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The GA Junkie

New Moderator Designate Of The Church Of Scotland 2014 General Assembly


This post needs to be prefaced with the reminder that the Rev. Dr. Angus Morrison, who was chosen as the Moderator Designate last November, was forced to withdraw about a month ago due to health problems. Our prayers continue to be with Dr. Morrison and we wish him the best in the midst of his medical treatment.

About two weeks ago today the Committee to Nominate the Moderator of the General Assembly met, as the press release puts it, "in extraordinary circumstances" and presented the name of the Rev. John Chalmers as the new nominee for Moderator Designate of the General Assembly 2014 of the Church of Scotland.

Rev. Chalmers should be familiar to GA Junkies as he currently serves a the Principal Clerk of the General Assembly, a role that will make his transition to the Moderator's seat a bit easier to accomplish with the short lead time.

Rev. Chalmers originally attended Strathclyde University to become a chemical engineer before shifting focus to divinity and transferring to Glasgow University. Early in his career he was the pastor at Renton Trinity Parish in West Dunbartonshire and later at Palmerston Place Church in Edinburgh. He had worked in the General Assembly offices before his selection as the Principal Clerk late in 2009 and confirmed by the 2010 Assembly.

Rev. Chalmers is quoted in the press release as saying:
I will want to tell the story of a Church which cares about the values by which Scotland lives, which cares about the conditions in which people live and which puts its money where its faith is, in the work it does amongst the most vulnerable and marginalised.
Personally, he has been touched by, and involved with, those with special needs including a sister with Down's Syndrome and a son injured in combat in Afghanistan while serving with the Royal Marines. He has supported the work of organizations that work with those with special needs throughout his career and hopes to bring attention to such organizations during his moderatorial year.

Including his son John-James who served with the Royal Marines, Rev. Chalmers and his wife Liz have three children and three grandchildren.

Speaking of his nomination Rev. Chalmers says,
It is an unexpected privilege and a real honour to be entrusted with this role at this time. If the Assembly supports my nomination, I will seek above all else to hold the people of the Church of Scotland together in peace and unity.”
In the press release he continues on also saying
My focus will be on those things that unite us. Within the Church we have to learn to live with our differences. We have an urgent need to recruit women and men to train to be ministers and it’s time to let society know that there is something very meaningful about living the life of faith.”

Press coverage of his nomination includes articles from the BBC News, The Courier and The Scotsman.

Our prayers for Rev. Chalmers at this time as he assumes a new role with the Assembly and our best wishes for his moderatorial year.

Moderator Nominee Of The Presbyterian Church In Canada 140th General Assembly 2014


I am running a bit late on this, but almost two weeks ago the Presbyterian Church in Canada announced the results of balloting for the Moderator Nominee for the 140th General Assembly 2014. From a slate of three candidates the presbyters of the church have selected the Rev. Dr. Stephen C. Farris to lead the upcoming GA.

Rev. Farris has spent the last decade at the University of British Columbia as the Dean of the Presbyterian theological college there, St. Andrew's Hall. The college is also associated with the Vancouver School of Theology where Rev. Farris is the Professor of Homiletics.

He has had a long career in academia, having previously served for 17 years as the Professor of Preaching and Worship at Knox College, Toronto. He preaches regularly around Canada and began his career as the pastor of Trinity Church, Amherstview, Ontario.

His training is international with degrees from the University of Toronto, Union Theological Seminary, Virginia (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) and earning his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge.

The press release notes work in two significant international posts. For the now merged World Alliance of Reformed Churches, he served on the Executive Committee and "helped negotiate the repudiation of apartheid by the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa." He has also served as the president of the Academy of Homiletics.

We are also told that Rev. Farris and his wife Patricia have two sons and two wonderful grandchildren.

The 140th General Assembly will convene on Friday 30 May at 1 p.m. at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. The formal election of Rev. Dr. Farris as Moderator will occur later that day. Our prayers and best wishes for him during the Assembly and his whole moderatorial year.

[Ed. note: I see that the Academy of Homiletics will be meeting in San Diego in November. So. Cal. friends keep an eye out for where he might be preaching on Nov. 23 after the meeting. Or if he would like to preach in So. Cal. and does not have arrangements yet I am sure I can find a congregation that would welcome him.]

Moderator Designate Of The Free Church Of Scotland (Continuing) 2014 General Assembly


Earlier this month the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) made the announcement that their Moderator Designate for the 2014 General Assembly would be the Rev. Allan Murray.

Rev. Murray resides and worships in Brora and the Brora church was his charge until his retirement last November. He is a second-career pastor having practiced dentistry for 23 years before studying for the ministry at Free Church College and then taking up his first charge in 1988. He served there at Rogart and Scourie until the division and afterwards for a while served at Scourie and Lochinver at the same time as the Brora charge.

He and his wife Maureen have, as the press release says, "five of a family, now mostly spread around the world."

The press release was picked up by the Storoway Gazette and pretty much printed verbatim. His sermons, leading up to his retirement, are posted on sermonaudio.com.

The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) General Assembly will convene in Edinburgh on 19 May 2014. We wish Rev. Murray the best as he prepares for the Assembly and our prayers for him during the Assembly and his moderatorial year.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of March 2014


So what caught my attention the first half of this month? Here are a few of the item I found interesting.

One of the headlines caught my attention because of its implications for other current events:
Representative carries bill to help church he leads: Reps say congregations have concerns about bill to disallow ecclesiastical law in disputes - from Topeka Capital-Journal
The bill would introduce a form of neutral principles to Kansas law for deciding church property cases. There are numerous comments from presbytery and synod leaders about the nature of the bill and the implications as well as the representative's motives. The comments that his church was considering requesting dismissal from the PC(USA) lead to another article the next day where his pastor denied it:
Pastor of state rep's church: We're not splitting: Pastor of Rep. McPherson's congregation disputes church leaders' characterization of bill - from Topeka Capital-Journal

I had mentioned last time about the pressure raised by the Presbyterian Church in Mizoram state of India to continue prohibition on alcohol and the church is now organizing prayer meetings related to this effort:
Mass prayers to keep Mizoram prohibition - from The Times of India

An event to mark International Women's Day in Cape Coast, Ghana, included remarks by a Senior Lecturer at Presbyterian University that became the headline for this piece about the event:
Change of name after marriage not obligatory - from Ghana News Agency

A particular congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland is involved in a project to examine its region's troubled history:
New project will look at plantation and penal laws - from Derry Journal; "A new cross-community project will examine the impact of the penal laws and the plantation on Catholics and Presbyterians in Derry. The project is being funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and will involve the congregation of First Derry Presbyterian Church and senior citizens from the Bogside area. When completed, the work will form part of a new website looking at the period."

As the South Seas Evangelical Church celebrates its 50th Anniversary the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu sends greetings and a fraternal delegation:
Moderator Ova congratulates Ambu community - from Solomon Star

A couple of fires at Presbyterian-related institutions:
Fire guts Charlieville Presbyterian School - from Guardian Media; about a school in Trinidad

Weekend fire damages children’s home: Water from sprinklers causes more problems than flames - from Daily Journal; about a Presbyterian Children's Homes facility in Farmington, Missouri

And a building that some time ago was a Presbyterian church in New Rochelle, NY, gets a high-profile renovation for a Pentecostal congregation:
Baseball star Rivera rescues, renovates NY church - AP story, here published by ESPN

And a church loaning out space to the local library during renovation in Lewisboro, NY:
Library begins new chapter - from Lewisboro Ledger

Finally, an honor for recognition of mission work:
Pastor wins medal from Ethiopian government - from The Korea Times; "Pastor Kim Sam-hwan of the Myungsung Presbyterian Church was conferred a medal of appreciation by the Ethiopian government for his contributions to the development of Ethiopian medical services."

So I will hold it at that for this group. I may include one or two more from this time period in the next group as logical groupings suggest.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of February 2014


As I try to once again get caught up here the task was not made any easier by the numerous interesting stories that fell into this time period. So, I bring you a select few of the items that caught my attention last month...

Updating one story I mentioned earlier about a retired Presbyterian pastor in Asia on trial for charges many outside observers have found questionable:
KAZAKHSTAN: Criminal conviction, large "moral damages" - and new criminal case? - from Forum 18 News Service

And a terrorist attack in Egypt on a bus full of visitors from Jincheon Jungang Presbyterian Church in South Korea:
South Korean church mourns after Egypt bombing - from Salon

The Church of Scotland had a number of news headlines in this time period in matters related to civil politics. The first main topic is the release of their report on the consultations regarding the Scottish independence referendum:
Church of Scotland calls for integrity and community to be at the heart of the debate about Scotland’s future - press release from the Church of Scotland

People not basing referendum vote on financial gain or loss, says Kirk - from stv news

Kirk says community, not money, must be at heart of independence debate - from Christian Today

The second is a law passed in the Scottish Parliament which would create a safety net for children by appointing a guardian for every Scottish child and which the Kirk raised questions about:
Concerns raised over named person for Scots children plan - from BBC News

Scottish ministers threatened with legal action over 'state guardian' plans - from The Telegraph (note that the headline uses the title minister in the political and not clerical sense)

Law casts a shadow over family - commentary from Scottish Catholic Observer

In Ghana we had words from both the Presbyterian Church and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church about government corruption:
Corruption blamed on actions and inactions of Ghanaians - from Ghana News/SpyGhana

Public office holders urged to show integrity and maturity - from my Ghana Online

Also from Africa:
Sudan Arrests, Threatens Pastor During Sermon as Authorities Try to Intimidate Preacher Into Resigning - from The Christian Post; It is alleged that government officials were intimidating this pastor who is currently serving as the Moderator of the Synod of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church to get control of the property.

Mampong Presby SHS cries for help - from Ghana News Agency: "The Mampong Presbyterian Senior High School(PRESEC) has made a passionate appeal to all stakeholders in education, particularly the Ghana Education Trust Fund(GETFund), to come to the aid of the school."

Spread Privilege Not Cashgate: Livingstonia Synod says Malawi for us all - from Nyasa Times; "The CCAP Livingstonia Synod has observed that Malawi is sliding into terminal decline and urged government to spread the privilege to all and not a few should enjoy."

In Mizoram state of India the influential Presbyterian Synod is working to keep alcoholic beverages prohibited:
Mizo Church wants prohibition to continue - from matters india

And in Norther Ireland a Free Presbyterian clergyman protested against a Sunday football (soccer for some of you) game, a sentiment shared by some but not all in that area:
Sunday football: Clergyman plans protest at stadium - from Belfast News Letter

Play on! Public back Sunday football at Windsor Park - from Belfast News Letter

In news from Presbyterian-affiliated King University in Tennessee:
Dr. Greg Jordan, King University president resigns: Two-thirds of faculty gave vote of no confidence earlier in the week - from TriCities.com

And a note on the passing of a well-known actor who was also a Presbyterian pastor at a point in his career:
Ralph Waite, Depression-Era Patriarch in ‘The Waltons,’ Dies at 85 - the NY Times Obituary

And finally, not breaking news but an interesting historical tidbit...
Why an 18th Century English Presbyterian Minister Matters to College Football Fans - from Football Study Hall; hint - the minister was Thomas Bayes

So that's it for now. Back soon with more headlines from March.

Church Of Scotland 2014 Moderator Designate Steps Aside Due To Ill Health


Today it was announced by the Church of Scotland that due to ill health the Rev. Angus Morrison has decided to step aside as the Moderator Designate for the 2014 General Assembly. In the article from the Kirk the Rev. Morrison is quoted as saying:
“This has been a very painful decision but deep down I feel it is the right one. I am undergoing medical treatment and anticipate an operation ahead. The demanding role of Moderator requires someone to be operating on all cylinders. I do not have the necessary reserves just now.

“It is with huge regret and reluctance that I make this decision. My heartfelt prayers will be with all those on whom unexpected burdens now fall. May God's guidance, strength and peace be given to each one.”

The article notes that the Committee to Nominate the Moderator will be meeting again and that a new Moderator Designate will likely be announced on Wednesday 2 April. The article also notes "There is no precedent in living memory for a Moderator-Designate standing down."

There is also coverage of the announcement in stv news, The Scotsman and the BBC.

The Principal Clerk of the General Assembly asks the church to remember Rev. Morrison and his family in their prayers and we would add ours as well. Best wishes for good medical care and a speedy recovery and God's presence with you and your family throughout.

Third Moderator Candidate For PC(USA) 221st GA (2014) -- TE Kelly Allen


This past week saw the endorsement of a third candidate to stand for the Moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as Mission Presbytery endorsed Teaching Elder Kelly Allen of San Antonio. Rev. Allen has served as pastor of University Presbyterian Church since 2009 having served as the pastor of a United Reformed church in Buckinghamshire, England, and before that the pastor of two churches in Missouri. Her detailed bio on the church web site lists her education including a BA in psychology from Washington University, St. Louis, an M.Div. from Columbia Theological Seminary and a MA in politics and religion from University of Birmingham, England. On that bio page you can also find her Statement of Faith.

At this time she has a range of social media in place including her OnePager basic web page with the dedicated domain name kellyformoderator.com, a Twitter handle (@kellysueallen), and a Kelly Allen for GA Moderator 2014 Facebook page. She also has her regular blog "How I See Things." And while the basic web page is a good intro to her, by the nature of the web hosting it might change but will not become much more developed. And the RSS feed on the web page is for her regular blog. Right now it appears that the best place to be reading updated thoughts on standing for Moderator will be the Facebook page.

Her tag line is "Hope-filled leadership for today's church" and on the basic web page she develops this in three areas of "leadership commitments": 1. A commitment to spiritual practice - the practices in the history of the church that have drawn us closer to God and to one another in communion. 2. A desire to build community among strangers - "our encounters with the 'other' reveal much about ourselves" and in meeting others where they are can we see an expression of the Kingdom of God. 3. A willingness to be bold and bodily witnesses to gospel values - how are we as Christians seen and heard in the world around us and who do we partner with to demonstrate the Gospel?

For more of her thoughts there is a three and a half minute video of Rev. Allen on her Facebook page talking about some of these ideas and her thoughts about the call. On a side note, you have to love the strategecially placed PC(USA) logo in stained glass behind her but she does lose style points for the trailing credits which still has the [enter name here] under the credits.

For additional coverage of her announcement there is an article from the Presbyterian Outlook.

And so, we wish Teaching Elder Allen the best as she prepares for the General Assembly meeting and add her name to our prayer list for all the candidates standing for Moderator.

The Diversity Of Dismissals From The PC(USA)


As regular readers know I have not just been following the many twists and turns of the dismissals of churches from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as an outside observer but at the level of my own presbytery I have found myself deeply involved in the process. And so it is with a great deal of interest that I have been following the recent news about dismissals of churches elsewhere. And while I have been seeing the mainstream media focusing on the "stay or go" side of the story, because of my level of involvement locally I have a great deal of interest in the fine details of the terms under which the churches are considering dismissal. My intent today is to drill down a bit into that aspect of the story with regards to two recent cases.

First, I did want to reflect for a moment on how dismissals have changed over the last two or three years. I have always been intrigued that before about three years ago the largest churches in the PC(USA) seemed to be staying with the denomination even if they were expressing concern about the direction that the church was headed. From my discussions with others the reasons seem to be two-fold. The first is that they did not see a good place to go. The only destination similar enough to the PC(USA) for most to even consider was the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) and over the years there were a good number of churches that headed in that direction to the extent that now the EPC has more than doubled in size based on the number of congregations. But as the EPC was working through these growing pains it was generally not seen as a good destination for what passes as a mega-church in the PC(USA). With the founding of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians in 2012 a more suitable destination was available.

To be completely accurate, one of the churches on the list, First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, did transfer to the EPC. But while it was the first on the list of largest churches to depart it was at about the same time that ECO was founded and another church, First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, began their dismissal process soon after.

The second reason is that the PC(USA) was trying to work out what was meant by Gracious Dismissal. As I will talk about in a minute, it looks like we still are. So while the motion was passed by the 218th General Assembly in 2008 it appears we have reached a point where a number of the kinks have been worked out and there is some greater understanding of what might be involved. This was aided by the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission's decision in Tom, et al. v. Presbytery of San Francisco (Tom decision) that somewhat clarified the application of the Trust Clause in these matters.

So, we have transitioned from a point where none of the 15 largest churches in the denomination were actively moving towards departure just a few years ago to the point today where several have or are considering it. If we consider the 2011 list of the 15 largest churches in the PC(USA) there are two churches that have now been formally dismissed ( including FPC Orlando to the EPC ) and three more that are in the dismissal process, at least at the beginning of this month...

Which brings us to one of those churches that voted this past Sunday and in doing so decided to stay with the  PC(USA) - First Presbyterian Church of Houston.

As I mentioned above, the media story here has been "stay or go" and while there was a strong majority of the membership that voted to transfer to ECO they fell 36 votes short of the 2/3 supermajority required in the dismissal agreement with Presbytery of New Covenant. This was out of a total of 1,681 members who voted.

One article from the Houston Chronicle gave these thoughts from pastor and head of staff, Teaching Elder Jim Birchfield:
"This is the toughest possible outcome in many people's minds," Senior Pastor Jim Birchfield said. "To fall a few votes short will be very tough for them. I'm a little bit disappointed. I came out very strongly and passionately in favor of (the move)."

Birchfield said it was too early to assess the long-term repercussions of the attempt to switch denominations, and he declined to predict whether some members will leave the church as a result. He said his immediate task is to begin smoothing over the differences for the sake of keeping the 3,100 member church intact. "We have to begin reconciling the two sides, and that will begin immediately," he said. "We'll also begin reconciling among the leadership. For the most part, we have had a very gracious debate."

I would note that there is a longer article from the Chronicle available to digital subscribers.

Other news sources covered similar aspects of the meeting with the Texas Tribune providing this description of the debate:
For more than an hour on Sunday, church members provided testimony for and against leaving PCUSA, some of it tearful.

Those in favor of leaving PCUSA spoke of the national organization’s “theological drift” and called for a more “Christ-centered theology.”
and
Opponents of the switch argued for theological diversity. PCUSA does not require churches to ordain openly gay pastors if they choose not to. They bemoaned what they saw as inevitable fallout from the decision, and said that appealing to stricter evangelist views would only further isolate young members from the church.

In particularly fiery testimony, one opposing member said she feared the switch would make her “a member of a congregation that distinguishes itself by its homophobia.”
For a more nuanced look at the meeting I would refer you to the article from the Presbyterian Outlook which has a bit more on the process and procedure.

But returning to the Texas Tribune article, one paragraph caught my attention and I want to use it as the starting point to drill down a bit. They describe the property of the church like this:
First Presbyterian of Houston was an obvious target for the fledgling denomination. The Houston church has roughly 3,100 members, owns property valued at more than $100 million and boasts an $18 million endowment. The church is 175 years old.
Now consider the material that was provided by the church from a link that was on it's Season of Decision web page. The link has now been removed but as of this writing the document with the details of the terms for possible departure is still available. (But could disappear soon.) Besides the rationale for the departure the document has some legal notes, the report of the presbytery team and the details of payments the church would have had to make to the presbytery. I have not figured out which of the two listed options would be used but the larger of the two would have been payments to the presbytery on a five year declining scale totaling $343,236. The rationale for the amount is not given and based upon negotiations in my own presbytery I would not expect it to be so. But for a $100 million property and $18 million endowment it seems like a pretty good deal. This will become more apparent in a minute.

One other item on that page caught my attention, particularly in light of the actual vote tallies, and this could have changed this picture dramatically. While no specifics or formulas are given there is this paragraph about additional payments:
There are two additional payments that might be made to Presbytery. The amounts are not known at this time. If the required majority votes to be dismissed and more than 10% of our congregation vote to remain in PCUSA, and a petition to start a new church is signed by more than 25 members, and Presbytery approves the new church start, we will owe a payment to start a new church. In addition we will likely be required to make a voluntary gift to the Presbytery's New Church Development Fund.
It is interesting to wonder about the what-ifs had those extra 36 members been there and the vote had gone the other way, but just barely, what the magnitude of these payments would have been. (And I had to smile at the language about being "required to make a voluntary gift..." Probably a required gift of a voluntary amount.)

Let us now turn our attention to another vote, this time at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in San Francisco Presbytery scheduled for this coming weekend. When I started hearing details of this church dismissal I had to think that the presbytery was taking the instructions in the Tom decision very seriously:
When a congregation seeks dismissal under G-11.0103i (now G-3.0301a), it is the responsibility of the presbytery to fulfill its fiduciary duty under the Trust Clause. This fiduciary duty requires that the presbytery exercise due diligence regarding the value of the property of the congregation seeking dismissal. Due diligence, of necessity, includes not only an evaluation of the spiritual needs of the congregation and its circumstances but also financial analysis of the value of the property at stake. Payments for per capita or mission obligations are not satisfactory substitutes for the separate evaluation of the value of the property held in trust.
According to the information on the church web site the payment to the presbytery will be $8.89 million if the congregation votes to accept the terms and request dismissal. Yes, it is 1.5 orders of magnitude larger than the terms that FPC Houston got. In addition, for FPC Houston the quorum requirement was 30% of the membership, it is 50% for Menlo Park. And the required supermajority is 3/4 for Menlo Park while it was the 2/3 for FPC Houston. The differences due to presbytery policy are striking for two churches of very similar size (3,567 members for FPC Houston and 3,382 members for Menlo Park according to the 2012 list). As my title says - The Diversity of Dismissals.

The PC(USA)'s polity places dismissals firmly in the authority of the presbytery and each church was obliged to deal with their presbytery in coming to an agreement about the terms of dismissal. One of the places that Menlo Park discusses the terms of the agreement is in Pastor John Ortberg's February 2nd sermon. In there he talks about the process of arriving at these numbers saying:
Where did this figure come from, and why is it so high? Sorry for the complexity around this, but we want to be as transparent as we can. From the perspective of our church, part of what is suboptimal in our current denominational system is that there are no clear objective guidelines to arrive at a financial figure in a process like this one.
But regarding this financial number, in looking at a lot of the material on their web site I have not seen a breakdown of where this number actually comes from, if there is per capita, mission, property and new church development built into it.

For more details about the voting process there is a short video clip online from February 16th where Ruling Elder Ken Perez discusses what is coming up. In that discussion he also announces that a 5 year reversionary clause on the main property has been added by the presbytery to the terms of the agreement. The church's main web page about the dismissal has a lot of information and there is another page devoted to this weekend's vote.

Let me return to TE Ortberg's February 2nd sermon for a moment and highlight a couple of the comments he made. In his discussion he talks about the various options the congregation has relative to the large cost of departure. Besides paying the millions of dollars, one option is that they could turn down the offer and stay. Another is that they could walk away from their property. He discusses how neither of these fits the missional vision of the church. The fourth option is litigation and he responds to that option this way:
We could say, "We'll go to court." However, we think public litigation would be a bad witness for the church. It's not good for the bride of Jesus. It's not what God is calling us to do, and nobody wanted to do that.

While not doubting that this is their rationale in avoiding this path, and respecting them greatly for it, it is also worth noting that based on case law in the State of California, specifically the Episcopal Church Cases decided by the State Supreme Court, they would have an uphill battle in retaining control of the property through civil court.

I want to make two final comments about Menlo Park PC's missional vision as expressed in a couple of different places. In the church's online material the argument that is regularly presented for transferring is that the necessity of working with the presbytery is burdensome and getting in the way of their missional vision. As TE Ortberg says in that February 2nd sermon:
As you all know, we have a vision. We believe we have a mission. We want to reach thousands of people for Jesus Christ around this Bay Area that needs him so much. We want to launch new sites to help us do that.

We believe we simply cannot do that effectively if we remain in the denomination.
And this is a sentiment that is echoed in the comments by RE Perez where he talks about the issues they have had with the presbytery. Instead of emphasizing what may be a mismatch in the visions of the two governing bodies it sounds to my listening that he is leaning to a more congregational form of government and he wants to get the presbytery out of the way so the church can have more autonomy and flexibility.

Taking this one step further, as I look at all this material throughout it there is a tendency to speak of problems with the denomination when some of the issues are specifically with the presbytery. Picky polity point I know, but we do work on hierarchical structure where presbyteries do have identities and some autonomy from the synods and the General Assembly. It strikes me that the PC(USA) is getting painted with too broad a brush.

The second item I wanted to mention is a good article from The Almanac titled Changes Ahead for Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. In some ways I think the article does a better job of in explaining the church's vision than the church's own online material does. For example, it does discuss the issue of the church wanting to expand as a multi-site church while running up against the limitations of geographic presbyteries. It says:

MPPC Communications Director Nicole Laubscher said ECO's 110 churches are organized into nine presbyteries by both geography and similarity, such as size, as opposed to geography alone as done by the Presbyterian Church (USA).

"For us it's about the pace of change," she said. ECO offers more flexibility, whereas PCUSA is designed for small churches in a single location. "It creates tremendous barriers."

When MPPC first sought to expand outside Menlo Park, she said, "It was really hard. At the time, we didn't know if we would just get a no. Instead of being supported, encouraged and helped, it was another barrier to hurdle. ... it's just not the right framework to support a larger, multi-site church."

In PCUSA, the presbytery, or regional governing body, is responsible for planning and placing new churches. Tom Conrad, chair of the PCUSA team selected to deal with the proposed departure of the Menlo Park church, agreed the concept of opening multiple sites doesn't fit well with that organization's system; as a result, there are "precious few" multi-site churches.

The article also does a good job of exploring the downside to the dismissal agreement.

Some former and current members of MPPC said they think the theological differences are influencing the church's desire to change organizations.

Debra Holvick, who stopped attending several years ago, got re-involved to be able to participate in the upcoming vote.

"This was the church I was baptized in, I went to Sunday school there, I was married there, my father's memorial was held there, my mother remarried there and my children were raised there," she told the Almanac. "That church has been a huge part of my life, so I felt responsible for it and I don't want them to take it in an unchristian-like direction and say this is part of who I am."

Ms. Holvick said taking a stance against gay clergy and same-sex marriage may not be a major motivation for changing denominations, but it does come with the package.

Later on there are comments about whether the almost $9 million buy-out price could be "better spent funding scholarships and buying food for those in need in the local community..."

So we wait for the meeting this Sunday to see how the congregation as a whole discerns the will of God regarding its future affiliations. Stay tuned...

[Ed. note: For the record, I did resist using the cliché "Houston we have a problem" as a subtitle to this post. But yes, another post and its correction did use a variation on it.]

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of February 2014


Let me begin today with a bit of the follow-up news to the election of the Moderator for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. First, concerning the successful nominee, the Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:
New Presbyterian Moderator vows to reach out and serve - from Belfast News Letter

Presbyterian moderator says politicians must find way of dealing with past - from The Irish Times

Just a day after his election, new Presbyterian Church Moderator sparks row by telling gay people to stop having sex - from Belfast Telegraph
And the presence of the Rev. Liz Hughes in the final vote, and falling one vote short, has grabbed some significant media attention as well:
Town-born Liz just misses out in historic bid to become Moderator - from Portadown Times

A female Moderator is surely inevitable - from Portadown Times

In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament approved a same-sex marriage bill with corresponding reaction from the various Scottish churches including the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland:
Scotland becomes seventeenth country to approve same-sex marriages - from Reuters

Same-sex marriage vote prompts church concerns - from Daily Record

Churches denounce law that legalizes same-sex marriage in Scotland - from Ecumenical News
Although individual pastors are speaking out in favour of the legislation:
Cambuslang minister goes against own church's view on same sex marriage - from Daily Record

Also from Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland confirmed they had settled a lawsuit a few months back related to the death of a visiting Peruvian boy almost eight years ago. The lawsuit was brought by the boy's parents:
Free Church of Scotland settles with crash boy's parents - from the BBC

Finally, it was also announced that the jewelry - ring and cross - that are the signs of the office of the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, have been replaced after they were stolen with a bag at an airport last year:
New ring and cross for Kirk's Moderator after originals stolen - from STV News

And in Illinois the long-running story of the fate of a Presbyterian camp on Lake Michigan has apparently been settled. While there was hope of saving the camp, with the vote of the Presbytery of Chicago the land was sold to the developer:
Presbyterian group’s plan to sell Michigan campsite meets opposition - from Chicago Sun-Times (Feb 5)

Church votes to sell Saugatuck campground property to developer for $10M - from The Grand Rapids Press (Feb 10)

Sale of 130-acre Presbyterian Camps completed - from Holland Sentinel (Feb 18)

In Mississippi, a celebration and update on a church damaged by a tornado last year:
Year after tornado, damaged Hattiesburg church holds communion - from the Clarion Ledger

From Africa, we first have an op-ed piece the decries some of the steps pastors are taking, including at least one Presbyterian one, to get around laws so they can accumulate more wealth for them and their churches:
Kenya: The Terrorism of Our Modern-Day Pastors - from allAfrica
There were also comments about the economy from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and suggestion that spending be cut instead of taxes raised:
Imposition of taxes is not the answer – Presby Moderator - from Graphic Online

While from the island of Trinidad a problem at a Presbyterian school has parents and students protesting:
Rats close Erin Road Presbyterian - from Trinidad Express

Also in this time period we had news that Joan Mondale initially entered hospice and died a few days later. Her service was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis with music provided by the Macalester College Concert Choir. She was a daughter of the manse and her father, the Rev. John Maxwell Adams, was the chaplain at Macalester for a number of years. One reason that her passing caught my attention is that my father was a student at Macalester at the same time she was and worked closely with Rev. Adams in connection with the chapel services. I believe I had the pleasure of meeting Rev. Adams, probably at the 183rd General Assembly in 1971.

At this point there is a lot of news out there and you may notice a couple of high-profile items missing from this list. I do hope to make time to blog those individually in the next few weeks. In addition, as GA season approaches the news volume will probably be increasing as well. Stay tuned...

Church Of Scotland 2014 National Youth Assembly Moderator And Clerk


This past week the Church of Scotland announced the choice of Moderator and Clerk for the 2014 National Youth Assembly.

The Moderator will be Ms Rachel Hutcheson, a member of Old High St. Stephen's Church of Inverness. She has a good background in the workings of the Kirk having been involved in Church of Scotland Youth (CoSY) for the last six years and during that time participated in four National Youth Assemblies. In addition, she has served as a youth delegate from the Presbytery of Inverness to the General Assembly four times. She is active in her local church as a youth group leader and a member of the Worship Team. She has also helped with the wider church as staff for three National Children's Assemblies.

She is a student at the University of Aberdeen working on an MA in Education. From one of the bio's I had to look up her summer pastime of Munro Bagging and found it to be mountain climbing a particular set of peaks very much like the 46ers that I grew up working on.

The Clerk will be Mr. John Haston, an active elder from Abbotsgrange Parish Church in Grangemouth where he serves as the Sunday School Superintendent, EV3NT co-ordinator, choir member, Boys Brigade helper and a committee member of the men's association. He serves the Presbytery of Falkirk as a corresponding youth member and assessor elder for another congregation. (Polity note: when a congregation can not form its own session the governing council is composed of outside assessor elders like other branches might have an organizing committee or an administrative commission.)

He has been to two previous National Youth Assemblies and he will be serving as a youth delegate to the General Assembly for the second time this May.

There is coverage of the announcement from both the Church of Scotland news article as well as a briefer article, but with pictures, from the Kirk's magazine Life and Work. At this time the COSY page for Moderator and Clerk includes both the current officers as well as the most detailed bios of each of the designees.

The National Youth Assembly will be held 15-18 August and the theme is "My Father's House." In the quotes in the Life and Work article Rachel helps to unpack this a little:
"The Church is going through challenging times so we must take time to reflect on who we are and where we are going. This year at NYA we will be exploring how we worship. We will discuss how we think the Church should be spending its money. We will be investigating how we can do ministry intergenerationally and finally, how we can support Christians in the Middle East. As we join together to celebrate 20 fabulous years of NYA I hope delegates will feel empowered and strengthened in their faith."
(And I have to give a nod of approval to the coffee cup - OK, hot beverage cup - in the graphics.)
We congratulate Rachel and John on their selection as the officers of the National Youth Assembly and wish them well and offer our prayers as they prepare for the meeting and to represent the Assembly in the following year. Furthermore, we pray for the Assembly as a whole and eagerly look forward to their mutual discernment on the topics to be discussed.