIAssembly which always provides a detailed and comprehensive report of the Assembly. Please note the comprehensive part, because the level of detail can make the feed very busy. This is generally a good thing but you have been warned that the number of tweets will be very high. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) The official moderator’s feed at @PCIModerator has become a great source as well. We will see if Rev. McNeely tweets during GA and how much he shares in his moderatorial year. (He does have an almost unused personal feed @mcneelynoble, but I don’t think we will see much there this week, or maybe even this year.) The official hashtag for the Assembly is #pciga17. And it is worth keeping an eye on the PCI Facebook page as well.

Other ministries of the church that have Twitter accounts are Presbyterian Women (@PWinIreland), Mission Ireland (@MissionIreland) and PCI Global Missions (@PCIOverseas). Fair warning that I have included the latter two only for the sake of completeness, but they have been dormant for a while.

The other set of social media contacts to keep an eye on are those related to the Youth Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. They can be followed at a couple of different Twitter handles including the Youth Assembly account for PCI SPUD (@pcispud), and the Youth and Children’s Ministry account @PCIYAC. They have previously hosted Fringe Events and you can watch their Facebook page to see what they might be up to this year.

My list of others to watch for interesting and useful updates always starts with outside reporter and insightful commentator Alan in Belfast (@alaninbelfast). He has indicated that he won’t be around the GA as much this year, but still worth keeping an eye on his feed. For those active in leadership in the church I would point to former Moderator Rob Craig (@RobCraig54) and Cheryl Meban (@cherylmeban) who is active with WCRC and PCI board leadership. So far there seems to be potential from Stuart Morrow (@stuart_morrow), Niall Lockhart (@BallyhenryPres) and Ballygilbert Church (@ballygilbert). And while the PCI does not send a representative to Edinburgh for the Church of Scotland GA, the Kirk Moderator is present at this Assembly and tweeting @ChurchModerator. Will update with others as appropriate. UPDATE: To this list I would add Peter Bovill (@peterbovill) as he had been actively contributing to the feed. And while I have not seen him on the GA feed, please note the recommendation in the comments below for ongoing comments about the PCI.)

In looking at the business of the Assembly a few reports caught my eye. One of these is from the Council for Congregational Life and Witness. In looking at fostering revival in the denomination they are presenting the goal as Fruitfulness and many of the actions in agricultural terms. For example, one of the action items is “Clearing the ground for fruitfulness – Asking the hard questions.” I am encouraged when the stage is set to realize there are no easy answers and that change, particularly rebuilding from a biblical foundation, is called for. A consideration that plays into this and which is mentioned in multiple reports is the decline in those training for the ministry. (see the Council for Training in Ministry report) Another interesting report is the on Relationships with Other Denominations which is Appendix 3 in the General Council Report (starting on the 107th page in the Blue Book). One of the denominations discussed is the relationship with the Church of Scotland and it’s trajectory (and that is the word used in the report). The report also contains the PCI position on human sexuality and marriage (page 114). And the report presents a possible path to work through the differences in the section titled Principles for Pursuing Mutual Reform. It will certainly be an interesting discussion.

As always, our prayers are with the Assembly and the Moderator for the work ahead and their discernment and guidance by the Holy Spirit. We look forward to following their work.

143rd General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Canada

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)We may be in the single busiest week of this year’s General Assembly Season – again with two live streams – and with one GA in progress now the second of the week, the 143rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, is just about to get started.

The first sederunt of the Assembly has just begin with worship and installation of the Moderator, and the meeting will continue through Wednesday 7 June, 2017. It is being hosted by the Presbytery of Kingston and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Opening worship will be at the church and the business sessions will be in the gym of the Athletic and Recreation Centre at Queen’s University.

A few things to know to help follow along:

  • There will live streaming of the Assembly meetings and they are typically archived afterward
  • From the GA 2017 page you can download the full and final Book of Reports. The daily schedule is found on page A-1 (the 5th page) of the packet and a more detailed docket begins on page C-1 (the 11th page in the packet). The Supplementary Reports is available there as well. Also downloadable from that page is a good Summary of Reports piece that gives an overview of the meeting.
  • Official news updates are available on the news feed. While we will miss the reporting from the Presbyterian Record, which ceased publication in December, we can probably expect follow-up after the meeting in the new PC Connect e-newsletter.
  • I anticipate there will be daily GA Briefings and probably video recordings of the sederunts posted regularly. The Briefings, a summary of each sederunt, will probably be are available on the GA 2017 page and the videos archived on the Live Stream Page.
  • The General Assembly Resources page is where you will find the important doctrine and governance documents including the Book of Forms and a link to the Acts and Proceedings page.

The theme for the meeting is “Yesterday, Today, Forever”, taken from the phrase in Hebrews 13:8.

The Assembly can be followed on social media through the PCConnect Facebook page and through their official Twitter feed @PCConnect. The hastag for the meeting is #pccga2017. The Presbyterian Record Flickr feed is still there but not clear it it will be updated. Let’s see if anything appears there or watch the Facebook page. UPDATE: Yes, there are pictures but they are on the PC Connect Flickr feed – sorry to overlook that in the original post.

In early Twitter action I would point to Jeff Loach (@passionatelyhis) (but he may be too busy at the front table) and Scott McAndless (@A_Nobel_Theme) who appears to be blogging the GA. I have not included some of the usual suspects as I don’t know their status but will update as things get rolling. UPDATE: A number of individuals with great Twitter feeds this week beginning with First Presbyterian Brockville (@first_kirk) who has a nice play-by-play going. Add to that, in no particular order, Matthew Ruttan (@MatthewRuttan), Jacqui Foxall (@JacquiFoxall), Kristine O’Brien (@bloomingrev), and Curtis Wilson (@CurtisWilson4). Thanks to all of you for your efforts on social media for the Assembly.

Again this year a closely watched item is the joint Committee on Church Doctrine (CCD) and Life and Mission Agency (LMA) report with the follow up from last year’s discussion on human sexuality. The 16 recommendations they are bringing can be divided into three general groups: 1) Two “substantive scriptural studies.” One leads to the conclusion that Bible supports the current stance of the subordinate standards; the other argues for a revision to the understanding concerning human sexuality and marriage in particular. These are presented for study and prayerful consideration. 2) Acknowledging that the members of the church have “consulted in good faith” this past year but “recognize that the church has failed to fulfill the resolution ‘to listen to and share the very real pain of homosexuals and their families’ that was adopted by the PCC in 1994 and failed in its call ‘to be a welcoming, nurturing, loving and supportive community.'” and 3) A proposal from the LMA to produce a new study on marriage but in the interim to allow clergy to bless, or not bless, civil marriages according to their conscience. Besides the reports volume there is a Guide to Understanding Reports about Sexuality. [Will automatically download a PDF.] Business related to Sexuality Overtures is docketed for various presentations and times of discernment throughout the days of the meeting and the recommendations and docketed groups are in the Guide linked above.

There are a number of other important business items at the meeting. Many committees and agencies will be reporting on their actions related to the new strategic plan approved by the last GA. The Committee on Church Doctrine will also be presenting a resource on Physician Assisted Suicide. A couple related reports deal with the review of the Pensions Plan and its solvency. An overture last year asked for a study to address the reasons for the decline of the church. In their response the Life and Mission Agency says “Decline is a complex issue and while we can speak in generalities, it is impossible to point to any one thing or factor the church must address in order to reverse the decline. In our current cultural context, all bodies of the church have a collective responsibility to equip the whole people of God to work towards renewal.” They go on and recommend ways to develop Visionary Leadership and Empowering People and Congregations for Ministry as well as recommend resources.

So prayers and best wishes for the members of the 143rd General Assembly and as they address issues so important to the future witness of the church. May you indeed by guided by the Holy Spirit in these substantive matters of witness and ministry.

84th General Assembly Of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church

210px-OrthodoxPresbyterianChurchlogoThe 84th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church will convene today, Wednesday, 31 May, in just a couple hours at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois. The meeting will conclude no later than noon next Tuesday, 6 June.

This GA does not have live streaming but we usually have the next best thing: There is a tradition of very well done running daily reports for the OPC GA and expecting the tradition to continue watch this page when the assembly gets under way.

The agenda and reports are not posted on-line but you can access the Book of Church Order and the Standing Rules and Instruments of GA if you need background material. There is also a collection of reports from previous GA’s and it is possible that last year’s report on Republication might be the topic of some additional discussion this year.

The OPC has elected to keep a perpetual hashtag for their meeting (no sticking a year or GA number in there) so it should once again be #OPCGA. In terms of who to follow let me list the usual suspects and update once things get rolling.  The list would include Ryan Cook (@ryanlawdawg), “Toad” (@oldprinceton), and Rachel Stevenson (@whatshewrote). It is probably worth keeping an eye on D. G. Hart’s feed (@oldlife), maybe The Daily Genevan (@TheDailyGenevan) will have more, and @chortlesweakly has been commenting in the lead-up to the meeting. Will also include one of their denominational associations, NAPARC.

Since reports and detailed agendas are not available to anyone but the commissioners, it is difficult to highlight any particular business items that will be coming to the Assembly in advance of it being considered on the floor. I would simply pass along the blog post from Rev. Todd Smith at Faith Bible OPC, Brick, NJ, who mentions two items for his congregation to pray about. The first is a number of judicial cases and appeals that the Assembly will have to render judgement upon this week. As that is done in closed session we can expect to hear almost nothing further on that. The second is a concern for a denomination that they are in fraternal relations with which is considering changes to their ordination standards to include the ordination of women. I suspect we will hear more of that as the week progresses.

So prayers for the teaching and ruling elders of the OPC as they spend a week reflecting on what the Spirit is doing in their branch and their discernment of the future. May you indeed discern God’s will in your decision making.

PC(USA) Membership Numbers For 2016

A couple of days ago the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released the summary of statistics for 2016 and the corresponding narrative. This does of course provide new data points for my growing data set and gives me an opportunity for some statistical analysis which is, for me, a “source of innocent merriment.”

On the one hand, it is tempting to just tell you that if you read my analyses from the last couple of years you can move on since there is really nothing new in this year’s numbers. The bottom line is just about the same as 2015 and 2014 – number of churches down 2.0% and membership down 5.7%. OK, you are welcome to move on now if you want.

On the other hand, the commentary – some might refer to it as the spin – from the OGA invokes their new slogan, motto, mantra, tag line, I am not sure what they are calling it, regarding the PC(USA) that “We are not dying, we are Reforming.” There is an interesting statistical facet on that so in the second part I will drill down into that a bit.

But first, let’s run the numbers. Here is what I have for the last 24 years:

Year Num Churches Num Change % Change Num Members Num Change % Change
1993 11,416 -40 -0.3% 2,742,192 -38,214 -1.4%
1994 11,399 -17 -0.1% 2,698,262 -43,930 -1.6%
1995 11,361 -38 -0.3% 2,665,276 -32,986 -1.2%
1996 11,328 -33 -0.3% 2,631,466 -33,810 -1.3%
1997 11,295 -33 -0.3% 2,609,191 -22,275 -0.8%
1998 11,260 -35 -0.3% 2,587,674 -21,517 -0.8%
1999 11,216 -44 -0.4% 2,560,201 -27,473 -1.1%
2000 11,178 -38 -0.3% 2,525,330 -34,871 -1.4%
2001 11,141 -37 -0.3% 2,493,781 -31,549 -1.2%
2002 11,097 -44 -0.4% 2,451,969 -41,812 -1.7%
2003 11,064 -33 -0.3% 2,405,311 -46,658 -1.9%
2004 11,019 -45 -0.4% 2,362,136 -43,175 -1.8%
2005 10,959 -60 -0.5% 2,313,662 -48,474 -2.1%
2006 10,903 -56 -0.5% 2,267,118 -46,544 -2.0%
2007 10,820 -83 -0.8% 2,209,546 -57,572 -2.5%
2008 10,751 -69 -0.6% 2,140,165 -69,381 -3.1%
2009 10,657 -94 -0.9% 2,077,138 -63,027 -2.9%
2010 10,560 -97 -0.9% 2,016,091 -61.047 -2.9%
2011 10,466 -94 -0.9% 1,952,287 -63,804 -3.2%
2012 10,262 -204 -1.9% 1,849,496 -102,791 -5.3%
2013 10,038 -224 -2.2% 1,760,200 -89,296 -4.8%
2014 9,829 -209 -2.1% 1,667,767 -92,433 -5.2%
2015 9,642 -187 -1.9% 1,572,660 -95,107 -5.7%
2016 9,451 -191 -2.0% 1,482,767 -89,893 -5.7%

So what have we got? Both the number of churches and the number of members had a somewhat consistent decline for the first part of this time period through about 2004. The membership decline was creeping up but still hung below 2%/year. The rate of decline in the number of congregations was much more stable hanging a bit below 0.2%/year. Both then show a bit of a acceleration up to 2011 with the rate of church decline rising to just below 1%/year and the membership decline rising to a bit over 3%/year. Then in 2012 there was a rapid increase to a plateau that continues in the 2016 data. The rate of decline of the number of congregations has been right around 2.0%/year, the number for 2016, and the decline in total membership has generally been above 5%/year, with the 2016 number at 5.7%, a tie with the previous year for highest rate in the time period.

It is a bit interesting to see the headline of the narrative from the OGA: “PC(USA) membership decline continues but slows.” The answer to this headline is a bit of yes, and no. They are correct that in terms of net numbers the membership loss in 2016 is the lowest that it has been in three years. Good news? Not really, because as noted above the decreasing total membership number means there are fewer members to lose so the net number is magnified and the rate of decline, as expressed in percentage loss, is actually among the highest it has been.

Moving on, let me make some comments based on the slogan “We are not dying. We are Reforming.”

One important aspect of this is that the annual statistical reports and these summary statistics are more and more missing a developing component of the denomination. These reports reflect traditional congregations, but the PC(USA) is developing New Worshiping Communities which are not in the reports. While not yet substantial enough to offset the significant losses in the traditional congregations they do reflect one of the ways the denomination is trying to reform itself.

The second aspect, and one of the reasons I have posted the long timeline above, is what is happening to the denomination with the membership changes. Going back to 2000 I have the reports on categories of membership gains and losses. Members are gained through transfer, affirmation of faith, and “other.” Similarly, losses are counted in transfers to other churches, transfer to the Church Triumphant (id est, deaths), and again, the ever popular “other.” In the case of losses this can generally be though of as people who walk out the door and don’t come back.

So, at the end of 2000 the PC(USA) counted 2,525,330 members. In the intervening 16 years they gained 328,519 members by affirmation of faith of those 17 and younger. There were gains of 638,308 from affirmation of faith of those 18 and older. From transfers in it was 444,527 members gained and from other it was 200,440. So the total new members received in those 16 years was 1,611,794.

Going the other way, 573,098 were transferred to churches in other denominations, 528,030 joined the Church Triumphant, and 1,553,301 are in the other category. The total losses were 2,654,429. It is interesting to note that this is just slightly higher than the total membership in 2000. There is not much that can be done to stop, or induce to come back to church, the members lost to death, so the losses from transfers and walking away are 2,126,399.

My point, related to the reforming aspect, is that with turnover of this magnitude the PC(USA) of 2016 is not the same PC(USA) of 2000. That is not to say that aren’t some of those members from 2000 still around. But it must be acknowledged that unless there are a lot of people who leave and return the number that flow through the denomination is fairly high. (And I would note that there are some of the leave and return, as evidenced in my own church when there is a pastoral transition.)

If you want a graphical depiction of how this develops with time, here is one that I put together. It is a bit simplistic because all losses come out of the year 2000 total membership (the “Base Membership” in the figure). And at any given time the total membership of the PC(USA) would be the Base Membership plus the Members Added – the top edge of the orange indicated by the arrow on the right side of the figure.

It is a simple first-order model but it helps to show the interplay of the gains and losses how the losses build up with time. There is significant membership flow and so membership turnover is one way the PC(USA) is reforming.

To really consider the membership dynamics a more multidimensional model is needed that considers losses in both categories and that some gains may be individuals in a previous year’s losses. If I find some time I might play around a bit with modeling this with more parameters. Definitely would make losses proportional between the Base Membership and the Members Added. Maybe add a bit of reentry into membership from the Other and Transfer Losses. And if the demographics of the latest Presbyterian Panel are reported some estimate could be made of the retention time in the denomination. (Yes, there is a reason this is starting to sound like an aquifer model.)

I will note in closing that on a first look I see no changes in trends in this year’s numbers compared to the last few years. One interesting trend that continues is the increase in the number of candidates ( 2014 – 562; 2015 – 632; 2016 – 653) and the decrease in the number of ordinations ( 2014 – 292; 2015 – 249; 2016 – 215). Watching the Church of Scotland General Assembly this week they have a number of empty charges (id est, called positions) and mentioned this over-supply in the PC(USA) as a possible source of trained pastors.

And so we look forward to the release of the detailed comparative statistics in the fall to get a better breakdown on some of these summary numbers. But for now, at least as I read the reported numbers, it appears to be a bit of status quo in the PC(USA).

Stay tuned…

And now back to our regularly scheduled General Assembly tracking.

2017 General Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland

Church_of_Scotland_LogoThe GA season is about to get busy…

Tomorrow morning the 2017 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will convene in Edinburgh for their annual week-long meeting. This is the mother church for us Presbyterians and while we now have a number of branches – the good old “split-P’s” – the Kirk can trace their Assemblies back to the original one in 1560.

So if you are interested in keeping track of the business and activities this year, here are the starting points:

  • 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. The Daily Papers will contain late-breaking changes and 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. This web page also used to have the useful “An Introduction to Practice and Procedure of the Church of Scotland” but it was being revised and seems to have disappeared. While dated, I have a copy of the 2009 Third Edition available from my Resources Site.
  • A brief order of the docketed events and reports can be found on the General Assembly 2017 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.
  • UPDATE: There is also an official photo gallery of the Assembly

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 #ga2017. 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. And the incoming Moderator, the Rev. Derek Browning, can be followed at his personal account, @DerekBrowning2. Similarly, the Church of Scotland Youth will likely be tweeting at @cosy_nya and the official account for the NYA Moderator, currently Andrew MacPherson, 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.

I add to this list a semi-official account: I would expect the curated account Church Scotland Voices with weekly rotating contributors at @churchscovoices to be active at GA. And worth mentioning the Kirk innovative ministry incubator, Go For It (@GoForItCofS)

In suggesting personal accounts to follow, let me start with three past Moderators of the General Assembly. The first is the Very Reverend Lorna Hood who is always an interesting read at @revlornascot and has been very active the past few years with projects related to Srebrenica justice and remembrance and this past year has served on the Commission on Parliamentary Reform (@ParlyReform). The second is the Very Reverend Albert Bogle at @italker who has been getting some recent traction with the Sanctuary First ministry (@sanctuaryfirst) and whose charge is now related to online church. Finally, the Very Reverend Angus Morrison (@angusmorrison6) is an interesting and entertaining read and frequently tweets in Gaelic.

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 Andrew Harris (@aharris2729) . Another who will probably weigh in, whether or not he is in Edinburgh, is Glasgow theologian Douglas Gay (@DougGay). Earlier this spring, in his three-part Chalmers Lectures, he presented some interesting ideas regarding the future of the church and how it might consider restructuring. I will update with more as the Assembly gets under way. (Well worth watching, by the way.)

UPDATE: Found that Peter Nimmo is now able to make the Assembly this year but still worth keeping an eye on his remote observations. Yes, @ChurchScoVoices is being curated by an Assembly commissioner, Scott Paget (@smpaget). Another interesting follow is Marc Falconer (@marcfalconer81) who is also blogging the meeting. And two others there an providing good insight and substantive updates are Louis Kinsey (@louiskinsey) and Paul Middleton (@DrPaulMiddleton).

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 “Word of Life,” a theme that has extended to the Assembly as a whole. It is reflected on the cover of the Blue Book and in advance of the meeting groups are encouraged to post a picture to social media with the hashtag #wordoflife. And again this year there will be link-ups with concurrent local Heart and Soul events throughout Scotland. The hashtag for the event will be #heartandsoul but it is worth noting that neither it, nor #wordoflife, are exclusive to this use. There are other fringe events throughout the week, including a public Speak Out event on Wednesday night in advance of the upcoming general election in the UK.

Concerning the business before the Assembly there is a nice summary of each report on the Life and Work site. Two items have hit the news in the days leading up to the Assembly. The first is the report of the Theological Forum, An Approach to the Theology of Same-Sex Marriage. The report presents the opinion that a theological basis does not exist to prohibit pastors from conducting same-sex marriages and recommends that the issue be sent to the Legal Questions Committee for action at a future GA. It also has as part of its deliverance to “Invite the Church to take stock of its history of discrimination at different levels and in different ways against gay people and to apologise individually and corporately and seek to do better.” The second item is a Joint Report on the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration. The document encourages all parties to work for a just peace in the region and recommends engaging with the Kairos Palestine document. While the report seeks to be balanced and honest about the history of the area, as with other statements about seeking peace in the area not all observers are positive about this report. The Theological Forum report will be the last one on Thursday and the Balfour Centenary is in the middle of the order of reports on Monday.

Lots of other interesting items coming up this year so have a look at the summaries. One that caught my attention is that the Assembly Arrangements Committee is planning to not just live stream the Assembly but to post the recordings for later viewing. The GA Junkies who, like me, are on the other side of the world thank you. [ed. note: And as a preview of coming attractions, I am seriously considering covering GA week in Edinburgh next year in person.]

So here we go as the busy part of General Assembly Season gets underway. There are more coming up in a couple days so there will be no shortage of options.

As for the Church of Scotland and all my friends there, and especially to the (almost) Rt. Rev. Browning, know that you have my prayers for your deliberations and public witness in the coming week. I look forward to watching every minute, even if by “tape delay.”