Moderator-Designate And Clerk Announced For The National Youth Assembly

So much I could be writing about over my lunch hour today but I have to give preference to a fellow geologist…

This morning the Church of Scotland announced that the selection committee for the Church of Scotland Youth (COSY) National Youth Assembly (NYA) has chosen Ms Hanna Mary Goodlad as the 2015 NYA Moderator and Ms Catriona Muckart as the 2015 Clerk. They will be installed at, and help run, NYA 2015 and will be part of the report of the NYA deliverance to the Church of Scotland’s 2016 General Assembly.

Needless to say, the Life and Work article got my attention when their opening line about Ms Goodlad is “Hannah Mary lives in Aberdeen and works as a Geologist for an oil company.” She received her initial training at Glasgow University and did additional work at Imperial College, London.

Hanna Mary grew up in Shetland and the article says that she has been active in the church with children’s and youth work. While in London she helped at a homeless shelter, and with her church she has traveled to Tanzania to help teach at a school for deaf children. In addition, she has been a representative from the Church of Scotland to the Scottish Youth Parliament.

In the article she is quoted in part as saying:

Growing up in a small community right on the edge of Scotland gave me a hunger for the inclusion for those who feel marginalised for whatever reason: geographically or indeed socially. My aim is to be an approachable and accessible leader for the young folk already within our Kirk but I also want to also reach out to the young people across the breadth of Scotland who want a connection with the Kirk, at whatever level that may be.

I am passionate about the Church of Scotland, passionate about the never ending good works of our Kirk and I am passionate about Christ. It is my desire to see the position of young people within the Church of Scotland grow. We are an accepting, open group of young Christians with our love of Christ and one another under pinning everything we do.

Ms Catriona Muckart, the new Clerk, hails from the village of Clashmore and is currently a member of Dornoch Cathedral. She is in her third year of school at the University of Stirling studying sociology and criminology. We are told “In her spare time she enjoys kayaking, she says perhaps with more enthusiasm than skill!”

Ms Muckart is quoted as saying:

I’m very humbled to have been selected as the next clerk of the NYA and am excited about what the role will bring. I’m looking forward to working with Hannah and the rest of the NYA during my year as clerk and journeying with them in faith.

We congratulate Heather Mary and Catriona on this honor and extend our prayers to them as they prepare for and help lead the NYA, as well as for the remainder of the year as they represent the NYA within the Kirk. And we certainly look forward to hearing more about the themes for the NYA next August. Best wishes.

UPDATE: The Church of Scotland main site has issued their announcement of the appointments.

And while the article is subscription based at least we have the great headline from The Press and Journal

Aberdeen scientist appointed to lead Kirk’s national youth assembly

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of September

Yes, I really am four, soon to be five, installments behind on the news headlines coverage. So here goes one and we will see if we can get caught up.

The Presbyterian-related news for early September was dominated by the Scottish Independence Referendum and the place of the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland in that debate. I mention this only as reminder since I dealt with that in its own piece at the time. But stay tuned because the IndyRef decision was not for the status quo but for restructuring the relationships within the United Kingdom, a task that is only beginning.

In other news…

In a tragic accident in Chicago

Chicago woman killed by gargoyle falling from landmark Second Presbyterian Church – from The Washington Post

Second Presbyterian Church Being Check Out; Family Files Wrongful Death Suit – from Sloopin Blog

The network of Arizona sanctuary churches expands to Tempe

Churches Offer Sanctuary to Immigrants in Danger of Deportation – from The Wall Street Journal

In the Church of Scotland the departure of pastors and parts of congregations continue:

Tarbert group of 94 quits the Church of Scotland – from BBC News

Statement on congregation departure in Tarbert – from Church of Scotland

Gay Inclusiveness Costs Church of Scotland Clergy – from EDGE Media

Church of Scotland [presbytery] moderator intervenes over gay minister row – STV

In Malawi, the Livingstonia Synod of the CCAP comes out against the political proposal for an independent North Malawi/Nyika Republic as being politically motivated and having left the people out of the process.

LIVINGSTONIA SYNOD BLAST THE CALL FOR THE FORMATION OF NYIKA REPUBLIC – from Face of Malawi

Livingstonia Synod clarify stand on North Malawi independence – from Nyasa Times

The death of Northern Ireland political and religious leader Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley:

Ian Paisley, the Dr No of Ulster politics, dies aged 88 – from The Guardian

Ian Paisley – obituary from The Economist

In the mould of an Old Testament prophet, Paisley founded his own church – from The Irish Times

And a milestone anniversary for a church in Dover, Delaware, that was planted by America’s original presbytery

Dover’s Presbyterian Church celebrates 300 years of service – from Dover Post

Now, on to the second half of the month.

A Brief Note On Texas Church Property Court Cases

There was a brief ripple on the church property legal front this past week as the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the Texas Supreme Court Decision regarding the Episcopal Church cases. Personally I found this to be an expected outcome and frankly a non-event for reasons I will explain in a minute, but it occasioned a look at another Presbyterian case that has some related characteristics.

The Texas case is the one I discussed recently where the Texas Supreme Court overturned the summary judgement granted to the mainline Episcopal Church in the lower courts based on it being a hierarchical denomination. The Texas decision then sent it back down to the trial court for a full hearing on neutral principals but The Episcopal Church appealed it to the U.S. Supreme Court which this past week included it in a summary order of the cases that they declined to hear.

As I said in the lede, nothing in this struck me as unusual as the high courts prefer to weigh in after a case has run its course in the lower courts. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has, to my knowledge, yet to accept any of the recent church property cases for review. As a more experienced observer of the Episcopal church property cases, Allan Haley who writes at the Anglican Curmudgeon, says in his analysis of this order:

The order was expected, because neither decision by the Texas Supreme Court was final. The U. S. Supreme Court almost never agrees to review lower court decisions until they are final. In these two cases, the Fort Worth matter was sent back to Judge Chupp’s court for a trial, and the Church of the Good Shepherd case was likewise sent back to the trial court in San Angelo for further proceedings.

The action by SCOTUS now frees both of those cases to move ahead.

Reading further in his analysis I was interested to see that the parties who have left the mainline Episcopal church have filed for summary judgement and how, in his view of the cases, now it all comes down to one specific question:

In Fort Worth, Bishop Iker’s attorneys have filed a motion for summary judgment which is scheduled for a hearing in December. Given the decision by the Texas Supreme Court, the only question remaining for the trial court to decide is whether or not ECUSA managed to create a valid trust in the Diocese’s property which the Diocese did not revoke when it decided to withdraw in 2008. In Texas all trusts are deemed to be fully revocable at any time, unless the language creating the trust states otherwise.

I am not sure that is the only issue to be resolved but I don’t follow these with the focus or knowledge Mr. Haley does. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

This news has brought to the forefront another Presbyterian case that I have not previously included in these discussions, that of Windwood Presbyterian Church in Houston. As a Christian Post article details the history, they began the process of getting clear title to their property back in 2008 and departed for ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians this past May with the property issue still unresolved. As in the Episcopal cases they initially lost on summary judgement in the Texas courts because of the hierarchical church argument but the August 2013 Texas Supreme Court decision caused the Appellate Court to vacate their earlier decision and send the case back to the trial court for a full hearing.

But Mr. Haley’s comment above about whether a valid trust was created caught my eye because that will clearly play a role in this case. Windwood was a member of the PCUS at the time of the union creating the PC(USA) and the PCUS churches had the option of avoiding the trust clause.  I quote from the fourth page of the Appellate decision (emphasis mine):

The Book of Order also contains a provision permitting a local church, with in eight years of the formation of the PCUSA, to opt out of the trust provision if it had not been subject to a similar provision before the formation of the PCUSA. Windwood never exercised this right.

While Windwood has multiple arguments for it’s clear ownership of the property under a neutral principles approach, it seems that their not having exercised this option is a significant hurdle they have to cross. This would appear to be an acknowledgement by the church back in 1991 (eight years after the union) that they are subject to the trust clause in a hierarchical church. I am curious to see how all this balances out as the courts see it.

As a side note, I would point out the case of Timberridge Church in Georgia where Atlanta Presbytery successfully argued that the opt-out was only one of several tests of whether the trust clause was in place and that the congregation was still subject to it in spite of exercising the option. But to my knowledge, that case is unique regarding the interpretation of the opt-out option.

So, as usual, each case carries its own nuances. And, based upon past history on these cases, whichever side prevails in the trial court appeals can be expected. We will see where all this leads.

Presbyteries Begin Voting On Same-Sex Marriage Actions

With General Assembly season now behind us we move into the portion of the year where the actions of the General Assemblies that require presbytery concurrence are now being considered by the lower governing bodies.

Coming from three of the Assemblies we have proposed actions that have implications for same-sex marriage/partnerships within the church and the progress is being closely watched within each branch. Here is a brief summary of what to watch and where each is at this time.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a proposed constitutional amendment that now needs to be approved by the presbyteries. This change in the language of Book of Order section W-4.9000 has been bundled into the Amendment booklet and is now referred to as Amendment 14-F.

Presbytery voting has begun and the Office of the General Assembly is, as always, the official tracker of the votes. They have created a page specific to the marriage amendment that has not only resources about the GA action and that amendment, but a nifty map of the presbyteries that have reported their vote and which way it went. I have to admit that with only a few recorded so far it is a bit tough distinguishing between the shades of purple they use for yes and no, but once it begins to fill in the difference should be more obvious. And interesting to see that the Dakota nongeographic presbytery was geographically placed in southern Saskatchewan.

If you want the official tally of the voting on all amendments that is still there and shows that to date three presbyteries have officially recorded their votes ( 1 yes and 2 no on both 14-F and Blehar at this time ). Also interesting to note that the official page for the Belhar Confession does not have nifty map.

And for the polity wonks it is helpful to remember that the PC(USA) now has two less presbyteries for a total of 171 meaning that it takes 86 to approve a Book of Order Amendment and 114 to approve a change to the Book of Confessions.

For up-to-the-minute unofficial reporting I see that the Covenant Network is keeping an on-line tally with the presbytery voting results including the number of yes and no votes, something the OGA does not include. As of two weeks ago their tally was two presbyteries on each side.

While I will be doing a much more detailed analysis as more data are available, here is a quick comparison of the first four data point in comparison to 10-A. I will leave it for another time to discuss whether the comparison of two amendment that deal with significantly different equality questions is appropriate. Abstentions are included in the totals and the percentage after the total is the change in the number of total votes from 10-A.

Presbytery 14-F Yes 14-F No 14-F Total 10-A Yes 10-A No 10-A Total
New Castle 73 (74%) 24 (24%) 99 (-14%) 79 (69%) 34 (30%) 115
Palo Duro 25 (45%) 30 (55%) 55 (-35%) 35 (41%) 50 (59%) 85
San Diego 22 (22%) 76 (77%) 99 (+14%) 21 (24%) 66 (76%) 87
Yukon 27 (59%) 19 (41%) 46 (-22%) 21 (36%) 38 (64%) 59

So far we have two presbyteries with no on both, one yes on both and one switch from no to yes. In three out of four cases we see a significant decrease in the number of total votes cast. With 167 presbyteries left to go there is still a lot of data yet to be collected so I won’t go any further with this analysis now.

 

Church of Scotland

This past May the General Assembly 2014 of the Church of Scotland approved an act related to ministers in civil partnerships that affirms traditional language but includes proposed language (all found as an Appendix to the Legal Questions Committee report) for churches to request to depart from the traditional standards and it is now being voted on by the presbyteries as special legislation under the Barrier Act. There are 46 presbyteries and a majority of 24 are required for concurrence leading to the General Assembly giving it final considering in 2015.

The Principal Clerk’s office does not keep the official tally of the votes online but a group of evangelicals in the Kirk, Forward Together, has been monitoring voting. In a statement from last week (30 October) they indicate that they know of three presbyteries who have already voted no on the overture. That statement also contains a list of known dates of presbytery votes with the largest single day on the list this past Tuesday (4 November). The deadline to vote is in December.

In particular, the vote against by the Presbytery of Lewis received some publicity probably enhanced by the issuance of a statement following the vote. The story was picked up by the Stornoway Gazette and the KaleidoScot web site, among others.

Holding an alternate viewpoint on the question is Affirmation Scotland which says that they are disappointed the legislation does not go farther but supports it as an intermediate step. One of their affiliated churches, Greyfriers Church in Edinburgh, has recently made it clear that they are an inclusive congregation and that should the act be confirmed they will be an affirming congregation and request a departure from the act should the circumstances arise.

 

Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

In their General Assembly about a month ago they reaffirmed their support for marriage between one man and one woman and the Assembly sent to the presbyteries special legislation under the Barrier Act that would confirm that language in their Book of Order.

The act must be approved by a majority of the eleven presbyteries, two synods and two church councils.

It is relatively early in their process so we will see what announcements are made as it moves forward.

 

Conclusion

At this point the process is moving forward in each of the branches. While the Church of Scotland voting will be wrapping up in the next couple of months the other two branches will take a bit longer. As I indicated above, I will be taking the PC(USA) voting data and adding that to my database to see what observations we can make about that branch. For the other two there is a paucity of previous votes for statistical comparisons so we can only keep an eye on them as current snapshots of their denomination. We will see what happens.

For All The Saints — All Saints Day 2014

Come, let us join our friends above
who have obtained the prize,
and on the eagle wings of love
to joys celestial rise.
Let saints on earth unite to sing
with those to glory gone,
for all the servants of our King
in earth and heaven are one.

As is my custom on All Saints Day, I remember and give thanks for those in my life who in the past year have left us in the Church Militant to join the Church Triumphant. While saddened at the loss, they remain in my memory as servants who have faithfully run the race and now have claimed their prize for faithfulness in ministry

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…

This year I remember

  • Vincenta, who suffered with much but held tight to the Gospel throughout
  • Hope, who in her own practical and direct way – that could sometimes rub you the wrong way – was nonetheless always the gracious, generous and hospitable hostess
  • Dave, who was so very generous in his time, talents, gifts and service to the local church
  • Jack, who truly laid aside noble birth to serve the Lord Jesus Christ
  • Odessa, who in her lifetime spanning more than a century spent a majority as a pastor’s wife, supporting him, their family and the church in ministry
  • Beth, who likewise counted it an honor and a calling to support her husband in his varied ministries

To God the Most High I give thanks for these saints, for their lives, their examples and the difference they made in this world and the inspiration they have been to me.

One family we dwell in him,
one church above, beneath,
though now divided by the stream,
the narrow stream of death;
one army of the living God,
to his command we bow;
part of his host have crossed the flood,
and part are crossing now.

[Text from Come, Let Us Join Our Friends Above by John Wesley]

Reformation Day Thoughts On A Reforming Pope

On this Reformation Day I would like to spend a few minutes talking about a pope that is not of the traditional nationality for popes, is an outsider to the Holy See and upon taking office sets his sights on reforming the church starting at the top with the Curia and the administration in Rome and thereby raising resistance and concern from the traditional insiders. Current history? Hardly.

Some of the Reformation era popes are fairly well known. Leo X is remembered as the pope that authorized selling indulgences to finance St. Peter’s and then excommunicated Martin Luther when he complained about it (and some other stuff). Clement VII, who happened to be a cousin of Leo’s, is known for his disagreements with Henry VIII and getting Michelangelo to paint the Last Judgement on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But until I started doing the research for this post I am not sure I was ever aware of Adrian VI whose short papacy lies between those two.

Adriaan Floriszoon Boeyens was a native of Utrecht, now in the Netherlands, and was the last pontefice barbaro, that being a non-Italian pope, until – wait for it – John Paul II. He is also one of only two modern popes to keep his given name upon becoming pope. While highly regarded for his loyalty, intellect and administrative abilities much of his higher church duties were in Spain, which is where he was in January 1522 when the other cardinals elected him. They had reached the conclusion that no one in the room in Rome would receive enough votes and upon considering others Adrian was overwhelmingly elected. When he arrived in Rome to be installed it was the first time he had ever been in Italy.

Adrian had no illusions about the state of the church and immediately set about trying to reform it. One biography describes his efforts and the response like this:

History presents no more pathetic figure than that of this noble pontiff, struggling single-handed against insurmountable difficulties. Through the reckless extravagances of his predecessor, the papal finances were in a sad tangle. Adrian’s efforts to retrench expenses only gained for him from his needy courtiers the epithet of miser.

Another says:

Adrian VI. lost no time in adopting measures designed to put an end to the religious troubles agitating Europe. He rightly began with the Roman Curia, but made slow progress, because the evils which he sought to eradicate were deep seated and of long standing.

One of his immediate challenges was the Diet in Nuremberg where the German princes were gathering and the duty of trying to keep them loyal to Rome fell to the pope’s legate Francesco
Chieregati, Bishop of Teramo. Adrian prepared for him Instructions to be read to the Diet which one source says is a document “unique in the history of the Papacy” and “is of exceptional importance to an understanding of Adrian’s plans of reform, and his opinion of the state of things.” Here is the Instruction delivered to the Diet on 3 January 1523 quoted in an essay written for the 400th anniversary of the Reformation:

“You are also to say,” wrote Adrian to Chieregati, “that we frankly acknowledge that God permits this persecution of His Church on account of the sins of men, and especially of prelates and clergy: of a surety the Lord’s arm is not shortened that He cannot save us, but our sins separate us from Him, so that He does not hear. Holy Scripture declares aloud that the sins of the people are the outcome of the sins of the priesthood; therefore, as Chrysostom declares, when our Saviour wished to cleanse the city of Jerusalem of its sickness, He went first to the Temple to punish the sins of the priests before those of others, like a good physician who heals a disease at its roots. We know well that for many years things deserving of abhorrence have gathered round the Holy See; sacred things have been misused, ordinances transgressed, so that in everything there has been a change for the worse. Thus it is not surprising that the malady has crept down from the head to the members, from the Popes to the hierarchy.

“We all, prelates and clergy, have gone astray from the right way, and for long there is none that has done good; no, not one. To God, therefore, we must give all the glory and humble ourselves before Him; each one of us must consider how he has fallen and be more ready to judge himself than to be judged by God in the day of His wrath. Therefore, in our name, give promises that we shall use all diligence to reform before all things the Roman Curia, whence, perhaps, all these evils have had their origin; thus healing will begin at the source of the sickness. We deem this to be all the more our duty, as the whole world is longing for such reform. The papal dignity was not the object of our ambition, and we would rather have closed our days in the solitude of private life; willingly would we have put aside the tiara; the fear of God alone, the validity of our election. and the dread of schism, decided us to assume the position of Chief Shepherd. We desire to wield our power not as seeking dominion or means for enriching our kindred, but in order to restore to Christ’s bride, the Church, her former beauty, to give help to the oppressed, to uplift men of virtue and learning; above all, to do all that beseems a good shepherd and a successor of blessed Peter.

“Yet let no man wonder if we do not remove all abuses at one blow, for the malady is deeply rooted and takes many forms. We must advance, therefore, step to step, first applying the proper remedies to the most difficult and dangerous evils, so as not by a hurried reform to throw all things into greater confusion than before. Aristotle well says: ‘All sudden changes are dangerous to states.”’

Amazingly frank words about the state of the church coming from the very top. And apparently an admission resulting from the pressure generated by Martin Luther’s calls for change.

A few historical points should be noted about all this. First, the Instruction acknowledges the corruption in the system but the church stood by the doctrinal standards that were also at issue with Martin Luther. In fact, part of the message of the legate to the Diet was for them to stand by and enforce the decision of the Diet of Worms against Luther.

Second, the Instruction was an acknowledgement that Luther and other reformers were correct on certain points and it should come as no surprise that Adrian’s acknowledgement of the need for reform of the system was seized upon by them as validation of those claims that reform was needed.

Third, the work and stress of reforming the church took a heavy and rapid toll on Adrian and from his installation on 31 August 1522 he served barely a year until his death on 14 September 1523. The essay says of his successor, Clement VII, “Although he had given evidence of efficiency and was free from extravagance, yet he lacked decision.”

Yet the need for reform was acknowledged and while the path was not straight and the wheels turned slowly, Adrian’s naming the problems helped pave the way for Clement’s successor, Paul III, to convene the Council of Trent.

Finally, an editorial note: Lest you think that I was being selective in my sources to prove my argument and show the medieval church in a particularly bad light, I would point out that every quote, source and link in this post is from a document from the Roman church. In particular, I was excited to find that collection of essays titled The Reformation: A Series of Articles Published in The Tidings which collected in one volume 24 articles published by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in their weekly The Tidings from November 1916 to May 1917 in their  recognition of the 400th anniversary of The Reformation. I may not agree with their doctrinal interpretation of the Reformation, but I have found it a rich source of historical information from the Roman perspective. [And for my friends on Twitter and Facebook – this was the unnamed “rabbit hole” that excited me last weekend when I found it and discovered a rich source of information for my Reformation Day post.]

And so with that I wish all my Protestant and Reformed friends a very good Reformation Day. May you always be reforming according to the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Moderator Designate Of The Church Of Scotland 2015 General Assembly

Tempting to start off with the quip “Deja vu all over again,” but I’ll pass on that one…

None the less, with the announcement today by the selection committee of the Church of Scotland that the Rev. Angus Morrison, minister of Orwell and Portmoak Parish Church, has been chosen as the Moderator Designate for the 2015 General Assembly, it does permit me to draw on previous material.

Rev. Morrison was selected as the Moderator Designate a year ago for the 2014 General Assembly  but his ill health leading up to that Assembly forced him to step back. In accepting this renewed call he is quoted as saying:

I am thankful that a very good recovery, following surgery, has made it possible for me to accept the nomination.

My wife and I are deeply appreciative of the support and prayers of so many across the Church during this recent difficult period. In dependence on God’s grace, I look forward to the opportunities and challenges of the year ahead.

To remind you of his background allow me to quote directly from my original post introducing him:

The press release tells us that Mr. Morrison moved around as a child as his father tended different lighthouses. His college career began at the University of Glasgow with further studies at Pisa University and London University. He completed his Ph.D. at Edinburgh University’s New College. He was ordained by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1979. (Note – not the Free Church as was originally reported in some accounts, although the branches share some of the same lineage.) He later transferred to the Church of Scotland. With the Free Presbyterians he served churches in Oban and Edinburgh. Before his current position he was at St. Columba’s (Old Parish) Church in Stornoway.

Beyond the parish he has served the church in several ways including as Moderator of the Presbytery of Lewis, member and Vice Covener of the Panel on Doctrine, Queen’s Chaplain, Covener of the Mission and Discipleship Council and as a member of the Special Commission on Same-sex Relationships and the Ministry.

He and his wife Marion have four children between the ages of 16 and [29].

In today’s announcement Rev. Morrison expresses his hopes and vision for the Assembly and the Kirk as a whole:

The Church exists, not for itself, but as God’s agent for the extending of His kingdom’s just and gracious rule in the world.

The mission of our Lord continues, and it is our privilege and responsibility to join him in this. In that connection, good news stories are plentiful of faithful and imaginative work going on in congregations and parishes throughout Scotland.

Despite all the problems we face, God’s Spirit is evidently at work among us. The challenge before us is to resist distraction, allowing the commission given to us by Jesus himself, to ‘go and make disciples’, to remain firmly at the top of our agenda.

My main hope and prayer for the year ahead is that it may be possible to encourage a fresh focus on the centralities of our faith and calling, and that we may find new ways to bring encouragement and support to one another, so that in the power of the Holy Spirit, the vital ministries with which we have been entrusted, in fellowship with all God’s people, may truly flourish, for the enrichment of the people of Scotland and beyond.

Needless to say, I am not the only one having a little fun with this repeat performance and a couple of the select news headlines include:

Second chance at Kirk moderator job for Dr Angus Morrison (originally titled “Church moderator makes comeback”) – from BBC News

Respected Kinross-shire minister gets second chance to lead Church of Scotland – from Scottish Daily Record

And so, we rejoice with Rev. Morrison and his family at his restored health and recovery from surgery and once again wish him well and offer our prayers as he prepares for the Assembly and undertakes his moderatorial year.

PCANZ GA Says Ministers May Only Solemnize Marriage Between A Man And A Woman

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand concluded yesterday and in their final day of business the Assembly approved wording to be added to the Book of Order clarifying that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

At the present time the only reference I have found with details of this action is from the GA14 News for October 7 which links to a PDF copy of the press release.

Currently there is a Book of Order requirement for ordained leaders for faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman. There were proposals presented to the Assembly to change this as well as a proposal for congregations to fall out (their technical terminology) of this requirement if 2/3 of the congregation approves. None of these changes were approved by the Assembly.

From a polity wonk perspective the release gives the bare outlines of what happened so let’s drill down into the polity documents a bit.

The press release does mention the PCANZ Book of Order section discussing the standards for ordained office which says

(1A) Sexual relations outside marriage
In accordance with the supreme and subordinate standards of the Church, sessions, parish councils, presbyteries and united district councils shall not accept for training, license, ordain or induct anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of a faithful marriage between a man and a woman. In relation to homosexuality, and the interests of natural justice, this ruling shall not prejudice anyone who, as at 29 September 2006, had been accepted for training, licensed, ordained or inducted.

Regarding the new rule pertaining to conducting marriage ceremonies It seems that this sections on personal standards would not be the place to include such a rule. Reading over the Book of Order a bit it would seem that the first half of Chapter 6 where it talks about the nature, functions and responsibility of a minister would be a more suitable place to put it. Alternately, in the context of Church Councils in Chapter 7 there is some discussion of providing for worship and maybe it could be placed there.

But in light of this wild speculation on my part, as of now the only section of the Book of Order that specifically mentions marriage is section 9.1(1A) that is quoted above. Adding it to another section would be adding a specific requirement or responsibility in a section that currently is more general.

Now, the PCANZ does have a Directory for Worship as well. In their documents the Book of Order is similar to what several other branches refer to as the Form of Government section and the Directory for Worship stands as its own document. Under the Book of Order the Directory is authoritative in its own right and does have a section on marriage (section 4.11) that reflects the traditional Reformed four-fold nature of marriage and that marriage is between one man and one woman. (For the PC(USA) types it is very close to the wording in G-4.9001 that is currently being considered for replacement.)

So, another possible explanation is that the new wording on conducting marriages will be added to the Directory for Worship and the wording in the press release was simplified wording since most people are not polity wonks.

I do have a request into the PCANZ for clarification and amplification and if I receive a response I will update it here.

UPDATE: With thanks to Mr. Martin Baker, the Assembly Executive Secretary, for responding to my questions, a couple of interesting and unique points were brought out. The primary one is that while the special legislation will probably be added to Chapter 6, the exact placement is not handled by the Assembly directly but will be determined at a future date by the Book of Order Advisory Committee.  He also confirmed that the act was passed ad interim so it goes into effect immediately, and that there will be no changes to 9.1(1A) from this Assembly. Thanks for the response and now we see about the concurrence from the wider church.

In addition, the changes to the Book of Order follow the opposite model from what American Presbyterians are used to as the rule goes into effect right away and is later removed if the presbyteries do not agree.

The press release also adds that the Assembly “decided against establishing a special commission on diversity to facilitate a programme of informed study on matters relating to sexuality in leadership and the conduct of marriage including liberty of conscience.”

It is worth noting in closing that one church, St. Andrew’s on the Terrace in Wellington very quickly issued a press release declaring that they would defy the ban. As the article says:

“This decision is deeply disturbing and we strongly dissent from it” says St Andrew’s Parish Convenor, Sonia Groes-Petrie. “The Presbyterian tradition is for ministers to have freedom to make decisions about whom they will marry. There is a range of opinions on same-sex marriage within the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and today’s decision does not reflect that diversity.”

This has a ways to go so we will see how it develops.

UPDATE: A great piece on the General Assembly in general by Bruce Hamill is now available. He does focus on the process around the issues related to sexuality and talks a bit about the 200 commissioners who left the floor for the balance of the debate at one point in the proceedings, something I did not include above.

New Free Church Of Scotland Moderator-Designate

A couple of days ago the Free Church of Scotland announced that at the Commission of Assembly meeting the Rev. David Robertson of Dundee was selected as the Moderator-designate for the 2015 General Assembly.

Rev. Robertson is the pastor of St. Peters Free Church in Dundee and director of the Solas Center for Public Christianity.

Rev. Robertson has been at St. Peters for almost 22 years and in that time the congregation has grown from eight people to over two hundred on Sundays now. In addition St. Peters has a sister church plant in St. Andrews and there are plans for one in City of Discovery. His previous, and first, call was to Brora Free Church in Sutherland.

His nomination as the Moderator-designate is made even more notable in light of his life-threatening medical problems in 2011 requiring surgery on his stomach and lungs and a five week stay in the intensive care unit.

Reacting to the appointment, the Free Church article quotes Rev. Robertson as saying:

It is an honour and a privilege to be able to serve in this way, especially at such an exciting time for both the Free Church and Scotland.

We are a growing and developing church, reversing the trend in a society which is becoming increasingly secularised and in a nation which is seeing significant changes.

My hope is that the Free Church will continue to bring the Good News to all the people of Scotland and beyond and that the Lord will use us as salt and light to help his people, of whatever denomination, and to see Scotland return to its Christian foundations.

Typically, for a Moderator-designate article I would stop here giving my best wishes and prayers and be done. But those who are familiar with Rev. Robertson’s work know there is much more to the story. To the wider community in Scotland he may be the most recognized minister in the Free Church. As the press release says:

David is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s boldest Christian broadcasters, regularly taking on atheists at media and student union events, as well as an increasingly popular author on persuasive evangelism for Christians.

And maybe you recognize him from his blogging and tweeting as @theweeflea. And the paragraph above is being very diplomatic when it says “one of Scotland’s boldest.” He is not afraid to engage ANYONE for the cause of the Gospel and has developed a reputation for that which is viewed differently depending on your perspective.

There is a great insight into Rev. Robertson in an article in the Press and Journal where former Moderator Rev. David Meredith says of him:

David has the uncanny knack of speaking about the ‘elephant in the room’ and his recent illness, which brought him to the very gates of death, have made him impatient with cant and bluster.

He is a man who realises that life is brief and eternity is endless and I have no hesitation in saying that he is one of the most godly people I know.

In light of how he is viewed in various sectors of society I have been intrigued with how his nomination has been cast in the headlines. A few samples…

New Free Church of Scotland Moderator announced – Premier Christian Radio (Straight forward, no spin)

‘Visionary’ named as new moderator of Free Church – Press and Journal (But you have to read far into the article to realize those are probably not scare quotes but just requoting a description from the article?)

Outspoken Dundee minister named Free Church Moderator – Herald Scotland

Anti-gay minister named Free Church Moderator – KaleidoScot (Considering the Free Church’s ordination standards and position against same-sex marriage this news outlet could probably use this headline for any Free Church Moderator-designate. On the other hand, they consider Rev. Robertson’s outspoken nature particularly detrimental to the civility of the debate and sending a message to the Church of Scotland at this time.)

UPDATE: Regarding that last article, KaleidoScot has published a response from Rev. Robertson.

So as we look forward to the 2015 General Assembly we can probably say with some confidence that it will be an interesting year. Our prayers are with Rev. Robertson for the time of preparation, his work moderating the General Assembly and for his moderatorial year. Our congratulations and best wishes.

Presbyterian Church Of Aotearoa New Zealand 2014 Assembly Week

10398703_126651710107_3734627_nAs we find ourselves in October we have the opportunity for one last General Assembly this year as the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand gathers at Saint Kentigern College in Auckland.

But this gathering is different than years past as it puts more emphasis on community and less on business, having been rebranded as Assembly Week. (Actually, five days from 3 October to 7 October.)

F_6303_PRE_Assembly_Week_logo_Colour-01_MedThe Moderator-designate, Andrew Norton, describes the week on the web page:

This year for the first time the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is having an Assembly Week. One part of the Assembly Week will be what we have known as the General Assembly, this is where the discerning and decision making is done (by commissioners) – but that’s just the beginning!

Assembly Week will also have a full conference known as Inspiring Mission that is open to everyone within our Church family.

When General Assembly 2012 voted to have an Assembly Week and invited me to lead as moderator I started listening! I heard the cries of pain of how we have hurt one another through our debates, I heard expressions of hope that we could be a Church recaptured again by the mission of God and I heard the hunger for belonging and the thirst for inspiration and resourcing. It is my prayer that Assembly Week 2014 will touch and heal our hurts, will inspire us in God’s mission and nourish our souls in a community of prayer and belonging.

In addition to the usual business meetings of the Assembly there is another full program of Assembly week events, some of which run concurrently with the business. In addition, there are four speakers presenting keynote talks, headlined by the Rev. Dr. Steve Taylor, Principal of the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology in South Australia. The theme of his three studies, all drawn from the Gospel of Luke, will be “Hospitality – your place or mine?”

But wait, there is more… For the first time a National Youth Gathering will also be part of Assembly Week.

A lot going on, and in the midst of it all a General Assembly. Here is what you need to know:

  • Reports are for commissioners only and they can download them from the White Book page
  • Does not look like there will be live streaming or posted updates, but from one of the Assembly pages you can sign up for emailed updates. Keep an eye also on the News Archive page for meeting items that may be posted there. And there is a news feed on the Assembly Week site.
  • UPDATE: Daily news pages are being created like this one for Saturday (and did someone get mixed up on the date?)
  • However, if you want their polity documents the Statements of Faith and the Book of Order are available for download. The For Parishes page has a number of other resources that a GA Junkie might find interesting.

To follow along on social media probably the first place to start is the PCANZ Facebook Page. In addition, the new Moderator, Rev. Norton, has an official web site and blog that could make for interesting reading.

For Twitter, I am not aware of an official Twitter feed for the PCANZ and so far I have found little conversation about the meeting. I would point you to Jason Goroncy (@jasongoroncy) who is typically actively tweeting and who is using the hashtag #GA14 for the meeting. As usual, I will update if I see additional conversations of interest.

I look forward with interest to see how this larger gathering works out. It is an attractive idea and if the proper balance can be struck between the business meeting and the learning and inspirational workshops and events it will be a model worth repeating and exporting elsewhere.

Best wishes and our prayers are with you for the next few days.