Category Archives: same-sex unions

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of June 2015

Having gotten behind on news headlines I am just going to push the reset button and post a current one. And yes, a bunch of other stuff is sitting as drafts or in research right now.

There was a lot of news the in this time period so here are some headlines on select topics from the second half of June. (Not counting some GA stuff I plan to post on separately.)

In a still developing situation, two Presbyterian pastors from South Sudan have gone on trial in Sudan for preaching there (including some more recent information):

In Sudan: Imprisoned pastors facing possible death penalty barred from seeing families, lawyers – from Pulse Nigeria

Are Christians in Sudan facing persecution? – from BBC News

Sudan: South Sudanese Priests Defend Themselves During Trial Session – from allAfrica

PCUSA Writes to President Obama with Concern Regarding Imprisoned Sudanese Pastors – from Christianity Daily

 

The shootings and grieving at and for Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston had some Presbyterian connections:

‘All Shall Be Well’: Hear the Touching Voicemail from Charleston Massacre Victim Sharonda Coleman-Singleton – from People (and a bit more from the Presbytery of Los Ranchos)

Denmark Vesey and Clementa Pinckney – from Cheraw Chronical; The freed slave Denmark Vesey who founded Emmanuel AME was before that a member of Second Presbyterian Church next door

Salisbury native leads vigil in Charleston after mass shooting – from Salisbury Post; And while Emmanuel AME was closed Second Presbyterian next door provided space for prayer services

Cynthia Hurd funeral delivers a message of hope and mark on history – from The Charlotte Observer; Second Presbyterian also providing overflow seating for funerals

Delaware Pastor Writes Hymn for Charleston Victims ‘They Met to Read the Bible;’ Song Goes Global – from The Christian Post

 

A terrorist attack in Tunisia took 38 lives, most of them tourists from Britain on holiday. It included two from Scotland praised for their faith and work in the Church of Scotland. Their funeral was just held.

Tunisia attack: Prayers at Cumbernauld church for couple – from BBC News

Tributes paid to Scottish Christian couple killed in Tunisia terrorist attack – from Christian Today

Tunisia beach attack: funeral held in Scotland for Jim and Anne McGuire – from The Guardian

 

Digging back a little bit, in the various meetings this spring a number of Reformed branches have voted to become more inclusive, with some reactions from more traditional denominations:

French Protestant church allows gay marriage blessing – from Reuters UK

Largest Protestant denomination in Belgium allows gay and lesbian clergy – from Gay Star News; “The Synod of the United Protestant Church of Belgium has voted to decide that being gay should not be a barrier to being a minister in the church which already performs blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.”

Russian Church severs ties with Scotland & France churches; warns a blessing of LGBT clergy paves the way for the Antichrist – from Christian Examiner

 

And looking at it more broadly:

Free Presbyterians slam supporters of ‘yes’ vote – from Portadown Times; a reaction to the Ireland referendum

Minister faces Presbytery probe over same-sex views – from Portadown Times; the only Presbyterian Church in Ireland minister to openly support the “Yes” vote was examined over her beliefs

How humanists changed Scottish marriage – from BBC News; “The first humanist wedding in Scotland took place exactly 10 years ago. Over the past decade the number of ceremonies conducted by humanist celebrants has grown massively, already overtaking Catholic weddings and threatening to replace Church of Scotland as the most popular belief service.”

 

A publicity campaign by the Church of Scotland to recruit new, and younger, ministers appears to be working:

Church of Scotland hails recruitment drive success – from The Scotsman

 

And in Zimbabwe, the Health Minister thanks the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland for working with the local residents to build a clinic, but more are needed:

Health Minister Says More Clinics Needed in Nkayi – from Voice of America Zimbabwe

 

From the PC(USA)

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) missions chief resigns – from WDRB; Linda Valentine steps down as executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

 

A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court goes in favor of a small Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and its temporary signage in Gilbert, Arizona:

Supreme Court rules for church in case against Arizona town’s sign law – from The Washington Post

 

In the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) a battle over property between the Livingstonia Synod and a break-away church as well as a dispute involving an out-spoken cleric in Blantyre Synod.

CCAP Controversies Rage On: Livingstonia battle and Blantyre Synod Infighting – from Nyasa Times

 

High-profile PCA pastor, TE Tullian Tchividjian, resigns admitting infidelity

Renowned South Florida pastor steps down amid marital affair – from Local 10

After affair leads to pastor’s exit, Coral Ridge worshippers urged to keep the faith – from The Sun Sentinel

 

A proud adherent, if not member, of the PC(USA) declares his candidacy for President of the United States. Worth noting that his church, First Presbyterian of Jamaica, Queens, is the oldest continually serving Presbyterian church in the U.S.

5 faith facts about Donald Trump: a Presbyterian who collects Bibles – from Religion News Service

Donald Trump Is A Proud Presbyterian – from World Religion News

And finally, it may not be continuously serving, but a neighbor of First Presbyterian, Jamaica, was founded a bit earlier and is celebrating a milestone anniversary.

First Presbyterian Church of Southold to Celebrate 375th Year Anniversary – from Long Island Exchange

141st General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Canada

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)In the midst of other GA’s going on the 141st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is getting under way. The Assembly will run from today ( 4 June ) through Monday 8 June, 2015 on the west coast of The Dominion in Vancouver. The meeting is being held at the University of British Columbia.

A few things to know to help follow along:

The theme for the meeting is “Imagining the Kingdom. …the Kingdom of God is like…”GA2015_web_banner-600x350

The Assembly can be followed on social media through the PCConnect Facebook page and through their official Twitter feed @PCConnect. The hastag for the meeting is #ga141. UPDATE: Friday morning it was announced that the hashtag would be #pccga2015. The official publication, the Presbyterian Record, will probably be posting updates on their Facebook page.

Looking at who is active on Twitter as the meeting approaches I would suggest following John Borthwick (@jborthwik), Fred Stewart (@PastorFred) and Ross Lockhart (@rossalockhart). Always, I will update as I am able once things get into full swing.

UPDATE: I would add at this point that Scott McAndless (@A_noble_theme) is actively blogging about his time at the Assembly.

Regarding the business of the Assembly, I have already highlighted the flood of overtures (24 of 37) that have been received related to human sexuality and ordination standards. The amount of interest and business was so high that a special process is being proposed for this work. In short, the process proposes that this Assembly begin a process of listening, discussion and prayer throughout the wider church and any definitive action on changing the Report on Human Sexuality or the ordination standards would be brought to a future Assembly. However, an Assembly does not have to take the advice and is free to act as it, in its wisdom, may deem best. So we will see if they make a decision, decide a trajectory or start a discussion.

Another item that will be of interest are changes to the Policy for Dissolution of Pastoral Relationships.  This is coming in the Life and Mission Agency report in the Ministry and Church Vocations area beginning on the 279th page of the reports. It is important enough that a supplemental background document is also being distributed. Specifically, there are revisions for accepted practice and clarity regarding the transition payments when a pastor leaves a call. Another item from the Life and Mission Agency from their Justice area includes working to help people with fair lending practices and working against payday loans. This has been a common theme across several Assemblies this year and one I hope to summarize later in the summer.

So there is a brief introduction to this meeting. I would note that the first appearance of the human sexuality business items is set for Friday afternoon and at that point I would expect discussion and possible adoption of the process for dealing with this business.

So prayers and best wishes for the members of the 141st General Assembly and we look forward to looking over your shoulder as you discuss and discern the church’s future on many important issues.

[Programming note: The busiest week in the GA season is next week and I have some family business coming up this weekend so I will undoubtedly fall behind on writing. I will do my best and will probably favour more shorter notes than a few selected long one.]

Overtures To The 141st General Assembly About Changing Ordination Standards In The Presbyterian Church In Canada

Coming up later this week the 141st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada will convene in Vancouver. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that this Assembly meeting will be dominated by overtures and discussion directly focusing on ordination standards related to those in active same-sex relationships. While I will do a broader preview of the meeting in a couple days, here is a more detailed look at the background and business before the Assembly on this particular issue.

It is useful to realize that while ordination standards, and specifically those standards related to individuals in same-sex relationships, have been a hot topic for a while in a couple of Presbyterian branches, for the last couple decades it has been much more of a background issue for the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC). That has been changing quickly over the last few months.

The current discussion has its roots in the 1984 General Assembly when the Assembly asked for a Statement on Homosexuality which was presented to, and adopted by, the 1985 General Assembly. But to go along with that a study was requested and approved by the 1985 Assembly. It was presented to the 1992 Assembly which approved it and sent it down to the presbyteries. The final version was accepted by the 1994 General Assembly (page 251). The first two parts are available within a study guide prepared later.

The report deals with a number of issues regarding human sexuality but as regards homosexual relationships it follows the church’s doctrine and comes out against them:

6.20 Is homosexual practice a Christian option? Our brief, exegetical review of biblical texts set within the broader biblical perspective on our vocation as sexual beings leads us to say `No’. Committed heterosexual union is so connected with creation in both its unitive and procreative dimensions that we must consider this as central to God’s intention for human sexuality. Accordingly, Scripture treats all other contexts for sexual intercourse, as departures from God’s created order.

One individual resigned from the committee that drafted the study and four more recorded their dissent.

At the same Assembly where this study was accepted the Assembly was already dealing with a specific case. Mr. Darryl MacDonald was serving as a supply minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Lachine, Quebec. The church applied to the presbytery to ordain him and the presbytery approved and he was ordained. The decision was appealed to the General Assembly by 13 members of the presbytery and a nine-member investigating committee formed. With a slim five-member majority the committee recommended to the 1996 General Assembly that his ordination call be nullified. By a wide margin the Assembly approved the committee recommendations including that his certification for interim work be revoked as well. Presented with the request to come into compliance with the order of the General Assembly the church chose instead to sever ties with the denomination. There was another appeal to the 1998 General Assembly to at least allow Mr. MacDonald to preach in Presbyterian Churches. The Assembly reaffirmed the 1996 decision and stated that the revocation of the certificate was complete and he could not lead worship in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Ultimatly, St. Andrew’s joined the United Church and Mr. MacDonald was accepted as a minister in that denomination which had not barriers to ordination. In 2012 a petition was sent to the General Assembly pointing out that other United Church ministers could freely preach in Presbyterian pulpits and the force of the earlier Assembly decision meant one United Church minister in good standing in that denomination was singled out for exclusion. A special committee was formed and the Assembly concurred with that committee’s recommendation that the restriction should be lifted. The article in the Presbyterian Record quotes the committee convener:

“Accepting the petition removes an anomaly that only one ordained minister in a sister denomination is prohibited from preaching as a guest in one of our congregation’s pulpits,” said David Kilgour, a commissioner from the Presbytery of Ottawa and convener of the special committee.

  (Three other web sites that have information on this history include a page from Religious Tolerance, an AP news story and the successor church’s history web page.)

So that brings us to the recent developments. Since the 140th General Assembly a number of overtures from presbyteries and church sessions around Canada have been submitted for consideration by this year’s Assembly. The lead overture is #4 from the Presbytery of East Toronto titled “Full inclusion in the church of persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.” By my count there are six additional overtures that are concurring or similar in wording and intent. In response there was a flood of overtures that began with #6 from the Session Of Kortright, Guelph, Ontario titled “Affirming the Statement on Human Sexuality (1994).” There are a total of 13 of these or similar overtures. Beyond that there is an overture (#15) to encourage listening within the church on this subject, another (#16) to set up a process for dialogue about the issue and another (#29) to have the Church Doctrine Committee “review how The Presbyterian Church in Canada has formerly addressed the issue of homosexual relationships, and in particular to study the traditional exegesis of the biblical texts that speak to this issue, alongside the various revisionist readings of those texts that have been suggested in recent decades.”

In total, there are 24 overtures out of all 37 submitted to this Assembly that deal with human sexuality. You can find all the overtures at the end of the reports volume beginning on the 471st page of the volume.

One detail that might be a point of major discussion in this work, and which is the point of the one memorial submitted to the Assembly, is whether the act is a declaratory act and takes effect immediately or if it will need to be sent down to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act. The memorial and the overtures affirming the 1994 report request that any changes be sent to the presbyteries. The overtures requesting full inclusion ask for a declaratory act. In a parallel discussion the Church of Scotland just spent some time in a similar discussion and decided to send it to the presbyteries. On the one hand that is always a safe call, and from my sense of polity, if the PCC approves more inclusive language I would argue that it should go down to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act just as the Church of Scotland action did last year. However, I do disagree with the Kirk’s action this year as the action it took was more in the line of an adjustment to last year’s act to bring it in line with the new civil environment and not a brand new action so presbytery concurrence is not necessary.

One more interesting overture in here is the very last one, #37. It asks for a gracious dismissal policy for churches to leave the denomination, implicitly suggesting that particular churches might want to break with the PCC if the Assembly decides to change the ordination standards. As a polity note, and since the PC(USA) action is specifically mentioned, I would point out that the PC(USA) General Assembly action was to encourage presbyteries to have gracious dismissal policies resulting in a large number of various local policies and not a uniform national policy.

Now here comes the “hold onto your hat moment.” None of the actions respectfully requested of the Venerable the 141st General Assembly may happen, at least this year. Faced with this groundswell on both sides of the issue a special process is being proposed. Here are a few excepts from a Presbyterian Record article about the background:

Eighteen sessions and six presbyteries have filed overtures for discussion at this year’s General Assembly on the issue of human sexuality. This volume of response is without precedence in the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

“I went through the Acts and Proceedings from 1960 to 1966, the years before the ordination of women was approved,” Rev. Stephen Kendall [Principal Clerk of the General Assembly] told the Record. “There were three overtures on that issue.”..

The overwhelming response has prompted Kendall and his team at the Clerk’s office to proceed a little differently from previous years. All of the referred overtures have been sent to Committee on Church Doctrine and to Justice Ministries for review, so they can prepare themselves for the inevitable debate…

Three Presbyterian educators—Dale Woods, Principal of Presbyterian College, Montreal; Patricia Dutcher-Walls, Professor of the Hebrew Bible, Vancouver School of Theology; and, Kevin Livingston, Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto—have been asked to prepare a facilitation process on human sexuality. Time on the assembly agenda has been designated for these discussions. “Assembly should be a safe place for conversation,” said Kendall. Several blocks of time have been allotted to ensure voices are heard and ideas are shared.

“Assemblies are places of discernment and when we’re actually there together we will have the opportunity to do just that.”

In summary, the special facilitation process being proposed would defer decisions on the overtures until the whole church has had a chance to talk about them.  It would begin with discussions among the Assembly commissioners and spread to the wider church in the coming year. The recommendations also come with a reading list. (It will be interesting to see if Kevin DeYoung’s brand new book gets added to that list.) Here are the specific steps (slightly edited) being proposed which the commissioners would have to accept (the Recommendations begin on the 158th page of the Reports Volume):

  1. That the General Assembly move into a committee of the whole for up to two sessions of a facilitated process to discuss the issues addressed in the overtures concerning human sexuality and our church’s response to them. The Saturday session would be “Listening Circles” around the tables and the Sunday session would be “Praying Circles.”
  2. That notes of the conversations during the facilitated process be submitted to the Committee on Church Doctrine and the Life and Mission Agency Committee (Justice Ministries) to assist those committees as they prepare their responses to these overtures for a future General Assembly.
  3. That the Committee on Church Doctrine and the Life and Mission Agency (Justice Ministries) confer throughout the coming year as each continues the work of responding to the overtures referred to them.
  4. That the church (congregations, sessions, presbyteries, synods and standing committees) be encouraged to engage in a year of conversation and discernment on the topics of human sexuality, sexual orientation and other related matters raised in the overtures.
  5. That the Committee on Church Doctrine and the Life and Mission Agency (Justice Ministries) prepare a joint study guide on sexual orientation to be posted on the church’s website by the end of October, 2015.
  6. That the above be received as the interim response from the Committee on Church Doctrine and from the Life and Mission Agency (Justice Ministries) regarding our church’s response to sexual orientation today.

So if the recommendations are accepted there would be the start of significant discussion but limited debate about these issues at this General Assembly and recommendations would be returned from the Committee and the Agency to the 142nd General Assembly.

We will see what the will of the Assembly is regarding the overtures and the proposed process. As this develops you will probably find discussions on Facebook on the Presbyterian Record page as well as page of Canadian Presbyterians for the Ordination of Gay and Lesbian People.

So there is the background, the overtures and the recommendations for the Assembly to consider later this week. As I said, I will have the broader preview in a couple of days, but right now, Belfast is calling

2015 General Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland

Church_of_Scotland_Logo

Tomorrow morning the 2015 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will convene in Edinburgh and will meet for the following week. This promises to be an interesting Assembly with a couple issues the will probably have a significant future impact on the Kirk on the docket.
So if you are interested, here is some helpful information to follow along with this Assembly.

  • There will be live streaming of the proceedings and you can connect to the stream appropriate for your device from the media page.
  • Most of the Documents pertaining to the Assembly are linked from the General Assembly Publications page. This includes the Proceedings and Reports volumes, known as the Blue Book in several different electronic formats including the traditional PDF as well as MOBI and EPUB formats for your eReaders. There is also a separate Order of Proceedings as well as the Daily Papers which will contain late-breaking changes. There is an option to subscribe to notifications of new documents being posted. In addition, there is a General Assembly App with versions for Apple iOS and Android.
  • Reports are also available individually from the Reports and minutes page.
  • If you need to refer to the documents about how they do this decently and in order most of those are linked from the Church Law page, although it is disappointing to see that the essential An Introduction to Practice and Procedure is under revision and not available.
  • A brief order of the docketed events and reports can be found on the General Assembly 2015 page.
  • And from the media page there will be regular daily updates in print, audio and video if history serves. And as always, hosted by the Rev. Douglas Aitken.

What we all want to know of course is how to follow along on social media and there will be no lack of that. You can begin with the Church of Scotland’s official Facebook page.

On Twitter the starting point is the Kirk’s main feed at @churchscotland and the official hashtag #ga2015. The church’s official publication, Life and Work, is also a good source for information on the web, on Facebook and on their Twitter feed @cofslifeandwork. In addition, while it is a personal account, you can follow the editor, Lynne McNeil, at @LifeWorkEditor. Similarly, the Church of Scotland Youth will likely be tweeting at @cosy_nya and now there is a an account for the NYA Moderator, currently Rachel Hutcheson, at @NYAModerator.

In suggesting personal accounts to follow, let me start with two individual accounts that are worth following as the Assembly gets rolling. The first is a past Moderator of the Assembly, the Very Reverend Lorna Hood. After ending her term as Moderator she has really taken to Twitter and is always a good read at @revlornascot. The second person is Seonag MacKinnon, the head of communications for the Kirk, who tweets on her personal account at @seonagm.

In suggesting other personal accounts let me begin with the Rev. Peter Nimmo of Inverness who is a commissioner this year and always a good source of information at @peternimmo1. Others I regularly follow from the Kirk include Darren Philip (@darphilip), Alistair May (@AlistairMay) and Michael Mair (@MichaelMair) who is working with the youth reps. Two more that are always interesting are another past Moderator of the Assembly the Very Rev. Albert Bogle (@iTalker) and Glasgow theologian Douglas Gay (@DougGay). I will update with more as the Assembly gets under way. UPDATE: I would add Marc Falconer (@marcfalconer81) to the list and he is also blogging the Assembly.

Once again the Assembly will have its annual Heart and Soul festival on the Sunday afternoon of the Assembly week that will again be happening in Princes Street Gardens near the Assembly Hall. For those of us not in Edinburgh we look forward to seeing pictures, both on the Church of Scotland Facebook page and a gallery to be posted after the event. It is also worth noting that the Living Stones theme and the picture of people forming the cross see on the Heart and Soul poster are being used in a number of other places for this Assembly.

Concerning the business before the Assembly there is a nice summary of each report on the Life and Work site. One of the initiatives that was just kicked off ahead of the Assembly meeting is a recruitment effort to get more people training for the ministry that is titled “Tomorrow’s Calling.” Got to give props on that solid Presbyterian double meaning. It includes a national media campaign to recruit ministers and you can see the six-minute video on the Tomorrow’s Calling web page. In addition, it has its own #tomorrowscalling hastag on Twitter.

The Church and Society Council will be bringing a report which touches on many areas including economic and social justice in Scotland and continues the concern for tax structures and economic issues within the region. Their report has an Appendix with additional readings and reflections on Common Wealth? Sharing through tax and giving. In addition, they celebrate and encourage the continuation of the high political engagement seen in the Independence Referendum last fall.

Finally, the issues of Same-sex Marriage will be coming back to the Assembly after the presbyteries approved new language that, while affirming the traditional view of marriage, allows congregations to have more flexibility in extending a call to a same-sex partnered pastor if they chose. This legislation requires a final approval by the Assembly. In addition, concerns have been raised whether ministers will be able to exercise religious freedom on conducting marriages and if that would withstand a legal challenge. The former is docketed for Thursday and the latter for the opening day, although that is just a report with no further action requested.

So that is what I see at the moment. As things develop I will try to update here or blog about them. But as always, our prayers and best wishes are with the whole of the Assembly for their meeting and Spirit-led discernment.

A Review Of Some Headlines Following The PC(USA) Decision This Week

One of my favorite reads is the blog GetReligion because as the title implies, most news outlets don’t have a religion reporter any more and so frequently the field reporter assigned to a religion story doesn’t “get religion.” Well shortly after the 86th PC(USA) presbytery approved Amendment 14-F they had a nice piece on how good, or not so good, the coverage of the approval was by various news outlets.

If I had to pick a couple articles that came out later so there was more than just the breaking news aspect, I would add to the good coverage list:

Gay marriage: Is the Presbyterian Church playing catch-up – or leading? – By Jessica Mendoza of The Christian Science Monitor

Here’s why a vote on gay marriage from Presbyterians matters – by Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post

But as the headlines flew by on Tuesday night and Wednesday I was struck by how many of them did not catch the nuances of the vote. Surprising? No. And it should be noted here at the top that the articles and their headlines are usually written by different people so don’t blame the author for a bad headline. Also, headlines are a bit like tweets and they have to fit  into a limited space so nuance is limited.

But here are a few that struck me as bad and good following the results. (And in fact, the headlines for the two articles I cite above both suffer from one of the issues I have with many of the headlines.)

From some outlet called newser

Presbyterian Church Redefines Marriage

OK, let’s start with “Presbyterian Church” – While the PC(USA) likes to think of itself as “The Presbyterian Church” (exempli gratia: Their Twitter feed is @Presbyterian and the new hymnal is subtitled “The Presbyterian Hymnal”) and while it is home to slightly more than two thirds of the US Presbyterians, it is only the largest of more than a dozen Presbyterian branches in the U.S. The news that the PC(USA) approved a change to their constitution sent other branches scrambling to clarify that it was not them. There were statements from the PCA and the EPC among others. And yes, my two preferred articles above use the blanket term Presbyterian in their headlines.

Moving on to “Redefines Marriage.” OK, technically correct for ourselves but is that a bit too broad or generalized statement to be used in this situation?

OK, here is another headline, this one from the Arkansas Times, but I can point you to a dozen more like it:

Presbyterians embrace marriage equality

Well of course there is the word Presbyterian. “You keep using that word…” But the other point that caught my attention in this, and some other headlines, was the use of the word “embrace.” Did the PC(USA) embrace marriage equality? Clearly some individuals, churches and maybe even presbyteries did. But did the church? While the presbytery count shows about 2/3 favor the change, the bulk count of those who have voted show it is closer overall with 59% of presbyters voting yes. It strikes me at the least to be a bit of a subjective word to use for this news.

How about one from World Magazine:

Majority of PCUSA presbyteries vote to endorse gay marriage

Got to give a lot of credit for that “Majority of PCUSA presbyteries” phrase – that nails it. But what did they vote to do? Did they vote to endorse gay marriage, or simply to add it to the wording in the Book of Order to permit the option? Whether or not to preform the marriage service is up to the teaching elder or the session as to whether it may happen at the church. Fine line here – that is probably too much nuance so maybe I am being too picky.

Here is a headline from the Religious News Service that does a pretty good job – at least it implicitly labels the Presbyterians as the mainline branch:

With Presbyterians in the yes column, mainline Protestants solidify gay marriage support

So how about some good examples. Here are a few that strike me as properly clarifying the denomination, the action taken and the nature of the change:

Presbyterian Church (USA) approves same-sex marriage amendment – from RNS

Presbyterian Church (USA) Approves Same-Sex Marriage, Will Amend Constitution – from International Business Times

Largest Presbyterian Denomination Gives Final Approval for Same-Sex Marriage – from The New York Times

Presbyterian Church USA Expands Marriage Definition – from TWC News

So there is a selection of how the news was headlined this past week. While the less precise headlines are the ones that jumped out at me, with the exception of far too many simply using the generic title Presbyterian, most headlines were pretty good. I would note that in the examples given I used recognized news outlets. (Granted, you could argue with a couple of them.) There are advocacy groups that obviously put their spin into the headlines and I did not include those. (If you want examples: Example 1, Example 2)

There is now a second wave of articles that are a follow up to the decision now that reporters have had the time to talk with local leaders and some of the people in the pews to get reaction and response to the vote. I have read a few of those and they generally have very balanced and sensitive coverage from the local area.

So, there are a few of my thoughts about the headlines this past week. Your mileage may vary.

PC(USA) Passage Of Amendment 14-F: Reaction

Word has quickly spread through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this evening that Palisades Presbytery on a voice vote approved Book of Order Amendment 14-F making it the 86th presbytery to do so. While unofficial, everyone – and as you will see in a minute I do mean everyone – has taken this vote to mean that the amendment has reached the majority mark for the passage of the change to the Directory for Worship section W-4.9000 changing the definition of marriage.

There has been official reaction with three resources being added to the PC(USA) Marriage web page. These include a video statement from the Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons, a letter from GA Moderator Reda and GA Vice Moderator Kwong Abazia, and an Advisory Opinion regarding the new wording. In the letter from the Moderator and Vice Moderator they encourage presbyteries to keep discussing and voting:

Though we know that this amendment received the necessary majority for approval, we encourage the congregations, presbyteries, and synods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to continue to be in conversation about marriage and family. We hope that such “up/down” voting does not mark the end, but the continuation of our desire to live in community; a partnership that requires prayer, the study of Scripture, listening to and with one another, and a dedication to partnership in the midst of our diversity of opinion. The change will go into effect with the other changes to the Book of Order on June 21, 2015.

The Presbyterian Outlook has an article posted with reaction from both sides. In addition, related groups on both sides have issued statements. The statement from the Covenant Network Board says they are grateful for the passage of the amendment and that with its passage “our denomination steps forward into a new chapter.” The statement concludes by looking forward:

As an organization, we are deeply committed to helping the church live joyfully and peacefully into this new and more inclusive day. Our national Covenant Conference will focus on these issues this fall, with dates and location to be announced soon. We are in a season of discernment about the goals and objectives that will guide our work in the coming years and look forward to sharing more in the next few months.

Similarly, the statement from the More Light Presbyterians also praised the result and said “This vote is the culmination of decades of selfless service by so many people.”

While nothing is posted on The Fellowship Community web site, its executive director, Paul Detterman, is quoted in the Outlook article as saying “I’m saddened by the passing of the amendment. I think we are listening to each other rather than listening to Scripture and the voice of God through Scripture . . . We’ve eroded some of our ability to stand on the teachings of Scripture by this vote.” (ellipses in article)

[UPDATE: The Fellowship Community has now posted a pastoral letter.]

And the Presbyterian Layman has an article posted with this quote from the president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, Carmen Fowler LaBerge:

“The passage of the amendment is further indication of the erosion of Biblical fidelity within the PCUSA. There is nothing new to say in response. Just as we repudiated the action of the General Assembly in issuing the Authoritative Interpretation we now stand in firm opposition to the passage of this amendment to the denomination’s constitution.”

I will stop there tonight but there is plenty of verbiage out there about the vote from individuals, presbyteries and news outlets.

At this point I am going to let the data point accumulate a bit more before doing any more analysis of the voting trends. So back in a few weeks with that.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of December 2014

Moving on to the next group of headlines, here are a few things that caught my attention.

A good chunk of Church of Scotland news in this period including the following:

An honorary degree from Glasgow University for a former Moderator

Honorary degree for former Moderator Lorna Hood – from The Scotsman

A challenge from the Moderator and questions about trying to grow the Kirk, including connecting online

Moderator hopes 100,000 people click with Kirk – from The Scotsman

Doubts over whether new stance on gay clergy could revive Kirk membership – from The Press and Journal

Church of Scotland: Will online outreach help ailing attendance figures? – from Christian Today

Moderator calls for Church to redefine membership in digital age – from Church of Scotland

The launch of the Scottish Leaders Welfare Group that includes the Church of Scotland. And for a bit of context, the issue of poverty was an important one in the Indy Ref campaign as well as the ongoing work of the Kirk, which will be regularly mentioned in these headlines posts.

Church and union leaders unite in bid to end cruel austerity measures in Scotland – from Daily Record

 And in worship news

New Gaelic hymn book launched – Hebrides News; compiled by a church in Skye with new and classic hymns; the continued use of Gaelic in worship is a major factor in maintaining the language

 

The issue of religious conscience in a commercial setting and same-sex marriage has become a hot topic in the U.S. but there is similar controversy about it elsewhere, in this case Northern Ireland, and the local presbytery sides with the baker after Equality Commission ruled against them:

Presbytery backs Ashers in legal row – from Ballymena Times

 

And similarly, dwindling congregations can be found the world over as well, in this case a church in Andersons Bay, New Zealand

Historic church’s future in doubt – Otago Daily Times

 

At the annual conference of the Mizoram Synod in that province of India:

Mizoram Synod turns down proposal to ordain women theologians – from Business Standard

 

From the U.S., one of the more unique stories of the time period…

Shurat Hadin charges US Presbyterian Church with having ties to Hezbollah: Israeli NGO says tax-free status should be revoked. – from The Jerusalem Post

 

Water projects built by the Presbyterian Church of Ghana

Presby[terian] Moderator commissions water projects for Northern and Upper presbyteries – from ModernGhana

Upper Presbytery Commission Water Project at the Cost of GHc 100,000 – from MyGhanaOnline

 

Buildings, buildings and more buildings…

W. Lebanon Church Has New Owner – from Valley News; former Seventh Day Adventist building bought by Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC)

Old Sutersville church may yet survive – from Trib Live; former Presbyterian Church building, believed oldest structure in borough, saved from wrecking ball for now.

Insurance costs could shut Inverness’ Old High Church – from BBC News

For Neighbors, Construction On Kansas City Church Is Good News – from Kansas City Public Media; update on a previously mentioned redevelopment project by the presbytery

First Look: Downtown church’s $17.7M transformation into a community center – from Columbus Business First

These Philadelphians Want to Get Closer to Their Neighbors – from Next City; a church being converted into a cohousing development

 

That’s it for now. Moving on to the next topic.

PC(USA) Amendment 14-F Voting At The Midway Point

With ten more presbyteries voting on Amendment 14-F this past weekend the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has effectively reached the half-way point in voting on the amendment to the Directory for Worship section of the Book of Order which will change the definition of marriage. Of the 171 presbyteries, 84 have now voted and the presbyteries are clearly concurring as the unofficial tally now sits at 61 yes and 23 no. You can follow the voting at both the Covenant Network web site and the Presbyterian Laymen web site. The official tally from the Office of the General Assembly is at 37 to 16, but it lags the voting a bit because of the time necessary for notification to reach them.

If all you are here to find out is if 14-F will pass, my models have a 99%+ certainty it will (baring some very significant and unforeseen development). For the presbyteries that have voted so far eleven have switched their no vote from the last similar vote on 10-A to a yes on 14-F for a 32.3% conversion rate. In the opposite direction two have switched from yes to no giving a 4.0% conversion rate in that direction. Projecting that out it would give a final vote of 117 yes and 54 no.

But as regular readers know, the vote tally is only a small part of what I am really interested in. Let’s start drilling down and see what the numbers say about the PC(USA).

For my data I am using the numbers listed on the two unofficial web sites I linked to above. I am making one change from past years and now the totals will include reported abstentions where I disregarded them in the past.

Of the 84 presbyteries that have voted so far, 74 have recorded votes on 14-F but only 68 have recorded votes on both 14-F and 10-A.

In terms of summary statistics, the percentage yes vote on 14-F has both a median and mean of 59% while the percentage yes vote on 10-A has a median of 54% and a median of 56%.

For the vote totals to date, the ratio of 14-F votes to 10-A votes has a mean of 0.83 and a nearly identical median of 0.82. In other words the number of presbyters casting votes is down about 17%. Of the 68 presbyteries reporting both votes, eight of them had more votes on 14-F than 10-A, including Chicago by one. But using my rule of thumb of a 3% natural variation between meetings, seven presbyteries fell between 0.97 and 1.03 with Blackhawk just missing at 1.04. Three presbyteries were below unity and four above.

Considering the three presbyteries well outside this range, Holston’s ratio was 1.17, Philadelphia was 1.19 and San Diego was 1.13. Philadelphia voted yes while the other two voted no.

For the eleven presbyteries that switched from no to yes, ten had recorded votes and the median yes percentage went from 45% to 56%. But to argue that they lost a significant number of churches and that has swung the theological balance is a bit simplistic since the ratio of the total number of votes has an identical mean to the whole group (0.83) and in fact the median is higher at 0.86. As a group there is no disproportionate drop in numbers so if an exodus from the PC(USA) is invoked to explain a shift it must be accompanied by replacement of presbyters as well, at least across the group.

For comparison purposes, a ratio of 0.83 in the number of presbyters between 10-A and 14-F is identical to the decrease in the membership of the PC(USA) from 2010 to 2014 if the decrease in 2013 is also used to estimate the 2014 membership numbers. (The 2014 numbers are being collected now and will be released in a few months.)

OK, let me throw a couple of pretty pictures at you and then wrap this thing up.

Let’s begin with the frequency distribution of the Yes Vote Ratio for 10-A and 14-F. As a geek bonus, I have added to the plot the distribution for this year’s presbytery voting in the Church of Scotland on their act providing a way for ministers in same-sex relationships to be ordained and installed.

yesdistribution1

Distribution of yes vote ratios

For comparison, remember that the mean for 10-A was 0.54, for 14-F was 0.59 and the mean for the Church of Scotland vote was 0.53. Similarly, in the same order the medians are 0.56, 0.59 and 0.58.

It is striking that all three distributions show the very similar bimodal distribution with a low peak down around 0.35 to 0.40 and a high peak around 0.60. While shifts between 10-A and 14-F are apparent – such as the decrease in the 0.45 peak from 10-A to 14-F and the increase in 0.40 for 14-F, I am going to resist the temptation to analyze too much right at the moment.  I will leave that for another day.

For my second pretty picture here is the correlation between the yes ratios for the 10-A vote and the 14-F vote to date for 67 of the presbyteries.

yescorrelation1

Correlation of 10-A and 14-F yes voting.

For these data points there is a clear trend and a strong correlation. The R-squared is 0.78 and the cluster has a slope of 0.91 and a y-intercept of 0.09. This would argue that the difference between 10-A and 14-F voting is, taken as a whole, generally uniform with an increase in the number of yes votes by an average of 4.5%.

I do need to address one missing data point in this plot, which will provide a useful segue into asking if this plot is even relevant. I have dropped the data point for Stockton Presbytery from this plot because it was a very significant outlier with a 10-A yes value of 0.12 and a 14-F yes of 0.56 – the largest single vote swing so far. I do not know the specifics of presbyter representation in that presbytery although their ratio of 14-F to 10-A is 0.82 which is right on the mean for the group. The vote numbers themselves were 23/18 for 14-F and 6/44 for 10-A.

It is tempting to say that the drastic change in the vote is a product of drastic losses in the presbytery. But unlike other presbyteries in that position where yes voting stayed roughly the same and no votes decreased (e.g. Lake Erie which went from 36/44 to 35/26) the change for Stockton is a shift in votes, not a depletion of one side. One possibility is that there was a change in attitude since the last vote. Another is that the departures were more heavily weighted in loss of members and not churches so the shift represents those that stayed and took the place of departing presbyters. Or maybe, with the dismissal of churches the presbytery changed representation rules so the number of presbyters at meetings did not decrease by that much.

[UPDATE 2/25/15: After looking at some records and checking with a friend in Stockton Presbytery the answer is that to counteract the loss of eight of 21 churches the number of RE’s from each church were doubled. On the one hand, this explains the dramatic shift in the theological position. On the other hand much of this statistical analysis presumes no replacement of presbyters in this way.]

One final option is that the presbyters viewed 14-F as a different situation than 10-A, and that is the question that underlies any comparison of these two votes. Can they be compared in the manner I have been doing or should they stand as their own individual cases.

From a polity perspective it may be stretching it too far to consider the two comparable. 10-A dealt with ordination standards and was a change to the Form of Government section. On a basic level this is a question internal to the PC(USA) and is closely tied to our understanding of governance and call. In contrast, 14-F is a change to the Directory for Worship and while it has certain ties to polity it is as much an external discussion as same-sex marriage has quickly been accepted across our culture.

On the other hand, I would argue that they are comparable for one major reason: For both sides in the discussion when 10-A passed they made a point of highlighting marriage as the next step in equality and justice on one side or the erosion or orthodoxy and confessional standards on the other. For the last four years it seems that many people anticipated the vote on 14-F as the next logical step in the journey that the PC(USA) is on.

From the analysis above I would argue that 10-A and 14-F can be compared. Whether it be about the issues or about the overarching themes of equality or orthodoxy the similarity of distribution and strength of correlation suggest presbyters are generally approaching the two issues the same way.

So, as the data accumulates I will be continuing to crunch numbers and see what we can say about the PC(USA). There is no question that it is on a journey and it will be interesting to consider what these data are telling us about where that journey will be leading. We do know one piece of the journey is the reconfiguration of the Synods and maybe some presbyteries, so this may be the last amendment vote that we can do these incremental statistics. It will be interesting to see.

Stay tuned…

Top Ten Presbyterian News Themes Of 2014

As we close out this eventful year I will once again join the numerous sources putting out top ten lists for the year that was. And as in past years my primary focus will be on stories, or themes, that were seen across multiple Presbyterian branches with a few more selective ones thrown in.

General Assemblies and Same-Sex Relationships

This was probably the top news theme of the year: The Church of Scotland GA sending to the presbyteries, and the presbyteries approving, language for churches to opt-out of the traditional standards. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 221st GA approving language to redefine marriage in its Book of Order and it appears on path to approval in the presbyteries. The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand approving a change to their Book of Order to prohibit same-sex marriages. And momentum is building around an overture to the next Presbyterian Church in Canada GA that would remove the prohibition against ministers being in a same-sex relationship.

Seminaries

This was a category that really caught my attention this year but which I have yet to write up in detail. In any year there is interesting seminary news, like Doris J. García Rivera’s installation as president of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico. But this seemed to be a year with more initiatives than normal.

These included the reorganization of the Free Church Seminary as the Edinburgh Theological Seminary. There was also the new joint initiative between Reformed Theological Seminary and Redeemer Church in New York City.

More radical seminary initiatives include a non-accredited communal seminary associated with Church of All Nations in Minneapolis and San Francisco Theological Seminary has launched a Center for Innovation in Ministry with a workshop on the theology of video games.

But the one that I have found most interesting is the Redesigned Master of Divinity Program at Fuller Theological Seminary. Fuller listened to their alumni and launched a new program which is described in part like this:

Many graduates can no longer count on traditional systems to create jobs for them. They will have to invent new ways to minister. Our reshaped curriculum is designed to prepare students with entrepreneurial skills.

One of the interesting things about this new initiative, and Fuller in general right now, is the prominence of Presbyterian leadership. In addition to Mark Labberton becoming President last year, the initiative is under the oversight of Scott Cormode, the Academic Dean. Behind the Vocation and Formation part of the initiative are some well-known Presbyterian faces that include Tod Bolsinger, Steve Yamaguchi and Laura Harbert.

Congregations Switching Branches

The moves between branches continue with the PC(USA) once again transferring more churches than it closes. And in the Church of Scotland there has been a slower, but noticeable, departure.

The other interesting movement is churches moving from the Reformed Church of America to the Presbyterian Church in America. Last Spring one of the flagship churches, University Reformed Church, voted to transfer. This fall five churches in Illinois have also voted to make the move.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

The General Assemblies of both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand considered this issue. In the PC(USA) the Assembly did not approve an outright divestment but referred it to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee for further consideration. The PCANZ instructed their Property Trustees to divest and recommended that individual churches do likewise.

Independence Referendum in Scotland

The Church of Scotland was prominent in the time leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum with an open session at their General Assembly that presented a variety of voices on the subject and further national and regional level gatherings leading up to the vote. Following the vote there was a service of unity hosted by the Kirk.

The Free Church of Scotland also held a session at their General Assembly and issued their own material providing viewpoints on Independence.

Property

For the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this was certainly a hot topic with a GAPJC decisioncivil legal challenges, settlements and high-valued negotiations. For this post the full extent of the property news is left as an exercise for the reader but there are still a lot of open questions and at the moment there seems to be momentum in favor of the hierarchical church.

Another property news item is the Greyfriars Church in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The historic structure was sold to a developer and it’s future is uncertain. Some preliminary demolition has begun and efforts are underway to try and preserve it.

PC(USA) Ethics Investigation

In a still developing story, it was revealed that four PC(USA) church development employees associated with Presbyterian Centers For New Church Innovation were the subjects of an internal ethics investigation for not following policy in setting up an outside non-profit corporation to facilitate distribution of 1001 Worshiping Communities funds. Initially there were administrative actions taken but as the story grew the four were placed on administrative leave and an outside law firm brought in to conduct an independent investigation. At year’s end it was decided that firm had a conflict of interest and a new firm was chosen.

Israel-Palestine Actions

The other hot topic leading up to the PC(USA) General Assembly was issues around Israel-Palestine. At the previous GA a proposal for divestment from three companies who profited from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory failed by a very narrow three-vote margin. The proposal was returning to this GA. In addition, a PC(USA) affiliated group, The Israel/Palestine Mission Network, (IPMN) issued a controversial study guide Zionism Unsettled that questioned Israel’s character and identity. While IPMN does not speak for the PC(USA) the study guide was sold by the official Presbyterian Distribution Services making the distinction fuzzy in many minds. In addition, there was some advanced controversy when the commissioner chosen to moderate the related commissioner committee was asked to step down because a number of people questioned his impartiality.

The 221st General Assembly did approve the divestment proposal by a slim seven-vote margin, but the action also encourages ecumenical dialogue in the region and affirms the denomination’s commitment to Israel and the peace process.

The Presbyterian Distribution Service dropped Zionism Unsettled shortly after the Assembly and it is now available on the IPNM web site. However, studies around this topic are available on Thoughtful Christian.

Women’s Ordination and Related

The religion gender issues news this year was dominated by the Church of England and the completion of the process to have women serve as bishops. In fact, in Presbyterian circles it was a very quiet year for complementarian/egalitarian discussions, which in itself is probably news.

The one big item is the decision by the Mizoram Synod conference to reject a long-standing request from Kohhran Hmechhia, the Women Ministry of the Presbyterian Church, to ordain women theologians.

In another story, history was made when Michael Barry and Liz Hughes tied in the first round of voting for Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev. Barry was elected in the second round by one vote over Rev. Hughes and a third candidate, Rev. McNie. This was the strongest showing that a female candidate has had in the election.

Death of Ian Paisley

Among several notable deaths in the Presbyterian community, the death of Ian Paisley stands out for his iconic status in both Northern Irish religion as the leading founder of the Free Presbyterian Church and for his important roll in politics and reconciliation in Norther Ireland.

And a couple of other Presbyterian-ish stories

Knox 500

While the date of birth of John Knox is not known with certainty, the best information suggests that it may have been in 1514 making this the 500th year of his birth. This was marked by the Knox 500 Conference in Edinburgh as well as the making of a documentary about him titled “Give Me Scotland.”

Spectacular Viking treasure hoard found on Church of Scotland land

Not your typical religion news story but a very important archaeological discovery involving the Kirk and a couple of its ministers as well as a metal detectionist.

And let me take a moment to throw in two transitions: The retirement of Jerry Van Marter after over 26 years with the Presbyterian News Service and Jack Haberer stepping down from the helm of the Presbyterian Outlook to return to parish ministry. Best wishes to both in their new settings.

And those are some of the highlights of 2014. Now as we look ahead to 2015 – and many of my friends around the world are already there or now busy celebrating Hogmanay – I wish all of you a very Happy New Years and best wishes for the coming year.

May you balance your ardor and order and remember to be decent and in order.

Happy New Year!

Church Of Scotland Ordination Overture Results And Reaction

Almost all of the presbyteries in the Church of Scotland have now voted on the overture from the 2014 General Assembly related to ministers in same-sex relationships and it is clear that the overture has gotten strong approval from them.

While this is a major hurdle it is important to keep in mind some of the fine details. First, it is not final until the 2015 General Assembly takes a look at it and adds its concurrence. Considering the margin with which it passed the 2014 Assembly and the number of presbyteries that gave approval it would seem reasonable to expect the next Assembly to also approve it. But we need to keep in mind that at the moment the process has not been completed.

The second item to remember is that this overture does not change the official stance of the Kirk but only provides a mechanism for individual churches to depart from that stance in the ordination and installation of officers should the need arise.

And the headlines, even from the official publication Life and Work, are a bit inaccurate in that gay clergy have been permitted if they were celibate, but the overture proposes new policies for partnered clergy in same-sex civil unions.

One important aspect of this vote to keep in mind is that the margin among the overall votes cast is much narrower than the presbytery vote. Of the 46 presbyteries it is being reported that so far 28 have voted yes and 11 have voted no on the overture. That is a 72% yes vote. But if you look at the total from the presbyters, it was 1253 yes and 1006 no, a 55% to 45% split.

As the results were spreading through the news media the last couple of days the group Forward Together, a Church of Scotland affinity group opposed to the proposed polity changes the overture would bring, announced their new initiative — the Covenant Fellowship. Their Statement begins:

We believe that the Church of Scotland is moving away from its roots in Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith. We believe that the time has come for the creation of a ‘Covenant Fellowship’ within the Church. This Covenant Fellowship will draw together those who believe that the Scriptures, in their entirety, are the Word of God and must provide the basis for everything we believe and do. Our vision is nothing less than the reformation and renewal of the Church of Scotland, in accordance with the Word of God and by the empowering of his life-giving Spirit.

The Church of Scotland is facing a severe crisis. A majority of Presbyteries has now adopted an Overture which would permit those in same-sex civil partnerships to serve as ministers and deacons in the Church. Many people feel that the only way to protest against this unscriptural move is to leave the Church of Scotland. Many ministers, elders, members and adherents have done so already and more will follow. While respecting that position, our hearts’ desire is to remain within the Church, in order to seek its reformation from within, although we recognise that not all will feel able to make such an unqualified commitment.

The Statement goes on to solicit from like-minded individuals and churches their signing on to the Declaration of support for these principles and protest of the actions of the Church of Scotland.

The Statement was issued in association with comments from the Rev. Prof. Andrew McGowan, which were picked up by the media. He said, in part:

If approved, this (overture) will extend even further the disruption of the Church of Scotland.

Many well-known congregations (individual ministers and groups of worshippers) in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Stornoway and elsewhere have already left the Church, or been split in two.

and

The hope is that the Covenant Fellowship, which begins today as a protest against recent events, will grow to become an effective campaign group within the Church on behalf of those who believe in Christian orthodoxy.

This statement and comments did not go unnoticed, and some of the language in the comments and the Statement elicited an official response from the Acting Principal Clerk of the General Assembly. The Rev. Dr. George Whyte says:

The Church of Scotland welcomes Professor McGowan’s continued commitment to remain a member and a minister but there are in his statement accusations which we believe are not accurate.

The proposed legislation which is the focus of the group’s criticism has been painstakingly considered by the Church across the nation. We know that for many people the discussion has been difficult and it has always been clear that we could never come to a common mind on the matter.

This pain and disillusionment has been felt by those, like Professor McGowan, who think the Church is going in the wrong direction and those who desperately want a Church which would go further on their chosen route. Yet the issue has to be discussed and we are a Church which recognises “liberty of opinion.” Our General Assembly has agreed that this proposal – to allow a congregation call a minister in a civil partnership – falls into that category. It is not, therefore, an attack on the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith.

“We share Professor McGowan’s abhorrence of further disruption and we hope and pray that across Scotland Christians will find ways to continue to work together despite their varied opinions.”

In addition to the Covenant Fellowship, media was also reporting comments from a spokesman for the Free Church of Scotland. The comments expressed concern for the actions and direction of the Church of Scotland and concluded with the line “Although we are saddened by the present circumstances in the Church of Scotland, we are happy to provide a home to those who wish to leave.”

The Church of Scotland has seen the departure of a few ministers, congregations and members over the last few years since the trajectory was set by the 2011 General Assembly. But this new association seems to now more clearly define one side although being a brand new initiative we will have to see how it develops.

It is also tempting to map the current landscape of the PC(USA) and the directions of ebb and flow there onto where the Church of Scotland find itself now, and it almost seems that naming the new initiative the Covenant Fellowship invites that comparison. However, the lay of the land in the Kirk is probably going to be shifting rapidly and I will let the structures settle down a bit before I take the time to undertake that analysis.

What can I really say at this point to sum up these developments but… Stay Tuned!