Two Letters From The Third Of July

I have developed a significant respect for John Adams, the colonial lawyer who would serve the colonies and the new nation in many capacities including as its second president. He was not the charismatic leader like Washington or the Renaissance Man of Jefferson, but he was a hard-working, practical and principled individual and politician.

One example of his character was his agreeing to lead the defense of the the British soldiers who were tried for the Boston Massacre in 1770 because he felt that they deserved a fair trail.

Another place where his personality and qualities come through is in his very extensive correspondence with his wife Abagail during his many positions of public service which kept him away from home. I have come to value the extensive discussions and heartfelt emotions he shared with his partner in marriage.

To that point, on the Third of July, 1776, he wrote two letters to Abigail discussing the events of the previous day and expressing his views of them, the place of Divine Providence in them and what they would mean for the future.

Two paragraphs from the first letter:

Philadelphia, July 3, 1776

Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony “that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States may rightfully do.” You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the Causes, which have impell’d Us to this mighty Revolution, and the Reasons which will justify it, in the Sight of God and Man. A Plan of Confederation will be taken up in a few days.

When I look back to the Year 1761, and recollect the Argument concerning Writs of Assistance, in the Superiour Court, which I have hitherto considered as the Commencement of the Controversy, between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole Period from that Time to this, and recollect the series of political Events, the Chain of Causes and Effects, I am surprized at the Suddenness, as well as Greatness of this Revolution. Britain has been fill’d with Folly, and America with Wisdom, at least this is my judgment. — Time must determine. It is the Will of Heaven, that the two Countries should be sundered forever. It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadfull. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least: it will inspire Us with many Virtues, which We have not, and correct many Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonour, and destroy Us. — The Furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming, in every Part, will require a Purification from our Vices, and an Augmentation of our Virtues or they will be no Blessings. The People will have unbounded Power. And the People are extreamly addicted to Corruption and Venality, as well as the Great. I am not without Apprehensions from this Quarter.– But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable [ as] the Faith may be, I firmly believe.

[Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Your Favour of June 17..." [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.]

The second letter of that date reflects more deeply on what the actions mean. While he begins by reflecting on the timing – the advantages of an earlier declaration and the benefits of the current timing – he concludes with this:

Philadelphia July 3d. 1776

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

[Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Had a Declaration..." [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.]

And so to my American readers a Happy Second of July yesterday and a Happy Fourth of July tomorrow. May we indeed, as Adams suggests and foresees, celebrate it with “solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty” as well as “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other…”

Welcome to the new look of GA Junkie


It has been a hectic 24 hours but I have gotten the bulk of the blog migrated to a new platform. Plenty of little details to be cleaned up and still working on migrating all eight years of past posts.

But the basics are there. Hopefully the RSS feed came across without interruption and the ability to subscribe to the blog by email should be working.

Thanks for your patience and hoping that it will be another eight years and 1000 posts before I have to do that again.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming

221st General Assembly Of The PC(USA) — A Summary Of Summaries


The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) concluded this morning. While plenty has already been written on individual issues, over the next few days several summaries of the actions of the GA will be appearing on the interwebs. I will create a running list here of those summaries.As a matter of personal privilege I will begin with mine, A Brief Summary of the 221st General Assembly. This is a resource that I have shared with my congregation for a number of GA’s now and you are welcome to use it as well.

A general letter about the Assembly from the PC(USA) leadership
The OGA Assembly in Brief summary

The Presbyterian Outlook does not have a single summary posted online but you can check their General Assembly 2014 category for summary articles on different topics

As additional summaries are posted I will compile them here.

I am collecting articles by the mainstream media that are, well to put it kindly, getting it wrong. But this article from Haaretz gets it so right that I will include it here:

U.S. Presbyterians vote to divest from companies used by Israel in occupied territories

Finally, a few good personal reflections from individuals about the assembly

PC(USA) 221st General Assembly — Actions Related To Marriage

Yesterday afternoon the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) considered the report of Committee 10 – Civil Union and Marriage Issues. Here is a brief summary of the four basic actions that the General Assembly took.

[10-07] On Creating a Task Force to Identify Common Ground and Reconcilable Differences with Respect to Same-Gender Marriage
The first item to be considered came as a overture from Eastern Korean Presbytery requesting a Task Force whose charge it would be to

a. identify common ground and reconcilable differences in biblical understanding and confessional interpretation with respect to same-gender marriage;

b. study the nature, scope, and controversies of the same-gender marriage laws legalized in certain states;

c. assess the impact of such laws and related sociopolitical changes on the ministry and mission of the church;

d. provide the local presbyteries and congregations with theological guidelines for
their ministry, as to understand and apply the concepts and functions
of family and parenting based on biblical norms and ethics; and

e. bring forth practical and futuristic recommendations that would not
only strengthen and promote unity within the church, but also solidify
ministries and missions with ecumenical partners locally and globally.

The Task Force would report back two GA’s from now in 2018.

The Committee recommended disapproval and there was a minority report advocating approval of this request. After some discussion, a lot focusing on whether the PC(USA) needed four more years to study this, the substitute motion was not made the main motion by a vote of 237 to 372 and the Committee recommendation was approved 401 to 185.

[10-03] On Issuing an Authoritative Interpretation of W-4.9000 to Affirm Pastoral Discretion in Performing Marriage Ceremonies

The next item was this Authoritative Interpretation that would permit pastors in jurisdictions that recognized same-sex marriages to perform those ceremonies. The core line in the AI reads, with the amendment:

[W]hen a couple requests the involvement of the church in solemnizing their marriage as permitted by the laws [of the civil jurisdiction in which the marriage is to take place] [of the place where the couple seek to be married], teaching elders have the pastoral responsibility to assess the capabilities, intentions, and readiness of the couple to be married (W-4.9002), and the freedom of conscience in the interpretation of Scripture (G-2.0105) to participate in any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform.

The AI would also permit the use of church facilities with the consent of the session.

This debate began with a point of order as to whether this item was out of order under Roberts Rules of Order because it was in conflict with the definition of marriage as found in the Book of Confessions.

Just as when this point arose at the 220th General Assembly, the Moderator turned to the Clerk who suggested that the Assembly receive advice from the Assembly Committee on the Constitution. In 2012, the ACC’s response was along the lines of the narrative found in the front material to the Book of Confessions in the Confessional Nature of the Church Report. At one point the Report says “Nevertheless, for Reformed Christians all confessional statements have only a provisional, temporary, relative authority.” In other words, while important the multiple confessions need to be considered as a body of work and individual points not singled out from the who body.

At this General Assembly the ACC advice took a different direction. The advice was essentially that this action and the confessions are in tension and that it is the responsibility and within the authority of the GA to resolve that tension. Within the ensuing discussion is was observed that in their original advice on the overture the ACC said:

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution advises that the 221st General Assembly (2014) disapprove Item 10-03


Section W-4.9001 and related citations (W-4.9002a, W-4.9004,
W-4.9006) limit marriage to couples who are “a woman and a man.” Because
these statements are clear and unambiguous, they can not be interpreted
in a manner that is inconsistent with their plain and ordinary meaning.

When asked about this the ACC response was essentially the same as was previously given – that the Assembly could deal with this tension.

The Moderator ruled the item was in order, the commissioner challenged the ruling of the Moderator and after some significant discussion over the nature of the point of order the Moderator’s ruling was sustained.

With that out of the way the item was debated and the debate was generally civil and respectful. One of the things about this Assembly seems to be the number of times that points of debate are incorporated into questions from the floor. When debate was closed and the vote taken the commissioners voted 371 to 238 to approve the AI.

[10-02] On Amending W-4.9000, Marriage

This item is based on an overture from the Presbytery of Cascades with 16 concurrences. The proposed new wording of W-4.9000, as amended mostly by the committee but slightly on the floor, would be:

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a women, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and
responsible members of the church and the wider community.

“In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the
rights and obligations of the married couple in society. In the
Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an
active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and

“If they meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction
in which they intend to marry, a couple may request that a service of
Christian marriage be conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.), who is authorized, though not required, to act as an
agent of the civil jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A
couple requesting a service of Christian marriage shall receive
instruction from the teaching elder, who shall agree to the couple’s
request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple
demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage
covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its
values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel
of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church
property for a marriage service.

“The marriage service shall be conducted in a manner
appropriate to this covenant and to the forms of Reformed worship, under
the direction of the teaching elder and the supervision of the session
(W-1.4004–.4006). In a service of marriage, the couple marry each other
by exchanging mutual promises. The teaching elder witnesses the couple’s
promises and pronounces God’s blessing upon their union. The community
of faith pledges to support the couple in upholding their promises;
prayers may be offered for the couple, for the communities that support
them, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness.

“If they meet
the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to
marry, a couple may request that a service of Christian marriage be
conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who
is authorized, though not required, to act as an agent of the civil
jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A couple requesting a
service of Christian marriage shall receive instruction from the
teaching elder, who may agree to the couple’s
request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple
demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage
covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its
values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel
of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church
property for a marriage service.

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

I wish I could have heard more of the questions and debate concerning this item but my schedule did not permit hanging around for most of the livestream. In the part of the discussion I did hear there were numerous questions about global partners and their reactions. I can also say that in what I heard there were no slippery-slope arguments made. And in a nod of cooperation and forbearance the wording in the first paragraph that said “two persons” was changed to “two persons, traditionally a man and a woman.”

In the final vote the new language was approved and will be sent to the presbyteries on a vote of 429 to 175. For comparison, the 220th General Assembly defeated an amendment of similar intent but significantly different wording on a vote of 308 to 338. Note that after that vote the business was bundled into an umbrella item to answer all business in one fell swoop.

This will now be sent down to the presbyteries and will require a concurrence of a majority of them.

[10-NB] New Business
The final item of business was a resolution crafted by the Committee following their completion of the other business. Compared to the extensive text of the rest of these items it is pretty simple:

Recommend the 221st General Assembly (2014) direct the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and
the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly to engage in the process of working together with churches in the task of reconciliation, starting with visiting
each presbytery and serving as a resource for each presbytery’s
discussion of these actions in congregations and the presbytery at-large
and present voices of reconciliation for the unity of the church.

This is a response to the recognition that for this decision there will be some who will be hurt by the outcome in the same way that some were hurt by the outcome of other decisions in this matter in previous years. The committee itself was careful in its work about being respectful and developing a sense of fellowship in the group. One of the things it did to insert some levity during its work was to have committee members share embarrassing moments during worship. (Example 1, example 2).

It should be pointed out that there was a vote to reconsider this item this morning as the first item of business and a substantive and pastoral amendment was passed without changing the basics of the item.

What’s next
Here are three items the come to mind regarding this action going forward.

First, the amendment to the Directory for Worship does need the concurrence of the presbyteries. if approved by a majority of the 171 presbyteries it will become part of the 2015-2017 Book of Order which takes affect a year from now.

Second, as we know from ordination standards an AI from the Assembly is not the last word. Even if the Book of Order change is approved there is an outside chance that a challenge to a same-sex marriage ceremony could go through the judicial process fast enough that the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission would have the opportunity to supersede the GA’s AI with a ruling that W-4.9001 does prohibit such ceremonies in spite of the AI.

Finally, expect the departures to continue. I am not sure that this action will suddenly and dramatically increase the exodus of churches leaving the PC(USA) as many that I have talked to have anticipated this and taken action on departure in a proactive manner. For most, this is not unexpected but a validation of what they have been saying for years. And while there are numerous factors at play between the action at the last GA and this proposed change to the Book of Order, we have to accept that the exodus has been at least partly responsible for the dramatic swing from a 308 to 338 vote to a 429 to 175 vote. (And at some point I hope to do some number crunching to explore what constraints could be put on the numbers.)

Following these actions a number of pastoral letters and statements have been released. In addition to one from the General Assembly leadership, there is one from Presbyterians for Renewal and another from the Covenant Network. I would also highlight one from Philadelphia Presbytery by their Executive Presbyter Ruth Santana-Grace.

As a bit of an aside, at the same time yesterday afternoon the 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was considering their ascending overtures, including two (Overtures 2 and 5) that reiterated that denomination’s stated views against homosexual practice and same-sex marriage. Both of those overtures were dispensed with fairly quickly, although with a little discussion, as they were ruled out of order since they were both affirmations of what is already established doctrine. However, in an independent occurrence that got a bit of a chuckle from some of us in both denominations, at least one news source got the two largest American Presbyterian branches a bit confused.

So, returning to the PC(USA), it is now time to see what happens as this descends to the presbyteries – both to approve the Book of Order amendment and in general to see what the reaction is. And we pray for the initiative to encourage reconciliation as this effort goes forward. Stay tuned…

34th General Assembly Of The Evangelical Presbyterian Church

Rounding out our very full slate of American Presbyterian General Assemblies this week, we have the 34th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The host church is Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church. The Assembly Schedule informs us that preliminaries began on Tuesday with conferences and meetings, and continues today with the Assembly Workshop and worship. Business sessions begin tomorrow morning, 19 June, and continue into Saturday, 21 June. And while these meetings are taking place, it is great to see the youth out in the community doing service projects.

The Assembly meeting will be webcast and the webcast schedule is on that page. (There is also a webcast link from the host church.) You can download the full Commissioners Handbook or access portions of it individually on the webcast and documents page. At the bottom of the webcast page there are also the as yet unlinked points for the daily summaries for when they are posted. You can also download the current Book of Order from the web site if you need to consult it. More on that in a moment.

As for social media, there is a bit of that out there. There is a Facebook page for the EPC but it does not appear to be tracking GA items. The official EPC Twitter feed (@EPChurch) also does not seem to have too much lead in to GA but the hashtag (#epc34) has sprung to life. There is also a feed for EPC Student Ministries (@EPCStudentMin) and the Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah (@Jeff_Jeremiah). I would add to this the host church, Cedar Springs Church (@cedarspringspc).

Turning to the business of the Assembly it is interesting to note that overtures proposing changes to the Book of Order tend to be making adjustments to the process of accepting churches and teaching elders transferring into the church. One of them (14-C ) would change the examination of new teaching elders to include not just their theological views but also their knowledge of Reformed theology. Another (14-D ) would make transitional membership in the EPC an established method of joining and not invoked on a case-by-case basis. There is also an amendment (14-B ) to make explicit that there is no implied or expressed Trust Clause.

Another item of business would ratify the vote of the presbyteries and approve a Revised Book of Government.

There are a lot more business items that appear to be interesting to see the deliberations, but let me highlight one final request. As you will see, this is not being brought for debate but for referral for study with a fuller discussion at a future Assembly when the study is returned. So here is the Constitutional Revision Ad Interim Committee’s recommendation 5:
Recommendation #16 [CR-5]

That the Sabbath provisions of the Westminster Confession of Faith (21.7, 8), Larger Catechism questions 117-121; Shorter Catechism questions 58-60), and Book of Worship (§2-2) be referred to the Permanent Theology Committee for study and, if deemed necessary and appropriate, that the Committee bring recommendations to the 35th or 36th General Assembly including, but not limited to, amending some or all of those documents.

Grounds: Presbyteries have frequently and consistently allowed exceptions to Westminster Confession of Faith 21-7 and 21-8 regarding Sabbath observance. Such exceptions may be out of accord with Book of Worship §2-2 and would make it difficult for Teaching Elders to take a vow to submit to the government and discipline of the EPC with integrity at this point.

I look forward to seeing how these matters of Sabbath observance are developed.

With that, I will wish the EPC commissioners well and assure them and the leadership of our prayers as the meet to discern all the matters before them.

PC(USA) 221st General Assembly — Committees Done, Moving On To Plenary

UPDATE: I did not get the time to finish this out. I will leave it posted in incomplete form.

[Ed. Note: Due to my meeting schedule this morning I will need to do this in pieces and so to get this out as quickly as possible I will be doing it in live blog style. That means that if you get the first part via email you will need to go online to see the complete post later today. If you are following online then check back in a while to see the update.]

It is now Wednesday morning and all the commissioners to the 221st General Assembly are busy reading the reports that they will be discussing and voting on the next 72 hours.

Committee work seemed to go fairly smoothly with one committee, Committee 14 – Congregational Vitality, finishing up in one day. It looked like one or two committees continued after dinner on Tuesday, but I could be wrong and PC-Biz was just catching up.

As we go into Plenary this afternoon here are some things to look forward to…

First, there is a new system with a unified consent agenda that will be approved as the first major item of business. Any action that received at least a 75% super-majority in committee would probably be placed on the consent agenda unless the committee felt it should be presented in a committee report. This means that Committee 14 does not need to report since all six of their business items were approved unanimously. The catch is that item 14-04 has financial implications and I understand that will bring it to the floor.

It will be interesting to see how the consent agenda goes, in particular how many items are pulled off for consideration since any item can be removed by the request of even one commissioner.

There are some interesting items on the consent agenda, including the standing committee nominations. But in a quick look a lot of them are like the items on per capita limits and Young Adult Commissioners that the committee overwhelmingly disapproved with comment. We will see what is the will of the Assembly.

So, looking at the proposed docket, which may or may not be the one brought by Bills and Overtures for approval as one of the very first items of business this afternoon, here is what seems to be coming in the way of committee business.

Wednesday Afternoon
Report of the Assembly Committee on BOP, PILP, PPC, and Foundation (12)
This committee currently has seven items on the consent agenda. These include disapproval of [12-01] required participation in the benefits plan and disapproval of [12-02] that would require near-immediate divestment of departing pastors from the benefits plan.

Remaining business items seem fairly routine and received strong support in the committee. These include [12-07] to reelect the Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer, as well as [12-11] to confirm the election of the President of the Board of Pensions.

Report of the Assembly Committee on General Assembly Procedures (03)
This committee has 25 items on the consent agenda including a bunch of sub-recommendations from the Report of the Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies. The committee is recommending approval of all the Review Committee recommendations, some with amendment. As mentioned above, per capita limits and Young Adult Commissioners are recommended for disapproval. Otherwise almost all business, both consent and floor action, are recommended for approval. There are two more exceptions. One is a Commissioner Resolution  to provide childcare at GA and other national events which has financial implications and is being referred and the other is a Commissioner Resolution to give Executive Presbyters corresponding member status which is recommended for disapproval.

[That takes care of this afternoon - Back with more in a little while]

42nd General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In America

The 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America will convene their plenary sessions tomorrow afternoon, 17 June, in Houston. Committees of Commissioners began meeting today. The Assembly will continue through noon on Friday. The theme of the Assembly is “Proclaim Christ, Disciple the Nations.”

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. There is one report available online and that is this year’s part of the Report of the Ad Interim Study Committee On Insider Movements.
This is Part Two of Two, with Part One having been presented to the 40th GA two years ago.

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, while there is a Facebook page for the PCA, it does not seem to have much build-up to GA. The byFaith Magazine Facebook page is more active.

There are numerous opportunities to follow the meeting on Twitter including the official feed from byFaith (@PCAbyFaith). There is also a feed for the Reasoning_Together (@PCA_Elders) program. The hashtag for the Assembly is #pcaga.

Individuals who will be at the meeting and are, or will probably be tweeting include Fred Greco (@fredgreco), Ligon Duncan (@LigonDuncan), Sean Michael Lucas (@SeanMLucas) and Allan Edwards (@edwardsae1). Or, I have been advised by @PCAPresbyter himself that all you really need to do is follow him. He will certainly enlighten your tracking of PCA GA in his own inimitable way.

A number of important topics are before the Assembly this year probably led by Overture 6, “Child Protection in the PCA.” There are an additional 23 overtures with concurrences, commendations and affirmations of it bringing the total number of overtures this year to an unusually high 52. Earlier today this overture in slightly amended form, was recommended to the full Assembly by a unanimous vote of the Overtures Committee with all related overtures to be answered by action on Overture 6. In addition, the Assembly will be hearing a special presentation on child sexual abuse from Theresa Lynn Sidebotham, attorney and founder of Telios Law PLLC.

Other overtures this year include eight overtures related to process of Standing Judicial Commission decisions and one to “Issue a warning regarding erroneous views of Creation.” There are several overtures related to shifting presbytery boundaries that includes one to expand Korean Southeastern, one to divide Korean Southwest in two and one to establish a provisional presbytery for Paraguay.

One of the most interesting overtures proposes a logo for the PCA. As @PCAPresbyter pointed out in a tweet today Moses and the children of Israel wandered in the desert a shorter period of time than the PCA has been in existence without adopting a logo. I don’t know if they need one or not, but Southeast Alabama Presbytery thinks they do and is proposing the one to the left here.

So that is the line up for the next few days. At the point it convenes there will be four American Presbyterian branches with their Assemblies meeting. Add the EPC on Wednesday and we have five branches meeting.

So our best wishes to the commissioners and leaders of the PCA General Assembly and prayers for your discernment around some difficult issues the next few days. I will be interested to see how these business items are decided.

139th GA Of The CPCA And 184th GA Of The CPC

I have drifted fully back onto the grid after a weekend of only spotty connections in the local mountains and realize that I have a lot to get caught up on regarding the GA already in session.

In addition, as I mentioned previously, this week is full of American Presbyterian General Assemblies and I hope that you will forgive me for doubling up the Assemblies of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Besides efficiency on my part there is good reason to consider both of these branches together: in addition to the fact that they are both meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at about the same time, they also have a Unification Task Force working to consider the reunion of these two branches. More on that in a minute, but first, here is the rundown on each Assembly.

The 139th General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America begins today, 15 June, and runs through Wednesday, 18 June. There are briefings and committee meetings on the 15th with opening worship and the start of business, including election of the Moderator, on Monday morning. You can view the schedule for the meeting as a Word document.

The 184th General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church will convene with worship on Monday afternoon, 16 June, and continue through Thursday, 19 June, or until they are done. The one-page guide to the week is available and documents for the meeting – including reports and by-laws – are published as the 2014 Preliminary Minutes. Other documents, including the Catechism, Confession of Faith and Rules of Order, can be accessed from the left navigation bar on the Office of the General Assembly page.

If you have looked at the two schedules you will see that these are mostly joint meetings with a few select times when each branch meets to do its own business. The Unification Task Force was formed two years ago and they have been working towards organic union with out a predetermined time-table.The report of the Unification Task Force can be found starting on page 108 of the Preliminary Minutes.

The Task Force is bringing to the joint Assembly a Proposed Plan for Union with reflection questions embedded throughout it. They are proposing that the new denomination be named the United Cumberland Presbyterian Church and to maintain the four synods, but with adjusted boundaries. All current presbyteries in both branches would continue for six years after union to study possible realignments. There is a one year input period on the Proposed Plan and the Task Force would bring a final proposal to a joint Assembly in 2016. Presbyteries would have the next year to ratify the proposal for union, the 2017 Assemblies would approve final documents of a new denomination and the General Assembly of the United Cumberland Presbyterian Church would meet in 2018 for the first time.

Two other items that caught my attention. The first is that there will be a Joint CPC/CPCA Louisa Woosely Celebration to recognize the 125th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women Clergy to be held Wednesday evening. The second is that the CPC will be holding their 185th General Assembly (2015) in the country of Columbia. (The CPCA holds biennial assemblies and will not meet next year.)

As for following along, no live streaming that I am aware of and little social media visible at the moment but it looks like at least some are using the hashtag #cpga14. I do see that Farmwrkministry (@farmwkrministry) and
Rev. Lisa Cook (@sacredsparks) are tweeting about it. There are also official accounts from Ministry Council (@MinistryCouncil) and CPC Young Adults (@CPYAMC) that we might see tweets from.

And so, we wish the two Assemblies well and pray for wisdom and discernment for the commissioners and the church leadership. Have a good meeting.

[Point of Personal Privilege: This post represents a milestone for me as it is my 1000th published post. If you are curious there are about 50 that have not yet seen the light of day, or at least the glow of your monitors. While I am not the most prolific blogger, it am none the less a bit taken back by the thought that I have kept this quirky little niche blog going for 1000 posts over slightly more than eight years. My thanks to all of you for your interest, interaction and encouragement. Now, back to the action.]

221st General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

We now approach a very busy week of General Assemblies. Hold on to your proverbial hats…

Leading off in the lineup is the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The gavel will come down to convene the meeting at 11:00 AM local time tomorrow (14 June) in Detroit, Michigan and it will run for one week until Saturday June 21.

The source for information is the on-line PC-Biz system. It can be access on the web at There are is also a PC(USA) event guide for the Guidebook App Android and iOS apps.

There is a docket posted and you can also find the schedule, reports overtures/business items on PC-Biz as well as all the Constitutional documents, the Manual of the General Assembly, and other useful items on the PC-Biz Resources tab.

The Assembly will begin with the usual formalities on Saturday afternoon followed by the election of the Moderator Saturday evening. Sunday is worship and receptions in the afternoon and then the Assembly goes into committees that evening. During committee time, which will run through Tuesday evening, PC-Biz is the place to find out what the committees are doing with the pieces of business near and dear to you.

Things open up again on Wednesday afternoon as the Assembly returns to plenary and than it is a mad push to get all the business done by Friday night or in the wee hours of Saturday morning. (What time will the buses stop running?) But one of the realities is that there is no real schedule of when particular committees report until later in the week when committees have finished their business and they are assembled on the docket like a jigsaw puzzle. The final Saturday morning is just closing formalities.

All of the plenary sessions will be live streamed.

The tracking utility on PC-Biz is the best place to follow business. While the PC(USA) does have a general Twitter account (@Presbyterian), the General Assembly feed (@presbyGA) usually provides more play-by-play. This will be the first GA for the Presbyterian News Service on Twitter (@PresbyNews). The hashtag for the meeting is #ga221.

News items will also appear on the GA221 web site as well as the Presbyterian News Service feed. There is also a photo gallery. (And I will probably need to adjust that link.)

In looking at my rapidly growing list of who will be tweeting from GA I am thinking that the best thing to do is to point you at Bruce Reyes-Chow’s Twitter list for GA221. Bruce himself tweets at @breyeschow and @brc_live. The outgoing Moderator, Neal Presa, can be followed at @NealPresa. And one of these three will be the new Moderator – Heath Rada (@heathrada), John Wilkinson (@johnwpcusa) or Kelly Allen (@kellysueallen). In this list of individuals let me throw in the Director of Operations, Thomas Hay (@DirOfOp) and a true GA Junkie in his own right, Andy James (andyjames).

Out in the press corps, keep an eye on the Presbyterian Outlook on their web site ( and Twitter (@presoutlook) as well as their special correspondent Leslie Scanlon (@lscanlon).

Besides the election of the Moderator, two other issues will be among the hottest of hot-button topics discussed, debated and discerned this week..

Internally, the biggest question is probably the PC(USA) definition of marriage. Most everyone acknowledges that the definition given in the Directory for Worship (W-4.9001) is a bit of a problem since the part about marriage being a civil contract between a man and a woman is out of date in many jurisdictions. There are proposals to issue an Authoritative Interpretation to allow pastors to preform marriages in those jurisdictions. There are also overtures to change that section of the Book of Order. This has a long way to travel in the next week and a Book of Order change will require the concurrence of the presbyteries.

Externally, the headline issue is the return of a proposal to divest from three companies whose products are used to help Israel in their occupation of Palestinian Territory. This has been built up by interest groups on both sides and as of yesterday the ga221 hashtag was being flooded with tweets supporting divestment. At the 220th GA this was the closest vote of the Assembly with the divestment proposal failing in plenary by two votes. We will see what happens this year.

So we have a lot to look forward to this coming week. I, unfortunately, could not make a trip to Detroit work for me so I will be live blogging the live stream as I am able – trying to provide some color commentary to the play-by-play on Twitter.  As always, best wishes and prayers for all the commissioners and leadership as they deal with important issues but also so that they may not lose sight of the call to make disciples and build up Christ’s body in the minutia of individual business items.

Finally, in honor of Detroit and maybe as a metaphor for either the PC(USA) Book of Order, or the PC(USA) itself with its many splits and mergers, I leave you with Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time.”

PC(USA) 2013 Membership Summary — A Look At The Categories

I have to admit to being caught a bit off guard when the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released their membership numbers a couple of weeks ago. The summary numbers are typically released right around the time of the start of General Assembly in years that it meets. As for whether the early release was because they were ready or they wanted to get bad news out well before the GA I will leave to others to speculate.

Once again, I took a look at the numbers and wondered “what can I possibly say about them that is not being said by others and is worth my time?” Well, in thinking about it a bit I decided to drill down and look specifically at the categories of membership gain and loss and see if there was interesting information if we picked them apart a bit.

For the data set I use the Summary Statistics released by the Office of the Stated Clerk. While for many things the Comparative Statistics from Research Services are more detailed, for the gains and losses categories the Summary works better. Rummaging around on the web site I got summaries from 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013 taking the data back to 2005.

I decided not to deal in absolute numbers but to look at gains and losses as percentages of the total membership relative to the previous year’s total membership. This will help filter out the trend and allow a better year-to-year comparison.

First let’s look at where the gains have come from for the last nine years. Gains are reported in four categories – Profession of Faith, Reaffirmation, and Restoration for those 17 and younger, the same for those 18 and over, Certificate (i.e. documented transfers) and Other.

 Year  Profess <17 Profess >18 Certificate Other Total
2005  1.04%  2.10%  1.54% 0.62% 5.29%
 2006  1.05%  2.07% 1.46% 0.53% 5.10%
 2007  0.97%  2.00%  1.33% 0.51% 4.81%
 2008  0.95%  1.98%  1.30% 0.46% 4.68%
 2009  0.96% 1.97% 1.17%  0.48% 4.57%
 2010  0.91% 1.93%  1.04% 0.45% 4.33%
 2011  0.90%  1.81% 1.00% 0.59%  4.30%
 2012  0.84%  1.61% 0.99% 0.57%  4.00%
 2013  0.81%  1.49% 0.97% 0.68% 3.95%

Here is the data in graphical terms. This is a stacked graph so for any given component its value is the distance between that symbol and the one below it. The plotted value of the top symbol (for Certificate gains) is the number in the Total column in the table above.

It is interesting that the Other category has held relatively constant – there was a bit of a dip but some recovery in recent years. The Profession of Faith for 17 and under has a bit of a drop, significant in its own right but smaller than the remaining two in both an absolute and proportional comparison. The real decreases are seen in the Profession of Faith for 18 and over and the Transfer by Certificate. So we have not just a problem retaining the youth as they grow up but getting them back to church as adults.

Turning to the categories of losses, here is the breakdown shown in corresponding table and graph form. This table also includes the percentage net change to the total membership number.

 Year Death Certificate Other Total Total Net Change
2005  1.53%  1.21% 4.60%  7.34% -2.05%
 2006  1.50% 1.21% 4.41%  7.12%  -2.01%
 2007  1.48%  1.34% 4.53%  7.35%  -2.54%
 2008  1.54%  1.55% 4.73%  7.82% -3.14%
 2009  1.53% 1.30%  4.68% 7.52% -2.94%
 2010  1.56%  1.44% 4.27% 7.27%  -2.94%
 2011  1.58% 1.14% 4.74% 7.46% -3.16%
 2012  1.53% 2.67% 5.07% 9.27% -5.27%
 2013  1.55% 2.71% 4.47%  8.73% -4.79%

It is interesting here that losses from Death are fairly stable and the losses by Other show some greater variability but do seem to fall into a bit of a range. To no surprise the spike is in losses by Certificate from churches being dismissed and their membership being transferred to the new denomination. And, as usual, the largest source of loss is the Other category – members walking out the door.

Bottom Line? Not only is the PC(USA) losing members – accelerated in the last couple of years by dismissals – but the gains are decreasing on a percentage basis each year as well. Without an increase in gains there is no way to offset the losses.

So how do we explain this? While a number of explanations come to mind let me discuss four possibilities. And let me emphasize that these explanations are not exclusive from one another and that this data set alone is probably not sufficient to clearly distinguish between them – more work would have to be done.

1. The departing churches were the biggest contributors to growth. For many this is a temping explanation and there is a hint that this may be a contributor. It does appear that as the dismissals have accelerated over the last two or three years that the gains in membership by profession of faith have an accelerated decrease. A quick plot, not shown here, did show a suggestive correlation, but the data are clustered to the point that interpolating between the clusters would be problematic.

This is an easy explanation to fall back on since building churches and making disciples are part of the mission statement of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians and so you could argue that churches drawn to ECO would be more growth-focused. The problem is that the trend has persisted for longer than ECO has been in existence so this could be only a partial and recent contributor, recognizing that there was an earlier exodus to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

2. Fatigue or Distraction: Another thing that comes to mind is that the PC(USA) is falling behind in making disciples because it is tired or it is distracted. Maybe we are tired out or distracted by our internal discussions about various issues (fill in the blank yourself or see what bubbles to the surface at GA next week). Or maybe, with an aging population we are losing the energy and drive to reach out to bring others into the church or distracted by the work of keeping the church, both people and building, going.

3. Public Relations Problems: In a similar vain, rather than our internal discussions only distracting us, maybe it presents a public relations problem for the church. Are we presenting to those that we are tying to reach an image that is not appealing, one that does not resonate with the culture today? And this may not be just a result of the ongoing discussions in the church but could include those other issues that are brought up like worship style and music as well as building style or conditions.

4. Counting the Wrong Thing: Maybe, just maybe, we are counting the wrong thing. We are frequently told that younger generations are not joiners. We have an ecclesiastical theology of the Body of Christ and a covenant body that sees joining as a statement about being called by God belonging to Christ. That may work in our theology but does not necessarily work with current culture. I would not advocate giving up that ecclesiology, but for statistical purposes recognize that our worshiping communities may not all reflect that view. There is the drive to form 1001 New Worshiping Communities and at the present time their structure and activity is not reflected in the annual statistics as they are currently collected and reported. So can we hold onto our covenant theology but for statistical purposes recognize some who are part of us but see the joining through the eyes of modern culture and our outreach?

Just a few thoughts I have, you probably have a few of your own.

The take-away for me from this exercise is that our losses are just one part of the equation and that our decreasing gains are a significant issue that also must be addressed if the PC(USA) is to consider itself a vital denomination.