Category Archives: EPC

General Assembly Season 2017

It is May 1st – Already? We have once again returned to the date on my calendar that marks the beginning of the General Assembly Season. Where has the time gone?

This is simply the list – further detail will be necessary on a number of important and interesting items of business that will come before the GA’s this year.

As always, this is the line-up as I know it – I will update as I clarify additional Assembly and Synod meetings.

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62nd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Taiwan
18-21 April 2017

 

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Synod
The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
2-4 May 2017
Mt. Druitt, N.S.W.

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Tasmania
16 May 2017 (begins)

 

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General Assembly
Church of Scotland
20-26 May 2017
Edinburgh

 

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
22-25 May, 2017
Edinburgh

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland
22-25 May 2017
Edinburgh

 

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General Assembly
United Free Church of Scotland
31 May – 2 June 2017
Perth

 

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84th General Assembly
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
31 May – 6 June 2017
Trinity Christian College
Palos Heights, Illinois

 

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)143rd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Canada
4-7 June 2017
Queen’s University
Kingston, Ontario

bush

General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
5-9 June 2017
Belfast

 

arpc_2846216
213th Stated Meeting of the General Synod
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
6-8 June 2017
Bonclarken
Flat Rock, North Carolina

 


45th General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in America
12-16 June 2017
Greensboro, North Carolina

 

pca-logo-4b-small
General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Queensland
18-22 June 2017
Fairholme College Toowoomba
Toowoomba
Note: The Presbyterian Church of South Australia will not hold an Assembly again this year and operates as a presbytery of PCQ

 

cpca_7255060

142nd General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America
18-21 June 2017
Innisbrook Resort
Tampa, Florida
Concurrent with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church

 

cplogosmallwithtext200x200187th General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church
18-23 June 2017
Innisbrook Resort
Tampa, Florida
Concurrent with Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America


37th General Assembly
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
20-23 June 2017
Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church
Fair Oaks, California

 

Reformed_Presbyterian_Church_of_North_America_(banner)

186th Synod
Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
28-30 June 2017
Indiana Wesleyan University
Marion, Indiana

 

 

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N.S.W. State Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Australia
in the State of New South Wales

3 July 2017 (begins)
Croydon, N.S.W.

 

NYA_0National Youth Assembly
Church of Scotland
21-24 July 2017
Stirlingshire
(Technically not a governing
body, but still an Assembly I track)

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81st General Synod
Bible Presbyterian Church
3-7 August 2017
Edmonton BPC, Edmonton, Alberta

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Victoria
9 – 13 October 2017

 

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Western Australia
27 October 2017

 

These are the ones that I am tracking at the moment. I will update as appropriate. If I have missed one, or have information wrong or incomplete, please provide the appropriate information and I will update the list.

And, to make the GA season complete here are two more items…

The first is the series of articles I wrote as an introduction to Presbyterian General Assemblies seven years ago. My GA 101 series consists of the following

GA101: Preface
GA101: Introduction – Why in the world would anybody want to do it this way?
GA101: Connectionalism – The Presbyterian Big Picture
GA101: The Cast of Characters – A score card to identify the players
GA101: The Moderator – All Things In Moderation
GA101: Where does the GA business come from? – Incoming!
GA101: Doing the business of GA — Decently and in Order

Yes, what started as a six part series expanded into seven completed articles with two more unfinished ones (still) in the queue.

And finally, on to the ridiculous. Lest we take ourselves too seriously, a couple years ago I had a little fun with the General Assembly and in the post passed along the GA drinking game and GA Bingo. In addition, Allan Edwards has posted an alternate Bingo card reflecting the polity of the Presbyterian Church in America and Neil MacLennan has created one that reflects the idiosyncrasies of the Church of Scotland. Please play responsibly. 😉

One other thing is that you may have noticed a new tab on the top navigation bar for a Calendar of Presbyterian and Reformed General Assemblies, Synods and Other Events. I have just begun to populate it but hope that within the week I will have most of the items in this post, plus a few more, entered into that calendar. It is an attempt to provide a resource for those times when someone asks about a GA date well before my May 1 date for publishing this list.

So GA Junkies, go for it. It is GA season so enjoy! May you have an exciting experience over the next few months of watching us do things decently and in order!

36th General Assembly Of The Evangelical Presbyterian Church

2015-EPC-sealAnd today we complete our “four diamond week” with the opening of the 36th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. What we have are the three largest and, what was until recently, the fourth largest American Presbyterian denominations meeting all at the same time. And it is worth noting that they all are part of that great dividing of the mainstream branch, while acknowledging that a few pieces of the Reformed Presbyterian branch have been absorbed in.

The next four days the EPC will be meeting at Ward Church in Northville, Michigan. According to the schedule, today there will be workshops as part of the Leadership Institute seminars, and some additional related keynotes on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Business begins with opening worship tomorrow afternoon followed by the beginning of business sessions. The meeting is docketed to adjourn by noon on Saturday morning.

The Assembly meeting will be live streamed through the host church and the view is embedded on the Documents page.

There is a lot of information on line, most linked through the Documents page. Here are some of the links for information about Assembly business and operation:

As for social media, there is a bit of that out there. There is a Facebook page for the EPC that is currently being updated regularly with Leadership Institute items. The official EPC Twitter feed is @EPChurch and the declared official hashtag (#epc2016ga) has sprung to life. There is also a feed for EPC Student Ministries (@EPCStudentMin) and the Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah (@Jeff_Jeremiah -but not active for a while). I would add to this the host church, @wardchurch.

As for individuals, so far Ivan Strong Moore (@ivansmoore) is going strong live tweeting it, so there is a good point to start. For some tweets with a slight edge and sense of humor, check out Chreeha (@chreeha) and their hashtag #rowdyGA.

The list of the business items shows that much of the business is important but generally routine. Maybe the most out-of-the ordinary set of recommendations deal with a revised Position Paper on Human Sexuality that can be found in the report of the Committee on Position Paper Revision. There is also a request to appoint a committee to draft a pastoral statement on Ministering to the Church and the World on Issues Pertaining to Human Sexuality.

With that, I will wish the EPC commissioners well and we will be lifting them up in our prayers as they meet.

General Assembly Season 2016

May 1st – The date on my calendar that marks the beginning of the General Assembly Season. This is our binge year, or we max out on GA’s, as we can include the two biennial assemblies and the triennial one.

So buckle up and here we go.

As always, this is the line-up as I know it – I will update as I clarify additional Assembly and Synod meetings.

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61st General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Taiwan
29 March-1 April 2016

 

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Synod
The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
3-5 May 2016
Mt. Druitt, N.S.W.

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Tasmania
10 May 2016 (begins)

 

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General Assembly
Church of Scotland
21-27 May 2016
Edinburgh

 

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
23-26 May, 2016
Edinburgh

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland
23-26 May 2016
Edinburgh

pca-logo-1a-hires

 

General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of South Australia
22 May 2016 (anticipated) No Assembly this year – see comment below

 

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)142nd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Canada
3-6 June 2016
York University
Toronto, Ontario

bush

 

General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
6-10 June 2016
Belfast

 

arpc_2846216
212th Stated Meeting of the General Synod
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
7-9 June 2016
Bonclarken
Flat Rock, North Carolina

 

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General Assembly
United Free Church of Scotland
8-10 June 2016
Perth

 

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83rd General Assembly
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
8-14 June 2016
Sandy Cove Conference Center
North East, Maryland

 

logo+pcusa222nd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
18-25 June 2016
Portland, Oregon

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Queensland
19-23 June 2016
Brisbane Boys College
Brisbane

 

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141st General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America

19-22 June 2016
Nashville, Tennessee
Concurrent with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church

 

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186th General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church
20-24 June 2016
Nashville, Tennessee
Concurrent with Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America

 

01645A81-A5D8-4EB1-9E4C30D14028D30744th General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in America
20-24 June 2016
Mobile, Alabama

 

EvangelicalPresbyterianChurchLogo
36th General Assembly
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
21-25 June 2016
Ward Church
Northville, Michigan

 

Reformed_Presbyterian_Church_of_North_America_(banner)

Synod
Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
27-29 June 2016
Indiana Wesleyan University
Marion, Indiana

 

 

pca-logo-4f-small
N.S.W. State Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Australia
in the State of New South Wales

4 July 2016 (begins)
Croydon, N.S.W.

 

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80th General Synod
Bible Presbyterian Church
4-9 August 2016
Sharonville, Ohio

NYA_0National Youth Assembly
Church of Scotland
19-22 August 2016
Stirlingshire
(Technically not a governing
body, but still an Assembly I track)

pca-logo-4b-small
General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Australia
12 September 2016 (begins)

 

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Victoria
3 October 2016

 

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Western Australia
28 October 2016
Peppermint Grove, WA

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
15-19 November
University of Otago
Dunedin

 

These are the ones that I am tracking at the moment. I will update as appropriate. If I have missed one, or have information wrong or incomplete, please provide the appropriate information and I will update the list.

And, to make the GA season complete here are two more items…

The first is the series of articles I wrote as an introduction to Presbyterian General Assemblies seven years ago. My GA 101 series consists of the following

GA101: Preface
GA101: Introduction – Why in the world would anybody want to do it this way?
GA101: Connectionalism – The Presbyterian Big Picture
GA101: The Cast of Characters – A score card to identify the players
GA101: The Moderator – All Things In Moderation
GA101: Where does the GA business come from? – Incoming!
GA101: Doing the business of GA — Decently and in Order

Yes, what started as a six part series expanded into seven completed articles with two more unfinished ones (still) in the queue.

And finally, on to the ridiculous. Lest we take ourselves too seriously, a couple years ago I had a little fun with the General Assembly and in the post passed along the GA drinking game and GA Bingo. In addition, Allan Edwards has posted an alternate Bingo card to use or modify for your particular polity. Please play responsibly. 😉

So, for all the GA Junkies out there I wish you the best of GA seasons. May you enjoy the next few months of watching us do things decently and in order!

A Closer Look At Denominations And Twitter

My musing about Twitter accounts that I posted a week ago started a bunch of conversations and got me looking at it a bit more closely. Now fair warning – that post was the beginning of a look at the diversity of a denomination by thinking about how many different “voices” there are coming from that branch. Ultimately I want to find a way to categorize those voices on a diversity spectrum but a  couple of metrics I have tried already did not pan out. However, in casting the net a bit wider, that is in bringing more denominations into the data set, an interesting relationship appeared.

As we drill into that data a brief reminder about the data set. I was looking for official Twitter accounts from a denomination. My original list from the PC(USA) included the primary account, agencies, committees, periodicals and news sources. It did not include what I characterized as commercial project-specific accounts – like the Glory to God Hymnal and the Feasting on the Word series – as well as not counting seminaries and conference centers. As I move on to other denominations I will stick to these same parameters even though some have seminaries and conference centers with much closer oversight by their highest governing bodies. In addition, I am choosing at the onset of this analysis to include the inactive, duplicate and periodical accounts.

In this search for denominational Twitter accounts I found one more for the PC(USA) and have added that to the list in the original post and annotated it as an update. For the rest of the usual American Presbyterian branches I have these that I found:

ARPC – 32,000 members (from current issue of The ARP)

RPCNA – 7,000 members (from current issue of The ARP)

OPC – 31,122 (from Statistician’s report to 2015 GA)

No official Twitter accounts found

PCA – 358,516 members (from Clerk’s summary of 2015 GA)

EPC – 149,527 reported (from statistical report to 2015 GA)

BPC – 3500 members (Wikipedia)

No official Twitter accounts found

ECO – 60,000 members (report from 2014 Synod meeting)

Cumberland – 72,370 members (2015 GA Minutes Statistical Reports for 2014)

CPCA – 7676 members (2014 GA Minutes Statistical Reports for 2013)

No official Twitter accounts found

So if we take these and plot Twitter accounts versus membership what do we get? Here is the graph.

twitter_1

That’s a pretty nice trend line there — all the data give a correlation of 0.990. Tough to beat that. But those who regularly deal with statistics will notice a couple of issues.

First and foremost the trend line is highly leveraged. That is to say that you have a lot of data on the left and then a really, really long space until you get to the PC(USA) on the right. When calculating the trend that isolated data point can dominate and pull the trend line to itself. Compared to the actual number of 39 Twitter accounts the trend line predicts 39.06 accounts. Yes, there is the clear possibility of leveraging.

Second, even the data point for the PCA is a bit isolated there away from the cluster. In a sense, we have the statistics of small numbers with three meaningful populations: the PC(USA) point on the right, the PCA point in the middle and the cluster containing everyone else on the left.

However, looking at the data and the trend line it still seems to be a decent fit. Yes, the PC(USA) has leveraged it but the predicted 9.11 accounts for the PCA is still reasonably close to the actual 10 accounts. So let’s test the leveraging.

Dropping the PC(USA) point from the linear regression and fitting only on the lower nine points, including the PCA, the correlation drops to 0.827. So there is a correlation drop indicating some leveraging but that is still a respectably strong number. But have a look at the plot…

twitter_2

So if the trend line is only based on the lower nine data points and then extrapolated out four times that distance to predict the PC(USA) value, it only over-estimates by 1.54. This is starting to look like a more robust relationship.

Having now had a look at the data let me tell you that what I found is significantly different than my expected outcome. You might have noticed that a bit of my bias crept into the last post regarding the PC(USA) having a high number of Twitter accounts. As I was compiling that list it seemed to me that the church had gone wild in creating accounts.  Well, when viewed from the perspective of number of accounts per thousand members (that would be 0.024 accounts/member for the trend line if you care) the number is right in line with everyone else. They just happen to be four times larger than the next largest branch so the number of accounts is four times larger.

From a statistical point of view I went into this expecting that I would never be able to plot this on a linear line. I was expecting to have to fit it to a log scale on the number of accounts axis. Furthermore, from past experience I also expected the leveraging to be more dramatic and the extrapolated line to miss by a wider margin. So I share this little experiment to document something that truly surprised me when I took a close look at it. And furthermore, the decision of which accounts to include and which to exclude from the count was made at the beginning and carried through the analysis. It would of course be interesting to try this again with other subsets but I have not tried those and will leave that for another day.

Now, what we can say is that the number of accounts that the PCA and the PC(USA) have are completely in line with each other and generally with the smaller churches as well. While the smaller branches scatter a bit more around the line the trend is generally evident in that cluster.

What we can not say is whether, from an administrative and social media point of view, the PC(USA) and maybe the PCA have too many Twitter accounts. There is a statistical relationship here but that does not tell us whether the number of accounts per member helps or does not help get the message out. Furthermore, this relationship does not answer any questions about the consistency or coherence of the message in social media or the diversity of the branch as a whole.

Some of my preliminary thoughts are what this might mean for scaling relationships of institutional structure and self-similarity as a means of probing institutional development. In particular, it might be an interesting on-going study to see how accounts might be added as ECO becomes larger and how accounts might go dormant as the PC(USA) scales back its operations.

But it is a very interesting relationship and I put it out there for any social media theorists or practitioners who might be interested in this sort of thing. As I said, I was surprised by the proportionality, robustness and consistency of the relationship. I welcome any of you that are interested to continue pondering with me what possible implications there might be.

35th General Assembly Of The Evangelical Presbyterian Church

EvangelicalPresbyterianChurchLogoAfter a short respite we now turn to the 35th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church which will be meeting in Disney World Orlando, Florida. The host church is First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. The meeting began today (23 June) with a Leadership Institute which will continue tomorrow morning and again Thursday morning. The Assembly will convene with worship after lunch tomorrow (24 June). The meeting concludes with lunch on Saturday 27 June.

The Assembly meeting will be live streamed through the host church. There is a lot of information online to help you follow along:

  • There is the Schedule and the Docket (being issued in daily segments) so you know when the business sessions are and what is being covered.
  • Almost all of what you need will be on the Documents page which also has another embedded webcast window. This includes the Commissioners Handbook by parts or as a full download. Also note that there are additional and replacement pages available on the page or by download. There are also two interesting appendices – the statistical report for us data geeks (and also check out the Stated Clerk’s report) and the proposed Revised Book of Worship.
  • At some point we can expect daily summaries to be posted and I will link here. Also keep an eye on the EP News Blog.
  • And yes, there is an app for that – The church has made available a Smartphone App for both Android and Apple iOS. (But at least the Android version does not seem a best seller as it is listed 10-50 downloads when I installed it on my phone.)
  • And don’t forget the current Book of Order from the web site.

As for social media, there is a bit of that out there. There is a Facebook page for the EPC that is currently being updated regularly with Leadership Institute items. The official EPC Twitter feed is @EPChurch and the declared official hashtag (#epc2015ga) has sprung to life. There is also a feed for EPC Student Ministries (@EPCStudentMin) and the Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah (@Jeff_Jeremiah). I would add to this the host church, @fpcorlando.

As I look at individuals to follow the first two I would suggest are individuals who will be speaking at the GA. Thom Rainer of Life@ay (@ThomRainer) will be giving two keynotes as part of the Leadership Institute. Carmen Fowler LaBerge of the Presbyterian Lay Committee (@CarmenLaBerge) will be bringing the word at Friday evening’s worship service. I am seeing a few other familiar faces on Twitter but will update my list here are the meeting gets rolling.

gaidentity1Regarding the business before the Assembly, I had mentioned above the revision of the Book of Worship. This revision was approved by the 34th General Assembly and received the concurrance of all the presbyteries. It is now before this Assembly to give it the final ratification. There is an ascending overture to this Assembly (15-B) “to erect a study committee to examine and report on the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s understanding of the Regulative Principle of Worship in our Reformed and Confessional heritage, and its application thereunto.” It is helpful to note that the Book of Worship is structured around the Westminster Standards and this overture seeks to tie that understanding with the Regulative Principle of Worship. It is interesting to note that in the recommendations section of the Commissioner Handbook, Recommendation #56 from the Committee on Theology (on page 52) deals with the Book of Worship and what is allowed in the Westminster Confession 21-8. This is in response to the issue being brought before the Assembly last year. The recommendation is that the Book of Worship is sufficient and deals with primarily with worship and that regarding the WCF on sabbath keeping:

What the Book of Worship 2-2 does not do is further embrace nor deny the Westminster
Confession 21-8, which further regulates actions, “rest the whole day from their own works
and words, and from thoughts about their worldly activities and recreations; and take up the whole time in public and private worship and in the duties of necessity and mercy.” The
Book of Worship 2-2, in effect, creates allowances for exceptions of the Westminster
Confession 21-8.

This is of interest because a similar matter was before the PCA General Assembly and they chose to not study it further.

The other recommendation to the GA from the Committee on Theology is to erect a study committee to consider the expansion of the church’s position papers on Homosexuality and The Sanctity of Marriage.

It is instructive to note that there are a grand total of two ascending overtures, the other one (15-A) is related to presbytery boundaries and extending Florida to include Puerto Rico now that a church on that island has joined the EPC.

With that, I will wish the EPC commissioners well and we will be lifting them up in our prayers as they meet.

General Assembly Season 2015

It is the First of May, the day I have traditionally used to mark the start of the General Assembly Season. (Although you will see it started a bit before that.)

There is lots of excitement ahead this year so get ready.

Here is this year’s line-up as I know it now. I will update as I clarify additional Assembly and Synod meetings.

200px-Presbyterian_Church_in_Taiwan

60th General Assembly
and 150th Anniversary of the founding
Presbyterian Church in Taiwan
7-10 April 2015

 

pcea_logo
Synod
The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
5-7 May 2015
Mt. Druitt, N.S.W.

 

pca_tasmania_logo
General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Tasmania
12 May 2015 (begins)

 

Logo_of_the_Church_of_Scotland
General Assembly
Church of Scotland
16-22 May 2015
Edinburgh

 

 

Free-Church-Continuing-logo

General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland Continuing
18-21 May, 2015
Edinburgh

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland
18-21 May 2015
Edinburgh

pca-logo-1a-hires

 

General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of South Australia
25 May 2014 (begins)
Naracoorte, S.A.

 

bush

 

General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
1-4 June 2015
Belfast

210px-OrthodoxPresbyterianChurchlogo
82nd General Assembly
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
3-9 June 2015
Dordt College
Sioux Center, Iowa

 

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)141st General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Canada
4-8 June 2015
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C.

cpca_7255060
140th General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America

7-10 June 2015
Huntsville, Alabama

 

120px-BlueBanner
Synod
Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland
8-10 June 2015
Bready

 

 

Reformed_Presbyterian_Church_of_North_America_(banner)
Synod
Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
8-12 June 2015
Bonclarken
Flat Rock, North Carolina
Concurrent with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

 

arpc_2846216
211th Stated Meeting of the General Synod
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
9-11 June 2015
Bonclarken
Flat Rock, North Carolina
Concurrent with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America

pca_new_2014
43rd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in America
8-12 June 2015
Chattanooga, Tennessee
(And the logo at left was proposed last year and referred so we will see what the report back is.)

 

ufcscot_logo
General Assembly
United Free Church of Scotland
10-12 June 2015
Perth

 

cplogosmallwithtext200x200
185th General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church
19-26 June 2015
Cali, Columbia

 

EvangelicalPresbyterianChurchLogo
35th General Assembly
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
23-27 June 2015
Orlando, Florida

 

pca-logo-4b-small
General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Queensland
21-25 June 2015

 

 

pca-logo-4f-small
N.S.W. State Assembly
and 150th Anniversary Celebration
Presbyterian Church of Australia
in the State of New South Wales

29 June 2015 (begins)
Croydon, N.S.W.

bpclogo
79th General Synod
Bible Presbyterian Church
6-11 August 2015
Cape Canaveral, Florida

NYA_0National Youth Assembly
Church of Scotland
14-17 August 2015
Stirlingshire
(Technically not a governing
body, but still an Assembly I track)

pcv_logo
General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Victoria
5-8 October 2015

 

pca-logo-4b-small
General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Western Australia
30 October 2015
Peppermint Grove, WA

 

And in case you were looking for one of these high-profile GA’s, they are not annual events and you will have to wait for next year:

These are the ones that I am tracking at the moment.  I will update as appropriate.  If I have missed one, or have information wrong or incomplete, please provide the appropriate information and I will update the list.

And, to make the GA season complete here are two more items…

The first is the series of articles I wrote as an introduction to Presbyterian General Assemblies seven years ago.  My GA 101 series consists of the following

GA101: Preface
GA101: Introduction – Why in the world would anybody want to do it this way?
GA101: Connectionalism – The Presbyterian Big Picture
GA101: The Cast of Characters – A score card to identify the players
GA101: The Moderator – All Things In Moderation
GA101: Where does the GA business come from? – Incoming!
GA101: Doing the business of GA — Decently and in Order

Yes, what started as a six part series expanded into seven completed articles with two more unfinished ones in the queue.  (Maybe this will give me some motivation to finish those up.)

And finally, on to the ridiculous.  Lest we take ourselves too seriously, a couple years ago I had a little fun with the General Assembly and in the post passed along the GA drinking game and GA Bingo. Please play both responsibly. 😉

So, for all the GA Junkies out there I wish you the best of GA seasons.  May you enjoy the next few months of watching us do things decently and in order!

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.

Brief Updates On Church Property Cases In Texas, Pennsylvania and Kansas

As I have often commented in this space, I really don’t want to go chasing church property cases in the civil courts as they can vary so widely by jurisdiction. I am going to take this opportunity to update one situation I have previously covered in detail and use it as an opportunity to consolidate reporting on a couple more and in the process demonstrate the variety that there is, the moving target that it can be and the legal technicalities involved.

Let me begin with the legal landscape in Texas which I have written on to some extent before. In particular, I covered a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court back in August 2013 that set forth neutral principles as the standard of decision for the state. However, that decision, at least in my reading, left a little opening for a hierarchical church to make a claim under the trust clause.

Well, two decisions in the last couple of weeks don’t see it that way and the local judicatories won summary judgements over higher governing bodies in the trial courts on pure property ownership and Texas trust law arguments.

The first was a summary judgement in the case of First Presbyterian Church of Houston v. Presbytery of New Covenant issued back on February 16. (Thanks to the presbytery for posting the decision.) Being a summary judgement there is not a lot of analysis by the court. The critical point to be made is:

… the Court grants the motion finding that there is no genuinely disputed issue of material fact, and that Plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

The Court further finds that there is no enforceable trust or property interest created by any version of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order or the Presbyterian Church of the United States Book of Church Order under the neutral principle factors set forth by the Texas Supreme Court in Masterson v Diocese of Nw Texas.

The presbytery’s Pending Litigation web page indicates they will pursue the appeal. The lawyer for the church has a press release on their victory and indicates he will continue to represent the church pro bono.

The second court decision issued on March 2nd similarly gives the Diocese of Fort Worth under Bishop Jack Leo Iker control of the property of the diocese in a partial summary judgement which did exempt one church property dispute from the order. This was a rehearing of the case where the original decision in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court decision previously mentioned. The Episcopal Diocese has indicated it will appeal.

We will see how these trial court decisions hold up in the appeals process.

On the other end of the spectrum we had a final decision this past December in the case of Peters Creek Church in Venetia, Pennsylvania. This was a case between a majority of the church that voted to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and a minority that voted to stay with Washington Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA). After seven years of legal wrangling and two previous decisions that favored the majority, a decision by the Commonwealth Court last April awarded the control of the property to the minority as the True Church. With the denial of review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in October it was sent back to the local court to issue the final decision ordering the change of ownership and a negotiated solution. The two groups have been sharing the property.

The Commonwealth Court decision is a long but at points an interesting read as it determines the outcome based strictly on neutral principles and does affirm that a denomination can not create a unilateral trust in Pennsylvania unlike court decisions in New York, Georgia and California. However, the court did find that in their Bylaws of June 3, 2001, Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church did create a trust with the PC(USA) when it included the language:

…“nothing in these bylaws shall prevail over the [PC(USA)] Constitution,” and that the bylaws “shall be considered to include the mandatory provisions and requirements on local churches set forth in the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whether or not incorporated by specific reference.”

Among other finding of error by the trial court the Commonwealth Court declared that a formal trust document need not be created for the trust to be in force and recognized. They further find that the vote of the congregation on November 4, 2007, to leave the PC(USA) was invalid.

Woven into the rational of the decision are the histories of the PC(USA) and UPCUSA governing documents as well as the history of Pennsylvania trust law. In the end they make the case that using only neutral principles and consideration of the timeline of the history of the church the congregation can not unilaterally leave the PC(USA).

The trial court relied on the holdings in Beaver-Butler and Calhoun as examples of other Pennsylvania cases that have upheld the ability of a local church to disaffiliate from a national denomination (March 31, 2010, Trial Ct. Op. at 15). Those cases, however, do not support the trial court’s conclusions because their facts make clear that, at the time the local churches disaffiliated from the UPCUSA, the predecessor of the PCUSA, the UPCUSA governing documents did not prevent local churches from unilaterally disaffiliating. Here, in contrast, the PCUSA Constitution, which Peters Creek Church recognized as obligatory on its members, provided that the relationship between the PCUSA and an individual church can be severed only by the Presbytery.

So at least in Pennsylvania, timing and what you have in your bylaws and articles of incorporation is important.

And while this case is interesting, the legal nuances are a good example of why I don’t go chasing every one of these church property decision.

And now to Kansas…

Back in October a majority of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley, in Overland Park, Kansas, voted to disaffiliate from the PC(USA) and joint the EPC. There was a significant minority with 21% opposed. Control of the property is headed to court so there is not much to talk about there at this time.

However, there seems to be a pretty good back story on this one. A year ago there was an article quoting the church’s pastor as saying that the church was not looking to leave the larger denomination. But that article pointed out that this is the church home of Craig McPherson, a member of the Kansas legislature, who serves as an ordained officer in the church – a deacon. In last year’s legislative session he was a primary supporter of a Kansas House bill that was substituted for State Senate Bill 18 to clarify that Kansas judged church property disputes under neutral principles. The text, as amended by the House with McPherson’s input is included in an article in The Layman. Rep. McPherson published his testimony in support of a 2013 version of the bill. Last year the bill failed on the House floor but the Committee on the Judiciary, of which Rep. McPherson is a member, has reintroduced the bill in the 2015 session. According to the tracking page it is still awaiting committee action.

So there you have a selection of the church property cases recently in play across the country that have PC(USA) connections. If you want another interesting read consider the South Carolina decision giving control of a diocese, its property and its symbols (trademarks) to the group which has separated from The Episcopal Church. A unique case that probably has no impact on Presbyterian interests but one that gives the Episcopal equivalent of the Trust Clause, known as the Dennis Canon, very little weight.

So, enjoy that legal reading if you are so inclined. I might have a bit more to say on property from a PC(USA) polity standpoint in the near future.

Division and Reunion: a Reflection on American Presbyterianism – A New Documentary

Union Presbyterian Seminary has produced and released a new documentary, Division and Reunion: a Reflection on American Presbyterianism. It can be viewed online or a DVD ordered through that page.

The brief description on the page talks about the documentary like this:

We are pleased to present Division and Reunion: a Reflection on American Presbyterianism, a documentary narrated by lifelong Presbyterian Dr. Condoleezza Rice. We at Union Presbyterian Seminary hope this film will be a learning tool and a way to build faith, showing how God works through reconciliation. Special thanks to the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and the Anne Carter Robins and Walter R. Robins, Jr. Foundation for their support.

There are a couple of points in this description that struck me as I watched the video. The first is the use of the term reflection in the title. This is not a comprehensive documentary on American Presbyterianism, far from it. But it is a reflection on history of division and reunion in the mainstream branch. And since that is the focus you can understand why another word in that description – reconciliation – is emphasized throughout the piece.

An additional important point to be aware of at the onset is that between filming and the final title and description a bit of the focus seems to have shifted. While the title refers to American Presbyterianism, In their concluding comments both Dr. Rice and Dr. Brian Blount, President of Union Presbyterian Seminary, refer to this as a look at the Southern Presbyterian Church. Watching the documentary again, it clearly is that with an emphasis on events and groups related to the old southern church. For example, when the Second Great Awakening and the Restoration Movement is discussed the focus is on Barton Stone and the Cane Ridge movement in Kentucky but no mention is made of the Campbells of Pennsylvania. Similarly, of the groups that split off from the mainstream in the 20th Century only the split in the southern church forming the PCA is mentioned, and northern divisions forming the OPC, BPC and EPC are not mentioned and the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy is only alluded to.

But with that context and recognizing the focus I will say that I very much enjoyed watching this almost 45 minute reflection. For much of the first half it struck me as an enlightening history lesson by Dr. Sean Michael Lucas with thoughtful commentary by a variety of informed and diverse voices adding their historical perspective to the narrative. But, as I said above, it was not a history lesson per se but a collection of reflections around a few important moments. The second half picks up with the formation of the PCUS, or more precisely the PCCSA which would become the PCUS, and that branch remains the primary focus for the rest of the video. In that half we see much less of Dr. Lucas and the story is told more through the collective individual remembrances and the commentary. It is a story that is cast in such a way that the arc of the narrative necessarily brings you to the PCUS/UPCUSA reunion in Atlanta in 1983.

Within the tight focus I have already mentioned, I will say that I appreciated how Barton Stone and the Cane Ridge Revival was included. The origins of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) from the Presbyterians is frequently overlooked in these historical pieces and charts. On the other hand, mention is also made of the split of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in that same era, it is held on the running branch diagram for a bit and then disappears. Since this is about division and reunion I am surprised that the reunion with the CPC in 1906 was not included. Was it because it was a reunion with the northern church or because there was a minority who still have a continuing Cumberland church? Maybe even more intriguing is the history of the Cumberland Church and the closely associated African American branch, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, with the two branches currently on track for their own reunion shortly.

Finally, if this is about Southern Presbyterianism, it is worth noting that the Covenanter and Secession branch is not mentioned at all in the video. While its American expression began in the northern states this branch now finds it’s main concentration in the southern states with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church headquartered in South Carolina.

In conclusion, let me confirm what many of you probably suspect and that is the fact that throughout the video there are subtle, and some not so subtle, references to where the PC(USA) finds itself today. If anything, this is a piece that looks at where the church has been and the fact that in many ways the present does not look too different from the past.

If you are looking for a comprehensive history of American Presbyterianism, this is not the video you are looking for. If you are interested in a thoughtful, interesting and at some points very honest reflection on a few pivotal points in the history of southern Presbyterians, you will probably find this time well spent.

34th General Assembly Of The Evangelical Presbyterian Church


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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