Category Archives: General Assembly

Live Blog – Thursday Morning Session Of The 222nd General Assembly Of The PC(USA)

And we are back on a misty and drizzly Portland morning. It has been so bright and sunny outside (not that we would know) it somehow feels right to have a morning like this


And so, as the house band warms us up with “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” be get ready to blog

Following worship we are in recess until 1:30 PM

Wrap Up And Reflection On The Fifth Day Of General Assembly

It has been a long day so I will be making my comments this evening brief.

The highlight of the Assembly action today was the final approval of the addition of the Belhar Confession from South Africa to the PC(USA) Book of Confessions. It has been a long journey including a first attempt that was not supported by the requisite two-thirds of the presbyteries. This second round began right after the first try failed and has take four years from approval of the study committee to today’s final vote.

There were representatives from the Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa in attendance tonight to see the historic vote adopting a confession that they adopted 30 years ago this year. The final speaker was the Rev. Allan Boesak, who was in the moderator’s chair when the URCSA adopted the confession. It was an emotional moment for many.


One of the interesting things about the business today was that it included several business items, including the Belhar, for which there were corresponding votes in previous assemblies. I probably will not get a chance to correlate all these numbers this week during the assembly, but over the following couple of weeks I am hoping to merge a lot of information into a larger model – if the last data set I want to use is released. Today I had a conversation with Research Services and I am hopeful I can get what I want fairly soon.

But as a first pass, you can see that progression of the PC(USA) when you consider that the determining vote for changing the language of the marriage section at the last GA was 372 to 237 for change. That is 61% yes vote. Today the Assembly not to change it back to “one man and one woman” by a vote of 443 to 119. That is 79% yes. The Belhar shift is not that dramatic but present none the less.

It should be noted that the voting pads are having problems again and a very close vote went from a close no to a more substantial yes as the vote was retaken four times. We will see what happens with that.

And finally, if an army runs on its stomach a GA runs on coffee, at least if the trash bins are any indication

Have a good evening. We are back at it at 8:30 AM Portland time tomorrow.

Live Blog – Wednesday Evening Session Of The 222nd General Assembly Of The PC(USA)

And we are back from dinner at the PC(USA) General Assembly. The band is warming up, and warming us up.

Just a reminder, we have an arrested report and a tribute to Gradye Parsons coming up.

So here we go…

That is it for the Assembly session. Hang on because I have to more items to post tonight.

Live Blog – Wednesday Afternoon Session Of The 222nd General Assembly Of The PC(USA)

So here we are again! Back in the Assembly hall for the start of the Plenary half of the meeting.

To watch the live stream check out the GA 222 Web Page.

As a reminder I will be putting my emphasis on Live Blogging the session. I will be doing some broad tweeting at @ga_junkie and more focused tweets at @gajunkie (no underscore).

For good Twitter streams check out @L3_UMD for the play-by-play and @jodicraiglow for color commentary with a bit of wit.

So here is the live blog app

The Assembly is in recess until 7 PM this evening.

Wrap Up And Reflection On The Fourth Day Of General Assembly

It was an interesting day at the 222nd General Assembly on a number of levels. Like one of my previous wrap-ups I am going to take this in reverse chronological order.

I write this from the convention center as the hour grows later and Committee 4 – The Way Forward continues their work. In my wrap up from Sunday I was partly right and partly wrong in my assessment. What I got right is that they are working late on Tuesday night – to my knowledge the only committee still working. What I got wrong is that I suggested they might be working through it in a cursory way to get it done. Watching the committee working this evening it is clear that they are taking their job very seriously. They are using parliamentary procedure fairly well, the members of the committee are listening and respecting each other, and they are being very thoughtful and deliberate in what they write. It is a pleasure to watch them work on this, with the exception that the hour grows late. (For the record, they did get to the point where they got the heavy lifting done and could have done some more detailed work but instead did lump a few overtures together to be answered by an earlier action.)

And if you asked about my using the word “writing,” yes they are writing a lot. Part of their deliberative process was to be generative and come up with new ideas to move the church forward. They have discussed some interesting ideas, wrestled with the polity constraints, and will be bringing something interesting to the plenary. I am not going to expand on that at this time since it is not finished yet, but it will be interesting to see what the whole Assembly does with it.

I spent most of the rest of the day observing the Committee on Mid Councils. Today they were dealing with the question of synods. They were instructed early on that the actions of previous Assemblies were not binding on this Assembly. Therefore, if the 221st had asked synods to find a way to restructure themselves, this Assembly did not have to follow through with that. In brief, they did not. After hearing from a lot of people for and against, after discussion in the committee about options, after advice from the ACC they chose to recommend rescinding the actions of the 221st and leave synods alone. There were whispers of “minority report” and we will see what comes to the floor. Both this and their decision on non-geographic presbyteries rub some people the wrong way so it will be interesting to see how the different dynamics of the plenary play out.

On the one hand, a lot of time, effort and money have gone into two Mid Council Commissions over the last five years. I have heard some reaction that after all that work it is being undone. On the other hand, the process of the last two years with the synod consultations has happened, they came back with a recommendation and this committee basically took that recommendation.

The Mid Councils Committee closed their work considering a request for an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) about the inclusive nature of the church and its leadership and whether non-ordained leadership from church plants could be given a seat at the table in presbytery with voice and vote. The original motion from a member of the committee was to do that but when it was explained that if they wanted to have an AI they would have to provide it. No one felt like they had the necessary words, or maybe the time, and without much additional discussion the request for the AI was denied. I bet if that had not been the very last item on the docket a writing team would have put something together for consideration at the end. But so goes business at the GA.

Finally, please allow me to tell my best story of the day – maybe of the whole GA.

Before the Mid Councils Committee began today Jana Blazek from the Outlook and I were setting up at the press table. Todd Freeman, the Moderator of the committee came over and was chatting with us. When I introduced myself he recognized my name but not from this blog. It took him a moment but remembered that I was the author of the Outlook article looking at the overtures related to synods. He explained that he wanted to read from it but left that copy of the Outlook in his hotel room. “We can fix that” we told him and helped him call it up on his tablet. Thanks to Jana for the picture of me and Todd with his table showing the Outlook article.


He then proceeded to open today’s meeting by reading to the committee the first paragraph of my Outlook article on synods. I am humbled to say the least. My thanks to the Outlook for the opportunity to write it and for them publishing it.

And with that, I am going to crash. No writing time tomorrow morning as I will be meeting with people but will be back to live blogging as the afternoon plenary begins at 2 PM PDT.

See you then.


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.

Wrap Up And Reflection On The Third Day Of General Assembly

It was a very interesting day on a number of levels. As I wind down my day let me reflect on three of them.

First breakfast was great. Thanks to the night clerk at my hotel when I asked for a local suggestion for breakfast and he recommended Pine State Biscuits. The nearest location a few blocks from the convention center is a storefront in a commercial area. Pretty unassuming.


Now the important thing to know is if you are not into biscuits, this is not the place for you. Go back later in the day when it becomes a pizza place. Now, the biscuits with mushroom gravy were great and the coffee was just fine as well. But I was most energized by being able to sit at the counter next to the open roll-up window looking out on the street and the old church across the street and decompress (yes, even first thing in the morning). Great food, great coffee and great quite time to center for the day.

In fact, while I pushed myself hard today I tried to exhibit a bit of self-care and not push constantly. The opportunity to finish a piece, hit save or publish, and then walk away made all the difference in how today went. Yes, I missed a bit of GA and I did make an embarrassing online mistake this morning, but all in all it was a good day.

As for the GA itself, as the day wore on into the evening Twitter comments began to show significant frustration by commissioners on some committees. There is a group dynamics model that has the group go through the stages of forming, norming, storming and preforming. It was clear that some of the committees had reached storming and may have gotten a bit stuck there. This was not storming as in the committee lost its sense of decorum, although there was enough frustration that a tweet said someone was ready to walk out. This was a sense of frustration, lack of communication, and confusion that lead to a sense of helplessness and questioning “why am I here?”

There were signs late in the day that at least one committee has successfully moved on to preforming and business was moving along nicely. We can hope that a good night’s sleep will help the others move on. And it was good to see committees finishing up on time this evening as it could certainly be a late night for some tomorrow to finish their work.

Having said that, it is important to remember that plenary is a second chance for some items of business. The dynamics are different and there can be more time for an in-depth discussion of a business item. We will see how many get minority reports and how many have opposition organized between now and then. There are a couple of pieces of business that some outside the committee expressed strong surprise that they passed. We will see if any of that plays out differently in plenary.

And sometimes as you are sitting in committees you wonder to yourself, or the person sitting next to you, “tell me again why we do it this way?”

This moves me into the third thought for the night…

It has been a pleasure to have the Rev. Derek Browning with us at this GA. He is the Business Convener for the Church of Scotland General Assembly and I have studied their GA and systems well enough to know that while our two branches share a basic Presbyterian philosophy and framework, there are a lot of differences between our systems. If you had to identify one core point to that difference it is that the Church of Scotland developed as a national church and the source of authority is at the top. American Presbyterianism developed from presbyteries and we still recognize that they are the ultimate unit of authority in our system. This leads to a bunch of differences and approaches to doing the work. One consequence of that is the Church of Scotland does not have committees of commissioners but is in plenary the whole week it meets. Committee reports come from national standing committees that prepare their work during the year and have it ready for presentation. This in contrast to the American system where the committees that present are made up of commissioners who meet for a couple days and are expected to do careful, discerning work on a ton of business items in that time.

All that to say, It has been a wonderful opportunity to discuss the fine points in each of our systems and critique the 222nd with a knowledgeable outside observer of our organized, or maybe not so organized, chaos.

And with that I wish you a wonderful evening and I will try to catch up on my sleep. Tomorrow’s business could go late.



Commissioner Resolutions To The 222nd General Assembly Of The PC(USA)

The deadline for new business passed about 24 hours ago and the Bills and Overtures Committee has looked them over and referred those that are in order.

Thanks to the Office of the General Assembly for letting me know that in total 12 Commissioner Resolutions were submitted. I hope that later in the meeting that the full list will appear on PC-Biz.

UPDATE: The full list is now in the Bills and Overtures report. One of the declined items was related to a two state solution in the Middle East and was declined without explanation. The other declined report asked for the release of the investigation report into using New Worshiping Communities money to set up a California non-profit corporation. Declined because civil action is ongoing and because a predecessor denomination said the GA would not be an ecclesial court.

Ten of these Resolutions were found to be in order and were assigned to committees in whole or in part. Here is a quick rundown of those ten:

  • [06-17] Seeking Support for Settlements of Disputes Regarding Church Property: Three of the four points of the CR were retained. It asks for recognition that the legal challenges over property are a challenge to presbyteries and they are “working to adapt to a difficult and changing legal landscape.” It asks for prayers and “conversation about the long-term implications of court rulings that property is a legal issue and not an ecclesiastical issue.” [Editor’s note: For some context, the CR is from two Texas commissioners who’s presbyteries have been engaged in legal cases that involve neutral principles but find that in the civil courts that line between legal and ecclesiastical can get quite fuzzy. A while back I wrote about one of the legal decisions that has been an issue.]
  • [07-04] “Prayer for the Persecuted Church”: This CR asks for “Encouraging all Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations and councils to make prayer for the persecuted church around the world a regular part of their common life,” and that at least five minutes be set aside in the committee report for these prayers as well.
  • [07-05] Recognition of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation: Invites churches and all councils in the PC(USA) to (1) study the historical significance and individuals involved; (2) to find occasions to “emulate the zeal of the early reformers” in study of scripture, practice of worship, re-invention of church structure, and expansion of mission; (3) acknowledge where reformers fell short and contributed to error or abuse; (4) invite PMA to provide a list of existing resources; (5) consider adding a component to scheduled events; and (6) encourage ecumenical conversations.
  • [08-08Standing for Reconciliation and Ending Affiliation with Divisive Coalition: That the GA shares the concerns expressed by the 2016 United Methodist Church General Conference and calls upon all PC(USA) church entities to refrain from financial support and affiliation with the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation due to its opposition to peacemaking tactics that can create a lasting peace for all people in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
  • [10-16To Withdraw the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) from Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC): would have PMA and other entities withdraw immediately.
  • [12-11Reaffirming the Ministry of Sanctuary by Congregations: The CR reaffirms the support for Sanctuary expressed by previous Assemblies and the ethical responsibility of congregations to defend the unity and integrity of families with a member threatened by deportation. It calls on congregations and individuals “to provide hospitality, accompaniment, and sanctuary” and “recognizes that offering sanctuary is one way in which Presbyterians are living out the Gospel call to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger.”
  • [12-12On Affirming Principles of Sanctuary in Response to the Global Escalation in the Number of Displaced: This is the longest CR but it basically reaffirms the principles of response to refugees and calls on the PC(USA) to work for a humane response to migrants in our borders, socially and politically. [Editor’s note: This is interesting language as the idea of Sanctuary appears primarily in the title and only once in the rest of the official language.]
  • [12-13Peace, Justice, and Reunification in the Korean Peninsula: Another long CR but the heart of it is affirming the World Council of Churches “Statement on Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula,” and advocating, praying and providing resources to help unify the Korean Peninsula. It specifically asks that the Sunday before August 15 be designated as the “Day of Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula.”
  • [13-08On Creating a Special Committee to Conduct an Administrative Review to Assure Compliance with Donor and General Assembly Restrictions on the Administration of the Jarvie Service: The Jarvie Service is an old age and relief service for people in the Greater New York City area operated from a trust. This CR asks that the recent restructuring of the Jarvie Service be investigated to be sure the new structure is in compliance with the Trust Agreement and to pay for the investigation from the trust.
  • [14-15] “The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity“: To call to the attention of the church this section of the Book of Order and to help councils better access, understand and use this section. [Editor’s Note: Seems like a tough sell if there will also be a new Directory for Worship sent out from this GA.]

There you go. We will see how these fare.

44th General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In America

01645A81-A5D8-4EB1-9E4C30D14028D307The 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America will convene their plenary sessions tomorrow evening, 21 June, in Mobile, Alabama. Committees of Commissioners begin orientations and meetings today. The Assembly will continue through noon on Friday. The theme of the Assembly is “REFRESHED: In and For the Cross.” The meeting will be live streamed and they have their GA app available for several platforms to follow along. There is also a ShareFile! app there for registered commissioners to download reports and other documents.

While the full volume of reports is available only to commissioners, the docket and overtures are available on-line. [Tech note to the GA organizers – it is again the case this year that you might want to change the title in the GA docket PDF properties so it no longer says “40th General Assembly.”] There is a nice page with links to all the forms and schedules for the meeting. And this may be the first GA for which a Zika Virus Advisory has been issued.

To track the polity of the PCA you can access the Book of Church Order online.

News updates will be posted through the official news website and online publication byFaith.

Turning to social media, you will probably want to keep an eye on the byFaith Magazine Facebook page. There are numerous opportunities to follow the meeting on Twitter including the official feed from byFaith (@PCAbyFaith). There is also a feed for the Reasoning_Together (@PCA_Elders) program however it looks like that has gone dormant. The hashtag for the Assembly (and as I have been told the only one that is decent and in order) is #pcaga.

Other related Twitter accounts include Reformed University Fellowship (@RUFnational) and the Mission to North America (@pcamna). I would also include in this group the denomination’s schools, Covenant College (@CovenantCollege). and Covenant Seminary (@covseminary).

As for individuals to watch – round-up the usual suspects. Some who will be at the meeting and are, or will probably be tweeting include Fred Greco (@fredgreco), Ligon Duncan (@LigonDuncan), Sean Michael Lucas (@SeanMLucas), Melton L. Duncan (@MeltonDuncan), and Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby) and his Reformed African American Network (@RAANetwork). Having included one organization there I will also mention Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing (@prpbooks) and Reformed Theological Seminary (@ReformTheoSem). (And as a note, there are other Twitter accounts for the different RTS campuses.) Let me also include Allan Edwards (@edwardsae1) who in past years has given us the Bingo Card and the Selfie Scavenger Hunt. This year we are back to the Bingo card, but there are suggestions of a new activity next year. And finally, I have previously been advised by @PCAPresbyter himself that all you really need to do is follow him. He will be sure to keep you decent and in order. 🙂

Regarding business to the Assembly, I will refer you to three articles from byFaith that review some of the important business that caught my eye.

  • Probably the most anticipated topic is the race-related overtures. This is a continuation from last year where a personal resolution got caught in polity jail and did not have a chance at a clear up or down vote. It was referred to this Assembly and 42 of the 63 overtures sent to this assembly deal with some aspect of this. By all means, check out the byFaith article to see the rundown of the proposed actions.
  • The second is a recommendation from the Administrative Committee to form a Study Committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry. As the review article says, ‘Writing in byFaith magazine’s summer issue, [former moderator Michael] Ross quoted a former GA moderator as saying, “Women in Ministry is the atomic bomb for the PCA,’ meaning that if we do not review and recommend changes in the way we treat women, we will probably lose a large segment of millennials.”
  • And in a set of overtures that could be in the shadow of these previous two issues, Pacific Northwest Presbytery has sent six overtures related to how the GA accepts, handles and disposes of business, including review of presbytery records which has often been an issue with Pacific Northwest.

A lot going on there and in the midst of three other GA happening I will try to follow along there.

Our best wishes to the commissioners and leaders of the PCA General Assembly and prayers for your discernment the next few days. May the Spirit guide you in your work.

Wrap Up And Reflection On The Second Day Of The General Assembly

As I consider a review of the day I decided to take the three items that jumped out to me in reverse chronological order.

Let me begin with the committee meeting in the evening. I sat in on The Way Forward, Committee 04, this evening. Besides the fact that I expect to spend a lot of time tracking that committee over the next couple of days it was also a good committee to sit in on because they actually began work before GA convened and all the preliminaries were out of the way and they were deep in work.

This evening were the reports of the review committees of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). There were also questions from the commissioners on the committee and responses from the entities being reviewed.

The review of the PMA is strongly critical, some might even say scathing. In brief, and certainly not doing it justice, they found an agency that was not transparent, siloed and territorial and with trust and moral problems. They also found the board structure to be unwieldy. In the response from the board they emphasized that they know about the board being unwieldy and are already preparing proposals. They also felt many of the other criticisms might be too strong if you considered the agency over a broader period of time. They felt that the review was conducted at a particularly confusing and stressful point for the agency and is not reflective of the overall workings of the agency. The reviewers emphasized that the PMA does wonderful work but the processes by which is does the work is flawed and these are not one-off issues but system to the agency.

The review of the OGA was much different. They found the agency was doing satisfactory work and there were few issues. One of the few issues they did find is that as the structure in the mid-councils of the PC(USA) shrinks a significant amount of work they did is being picked up by the OGA without additional resources for the added workload.

The two review committees are jointly recommending that a committee be created to study whether merging the two entities would be an appropriate way to go. They emphasized that this is not a recommendation to merge but a recommendation to study it. Each of the agency respondents argued against it, in one case saying that if form follows function much more work needs to be done on function before we are ready to talk about form. And one of those reporting summed up that these entities, and the PC(USA) by extension, is not in crisis but at a cross roads.

One of the things that struck me watching the committee working this evening was that even though they have already been meeting, there is a lot of work and discernment ahead of them and they will be hard pressed to formulate well considered decisions in the time they have. They may be working late on Tuesday night just to get through the business in a cursory way.

Stepping back to the afternoon plenary, the big item of business there was the nomination of candidates for Stated Clerk. The Nominating Committee presented their work and put forth the name of J. Herbert Nelson as their clear consensus nominee for the position. In addition a second nomination for David Baker was made. Watching the presentations and talking with delegates afterwards the two nominations present an interesting choice. While Rev. Nelson is widely respected and known in the church, and has worked in a significant leadership capacity in the Washington office, more than one delegate I spoke with specifically considered that he had a lack of clerk experience. On the other hand, while Rev. Baker has the clerk experience his level of service has been more limited with primary experience on the presbytery level. It will be interesting to see how they each do in presentations and questions in the election process Friday morning. Based on past experience – which is admittedly limited – the Nominating Committee’s selected candidate will ultimately prevail.

Finally, I want to thank the saints at Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church, known locally as Old Scotch Church, for a wonderful morning of worship and fellowship. Our group was warmly welcomed into worship this morning and we got a great introduction to the history and facilities. First, they all acknowledge that the Old Scotch Church is linguistically awkward as it should be Old Scots or Old Scotland Church, but time has a way of making things permanent and so by now it is what it is. The church is one of the oldest Presbyterian Churches west of the Cascades, it was founded by Scottish immigrants and they brought their first pastor and their stained glass windows over from Scotland. Lots of fascinating stories that might find their way into the blog some time. In addition, wonderful stories from my fellow sojourners who make the trek together out to the church. It was a morning of connectionalism at its finest!

IMG_20160619_120959_hdr  IMG_20160619_112433_hdr

So good night. Tomorrow brings committee meetings and so running comments will be on Twitter. Will post on the blog as appropriate.

Good night from Portland