Category Archives: peacemaking

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.


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.


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!

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of August 2014

With the GA Season winding down and my summer vacation behind me it seems time to resume the headlines posts. While I have delusions that I might get caught up back to when I dropped the posts for GA season, that will probably not happen. There were a couple of interesting items in that time period and I might do one major highlights piece, but we will see if that actually happens.

But for now, let’s turn to the first half of this month and what caught my attention.

A significant news thread in Europe was the centenary of the start of World War One and the involvement of the UK in that conflict. For a number of reasons I won’t go into several significant national commemorations were held in Scotland with the major involvement of the Church of Scotland.

Scotland commemorates World War One centenary (from BBC News Scotland)

Church of Scotland Moderator urges world leaders to learn from WW1 (from Ekklesia)

Across the Presbyterian branches there were calls for peace in Gaza

Gaza: Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland in plea for peace (from Belfast Telegraph)

Largest Presbyterian Denomination in US Demands Obama Push for Israeli-Hamas Ceasefire (from The Christian Post)

Head of Church of Scotland in plea for peace in Gaza (from Herald Scotland)

And in an interesting side note, that last headline brought some comments about how for Presbyterians that headline should have referred to the Moderator of the church since, as this letter to the editor points out, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church:

The true head of the Kirk (letter to the editor in Herald Scotland)

An Irish minister who died in a tragic scuba accident is remembered

Deeply committed and straight-talking Presbyterian minister (from the Irish Times)

In Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, the historic Greyfriars Church of Scotland building was sold to a local businessman leading to some concern over the fate of the building. The new owner is having the building inspected to determine what it would take to preserve the building and possible uses while others are looking at possible paths to ensure preservation.

Greyfriars church sold (from Trinidad Express Newspapers)
‘I felt compelled to buy Greyfriars’ (from Trinidad Express Newspapers)
National Trust moves to protect historic Greyfriars Church (from Trinidad Express Newspapers)
I can’t make guarantees (from the Guardian)

Southside Presbyterian Church of Tucson, a church which was a leader in the sanctuary movement 30 years ago, is once again offering sanctuary to undocumented individuals.

Presbyterian church in Arizona offers sanctuary to undocumented migrant (from Reuters)

Also, from the PC(USA), a lawsuit that includes the denomination as a defendant

Minister’s lawsuit targets his own denomination over sexual abuse allegations (AP story in The Kansas City Star); “The Rev. Kris Schondelmeyer, a youth minister in Toledo, Ohio, is seeking unspecified damages in a lawsuit he filed against the Louisville, Ky.-based Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); First Presbyterian Church of Fulton, Mo.; the Missouri Union Presbytery in Jefferson City; and his alleged abuser, Jack Wayne Rogers.”

Finally, a profile of Doran, Minn., population 55, caught my attention because of the emphasis on the Presbyterian church and how it is the last remaining house of worship in town as well as a community gathering spot.

Doran, Minn.: Little town on the prairie (from the Daily News of Wahpeton, ND and Breckenridge, MN)

So until next time…

221st General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

We now approach a very busy week of General Assemblies. Hold on to your proverbial hats…

Leading off in the lineup is the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The gavel will come down to convene the meeting at 11:00 AM local time tomorrow (14 June) in Detroit, Michigan and it will run for one week until Saturday June 21.

The source for information is the on-line PC-Biz system. It can be access on the web at There are is also a PC(USA) event guide for the Guidebook App Android and iOS apps.

There is a docket posted and you can also find the schedule, reports overtures/business items on PC-Biz as well as all the Constitutional documents, the Manual of the General Assembly, and other useful items on the PC-Biz Resources tab.

The Assembly will begin with the usual formalities on Saturday afternoon followed by the election of the Moderator Saturday evening. Sunday is worship and receptions in the afternoon and then the Assembly goes into committees that evening. During committee time, which will run through Tuesday evening, PC-Biz is the place to find out what the committees are doing with the pieces of business near and dear to you.

Things open up again on Wednesday afternoon as the Assembly returns to plenary and than it is a mad push to get all the business done by Friday night or in the wee hours of Saturday morning. (What time will the buses stop running?) But one of the realities is that there is no real schedule of when particular committees report until later in the week when committees have finished their business and they are assembled on the docket like a jigsaw puzzle. The final Saturday morning is just closing formalities.

All of the plenary sessions will be live streamed.

The tracking utility on PC-Biz is the best place to follow business. While the PC(USA) does have a general Twitter account (@Presbyterian), the General Assembly feed (@presbyGA) usually provides more play-by-play. This will be the first GA for the Presbyterian News Service on Twitter (@PresbyNews). The hashtag for the meeting is #ga221.

News items will also appear on the GA221 web site as well as the Presbyterian News Service feed. There is also a photo gallery. (And I will probably need to adjust that link.)

In looking at my rapidly growing list of who will be tweeting from GA I am thinking that the best thing to do is to point you at Bruce Reyes-Chow’s Twitter list for GA221. Bruce himself tweets at @breyeschow and @brc_live. The outgoing Moderator, Neal Presa, can be followed at @NealPresa. And one of these three will be the new Moderator – Heath Rada (@heathrada), John Wilkinson (@johnwpcusa) or Kelly Allen (@kellysueallen). In this list of individuals let me throw in the Director of Operations, Thomas Hay (@DirOfOp) and a true GA Junkie in his own right, Andy James (andyjames).

Out in the press corps, keep an eye on the Presbyterian Outlook on their web site ( and Twitter (@presoutlook) as well as their special correspondent Leslie Scanlon (@lscanlon).

Besides the election of the Moderator, two other issues will be among the hottest of hot-button topics discussed, debated and discerned this week..

Internally, the biggest question is probably the PC(USA) definition of marriage. Most everyone acknowledges that the definition given in the Directory for Worship (W-4.9001) is a bit of a problem since the part about marriage being a civil contract between a man and a woman is out of date in many jurisdictions. There are proposals to issue an Authoritative Interpretation to allow pastors to preform marriages in those jurisdictions. There are also overtures to change that section of the Book of Order. This has a long way to travel in the next week and a Book of Order change will require the concurrence of the presbyteries.

Externally, the headline issue is the return of a proposal to divest from three companies whose products are used to help Israel in their occupation of Palestinian Territory. This has been built up by interest groups on both sides and as of yesterday the ga221 hashtag was being flooded with tweets supporting divestment. At the 220th GA this was the closest vote of the Assembly with the divestment proposal failing in plenary by two votes. We will see what happens this year.

So we have a lot to look forward to this coming week. I, unfortunately, could not make a trip to Detroit work for me so I will be live blogging the live stream as I am able – trying to provide some color commentary to the play-by-play on Twitter.  As always, best wishes and prayers for all the commissioners and leadership as they deal with important issues but also so that they may not lose sight of the call to make disciples and build up Christ’s body in the minutia of individual business items.

Finally, in honor of Detroit and maybe as a metaphor for either the PC(USA) Book of Order, or the PC(USA) itself with its many splits and mergers, I leave you with Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time.”

220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) — Thursday Evening

Live blogging the Thursday evening session…
If you are following along live you will want to hit refresh periodically to reload the post. (And please excuse the typos as my fingers fly.)

Also, I am experiencing technical difficulties with my connection. It is better but not perfect. I will do the best I can considering the circumstances.

The proposed docket for the rest of the Assembly is posted at Bills and Overtures.

This evening’s schedule is simple – Middle East Peacemaking Issues (Committee 15) delayed from the afternoon and Mission Coordination (Committee 10).

The evening begins the the regular items of music and prayer.

1001 Worshiping Communities video

Bills and Overtures – Like Gradye Parsons has a figure of John Calvin on his desk, Bills and Overtures has unveiled a praying gnome for their desk.
Bills and Overtures proposes that Middle East goes first this evening and when they conclude the Assembly then do all of Mission Coordination except Special Offerings which will be done in the morning.

Committee on Middle East and Peacemaking Issues – Committee 15
The Committee Moderator begins with words of introduction and the roadmap for the report.
The PC(USA) Area Coordinator for the Middle East give some background and reads a quote from the Kairos Document.
Now, a brief report from the Middle East Monitoring Group

On to business…

Item 15-04 Regarding a peaceful, diplomatic solution between the US and Iran
Recommends approval with amendment
Commissioner speaks against it reminding everyone of 9-11
Commissioner, neither for or against, reminds everyone to pray
Commissioner reminds us that Iran had nothing to do with 9-11, Also, experts remind us we have not had dialogue with Iran for a long time
Commissioner speaks against and contradicts the previous speaker saying the Iran is a serious threat
Call the question
Advisory delegates strongly yes
Commissioners – 81% yes, 19% no, 0% abstain

Item 15-11 On Corporate Engagement
Brian Ellison, chair of MRTI, gives an introduction to corporate engagement in general and this issue specifically. He makes the point the dialogue has occurred and has been over a period of time. However, it has not been fruitful so when engagement does not work divestment is the only remaining option.

[Speakers are lining up. There are 36 in line by one count from someone in a better position than I.]

Taking questions before hearing Minority Report
Advocacy by this morning’s ecumenical partner was questioned. There was a point of order that calling the question is being used in an aggressive manner.
Commissioner asks how much money and income are we taking about here? For BOP just enough shares are held by BOP directly to allow MRTI to file shareholder resolutions. In managed investment accounts it is much higher (did someone tweet these numbers – they went by too fast)
(Thanks Layman tweet) BOP has $10M in Caterpillar, $6M in HP and $432K Motorola Solutions.

Minority Report is presented – main point is rather than divest let’s selectively invest

Any amendments to the main motion? None so declared perfected

Amendment to the minority report – Instruct GAMC to create a process to raise funds to invest in the West Bank
Amendment approved 60% yes, 36% no, 4% abstain

No more amendments – The substitute motion is declared perfected
“Shall the Substitute Motion become the Main Motion?”
Caterpillar helped clean up after recent tornado
This is not either/or but both/and
Can we actually divest this money and how long would it take to do that?
   Answer for BOP: Divestment list goes out to managers in early December. Managers don’t have to sell right away (It’s complicated – do it so shareholders are no harmed)
   Answer for Foundation: Similar – not right away but decently and in order
Caterpillar Employee – “You are being shown a very narrow view of Caterpillar”
Palestinians are not asking for a check, they are asking for justice
This action will not achieve what MRTI seeks but will have unintended consequences and alienate partners. No one cares about our symbolic action
This is an opportunity to achieve justice in this situation
Main motion offered as a simple solution – it is actually very complex and will only be “a whisper lost in the storm”
We have enough investment from the US in Israel and the West Bank – Now is the time to divest
Afraid that divestment will harm partnership his church has. Divestment makes the PC(USA) look like an admonishing parent.
The Jewish community – if we divest it will be approved by many in the Jewish community

5 minute stretch break and house band is playing reflective music and not ABBA

Question: What about other mainline churches? Different denominations are in different places in the process and are structured differently. Brian Ellison – Methodist Church has no equivalent of MRTI and differing reports brought by different committee and the Methodists decided not to divest
Question: What about being at share holder meetings? Brian Ellison – Yes and sometimes it is our ecumenical partners
Question: If we take a motion to multiply, when will we know that we’ve reached the moral sin of greed? Answer from presenter of Minority report “I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer.” (and leaves the podium)
Question: Could ACSWP person tell the Assembly what they told us in Committee? ACSWP Rep says that it is very difficult to find places to invest in West Bank and the profitability is uncertain. Humanitarian investment

“I carefully and prayerfully call the question”
Advisory delegates right at the 2/3rds to close debate
Commissioners – 87% to 13% – debate has been closed

Voting on making the substitute motion the main motion
Advisory delegates fairly strongly “No” except EADs strong yes
Commissioners – 333 to 331, 2 abstain. The substitute becomes the main motion

Bills and Overtures moves to limit speeches to 1 minute (Requires 2/3)
Advisory delegates strongly yes
Commissioners – 85% yes 15% no – for the rest of the evening speeches are 1 minute

Commissioner moves to limit time on this item to one more hour (Requires 2/3)
86% yes, 12% no, 2% abstain

Debate continues
“As Presbyterians we have a lot of experience with divestment – We call it withholding per capita.” Urges supporting investment
Visited the Palestinians – They want divestment

[FYI – Right now PCUSA and #ga220 trending on Twitter]

Commissioner asks if the cards can be used to see if people still want to debate – Sea of Orange
Moderator recognizes commissioner to call the question
Commissioners – 88% to 11%, debate is closed

Questions: (actually other points) Commissioner noted that one microphone was not called on as much as the others. Another commissioner says their microphone was only called on once. One commissioner asks about the process for calling the question with the cards. There is the question raised if this is defeated can the main motion be brought back? (Answer – by a motion to reconsider)

TSADs stongly no, YAADs slightly no, EADs slightly yes, MADs all no
Commissioners – 55% yes, 43% no,  1% abstain

There is weak applause and one person in the back shouts “NO!”
Moderator compliments Assembly on civil discourse – stronger applause

Item 15-10 Pursuing a creative course of action regarind the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
Recommends approval with amendment
May be illogical in light of the action just taken. “That is your problem to deal with Mr. Moderator.” reply with a sarcastic “Thanks”

Stated Clerk recommends arresting this report to look at the language of the other items based on the previous action.

10:30 PM

Adjourn with prayer to reconvene in the morning at 8:30 AM

220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) — Minority Reports

Please note – this is a live-ish sort of blog post that I will update as reports get produced. Update times and dates will be below but you will want to check back for the latest.

[Created 1 PM July 4]
[Updated 8 PM July 5]

The time for submitting minority reports has now passed. The @TrackerGA220 Twitter feed tells us that there are minority reports for Committees 7, 10, 13, 15 and 18. (And from the numbers one of those must have two.) As you can see from the committee titles below none are a surprise. The unexpected thing may be that there are only going to be minority reports on these five.

The reports are still in production but I will link to them here when posted

The list is now complete

  • Committee 7 – Church Orders and Ministry – Minority Report on 07-17 On honoring Jesus Christ in our Relationships with one another
  • Committee 10 – Mission Coordination – Minority Report on 10-14 Rec 2 On Special Offerings
  • Committee 13 – Civil Union and Marriage Issues – Minority Report on 13-01 to 13-13; Minority Report on 13-04 on amending W-4.9000
  • Committee 15 – Middle East and Peacemaking Issues – Minority Report on 15-11 MRTI recommendations on divestment in Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank
  • Committee 18 – Confessions – Minority Report on 18-01 regarding the Belhar Confession

There is the complete list

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Week Ending May 5, 2012 — Ghana Elections, PC(USA) Divestment And Structure

A little bit quieter week, but here are a few of the news items that caught my attention…

The commentary on the elections in Ghana continues from the Presbyterian Churches. From the Presbyterian Church of Ghana –

Don’t create political turmoil in 2012 elections- Rev Ampiaw

Spy Ghana, April 29
Comments from the Chairman of a Presbytery urging politicians to put the interest of the country above their own political interests.

And very similar comments from a Presbytery Moderator of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana

Posterity will not forgive Politicians who create confusion-Priest

GhanaWeb, May 5, 2012

In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) one of the current issues is the structure of the governing bodies, now referred to as councils, and Pittsburgh is looking at a restructuring to help it do routine work in smaller units

Pittsburgh Presbytery planning to reorganize

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 21, 2012 (yes, outside the range for this week but it only appeared in one of my news feeds this week)

Speaking of Pittsburgh…
One of the hot topics for the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) in Pittsburgh in two months will be a proposal to divest from companies that do business related to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Philadelphia Presbytery has gone on record against that divestment proposal and is sending an overture to the GA asking it to adopt a more even handed approach

Philly Presbyterians Reject Divestment

Jewish Exponent, May 2, 2012

And in parallel news, the Methodists in their General Conference last week rejected a very similar divestment proposal by a 2-to-1 margin

Methodists Vote Against Ending Investments Tied to Israel

New York Time, May 2, 2012

Finally, the feel good story of the week

Presbyterian Church, Sewickley Votes to Preserve ‘Pink House’

Sewickley Patch, 29 April 2012
In a long-running discussion about the fate of an historic house owned by the church, the Session agreed this week to preform necessary maintenance, if it can raise the funds, and to use the house for church programs.