2013 General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Ireland

Beginning in a few hours we turn our attention to the western side of the North Channel for the penultimate General Assembly in the British Isles. At 7:00 PM this evening, Monday 3 May, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will convene. This year will be a bit different as the Assembly takes one of their very occasional trips away from the Assembly Hall in Belfast (the last time was 22 years ago), this year to meet at the Millennium Forum in Londonderry.

If you are interested, here is some helpful information:
  • The Church has produced an excellent outline of their meeting on the Assembly page. There is also a news item with a narrative of the meeting and highlights for each day
  • The reports that were published in advance are available on the Reports Page
  • There are usually news reports from The Press Office. There is the news page or I will update if a separate page is used.
  • If you need a polity refresher you should check out their unified document, The Code as well as their Guide to Assembly Procedure
  • In the past the PCI has done a wonderful and prolific job of tweeting the Assembly at @pciassembly. For the meeting the hashtag is #pciga13
  • Other Twitter accounts related to the church that could be interesting are @PCIYAC from the Youth and Children department and @pciSPUD from the Youth Assembly
  • The best observer of the GA to keep an eye on is Alan in Belfast on both Twitter @AlanInBelfast,  and his blog Alan in Belfast
  • The local news site Slugger O'Toole with their Twitter @sluggerotoole is also a good source that might have some coverage
  • Finally, there will probably be PCI commissioners tweeting. Let me start with the moderator of a past General Assembly @staffordcarson. (And on a side note, Dr. Carson is up for approval by the Assembly to a new position. UPDATE: He was approved as the new Principal of Union College. ) Update: I would add to the list James Currie (@jcbelfast) who is active with PCIYAC and pciSPUD.
Regarding live streaming we have this unfortunate statement from the Arrangements Committee (pg. 7):
Web Streaming and ‘Twitter’
9. The Arrangements Committee regrets that due to technical restrictions, the General Assembly will not be streamed this year.  However, proceedings may be followed on ‘Twitter’
The raises a couple of questions in my mind, one being the quotes around Twitter. (Are those scare quotes?) But further, in an advanced facility such as the Millennium Forum why are there technical issues with streaming? It seems the key word is... restrictions. It leads me to conclude that the requirements of the venue are that they handle the streaming at a cost which is prohibitive to the church. Another thing I see is that portions will be broadcast by the BBC so there may be restrictions to competition there. It may be something else but those are my guesses at the moment. For those of us who enjoy the stream and are interested in the business and decisions reached we still have Twitter but the lack of streaming is a disappointment when it seems easy enough to do.

There are two evening events of some interest. The first is a series of seminars on Tuesday evening at Magee College. It was founded by Presbyterians but is now a branch of the University of Ulster. The series of presentations will reflect on Presbyterian history and tradition. The second is "Christ Transforming Culture" on Wednesday night in the meeting space. As the description says of the event "Through drama and music the Moderator and others will lead an exploration of how the Assembly theme, ‘A Place of Transformation’ impacts on the Church and individual Christians and on the culture of where they work and witness."

A number of interesting items of business on the docket. There is a report on Baptism from the Doctrine Committee (pg. 13 of the report) The report concludes that baptism by immersion is not necessary and is not the most appropriate method but does not recommend forbidding it.

There is an interesting report from an Advisory Committee to the General Board that includes a section (beginning on page 32) about helping resolve conflict in congregations. The many recommendations include better training of Elders and this:
(iii) The Church should seriously consider the Church of Scotland and PC USA [sic] model of having an interim Minister for up to a year, where there has been a long ministry of say 15 years or more. This would allow a Congregation to adjust, grieve if necessary, think of themselves without the previous Minister, deal with any outstanding issues and prepare themselves for a call.
In my experience, both are good moves and I might suggest shortening that 15 years down a bit to ten or even seven.

There is also some tension related to the trajectory the Church of Scotland is following on same-sex partnerships and the ministry. There are a few points that this may present itself during the Assembly including the Church and Society report as well as Ecumenical Relations. In particular, the Moderator's Advisory Committee of the General Board is looking to open conversations about human sexuality within the church.

Finally, the Priorities Committee of the General Board (report beginning on page 39) is conducting a Structures Review that is looking at the form and function of the church. Among the issues it sees that resonate with the findings of a similar panel I have been on is about communication between bodies within the church with the report saying " The current engagement that takes place between Presbyteries and Boards is at times very sparse." Like that understated wording.

Almost all of there are General Board committees and will be part of the General Board report on Tuesday.

So there is lots going on this week and we look to the social media outlets for updates. Our prayers are with the Assembly and the incoming Moderator, the Rev Rob Craig. May the Holy Spirit indeed be moving among you in your discussions and discernment.
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