Category Archives: History

Reformation Day: How To Distract A Holy Roman Emperor

So it’s been 499 years since a crazy German monk allegedly nailed a debating document of 95 theses to the door of a castle church and started a movement that continues today.

There is no question that Dr. Luther’s efforts bore tremendous fruit, including in ways he did not imagine. But in many aspects he was, you could argue providentially, aided by a significant set of circumstances present at the time of his attempts to reform the Roman system. Where others had suffered for their attempts to challenge doctrine – like Jan Hus before Luther, or his contemporaries William Tyndale, Heinrich Moller, and Patrick Hamilton – Luther found safer ground for his thoughts. The prince ruling his region, Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, got him safe passage and provided him protection from those who sought to arrest and punish him. And it should be noted that the invention of the printing press with moveable type significantly help Luther get his message distributed quickly and widely to be read by a broader audience, thus making it harder for authorities to silence him. And certainly Luther’s force of personality in writing and speaking was a considerable advantage as well. (You can check out the Lutheran Insulter web site if you want a taste of that.)

But today I want to take a moment to look a little bit higher and consider the top political power in that part of the world at that time – the Holy Roman Emperor.

peter_paul_rubens_-_charles_v_in_armour_-_wga20378

Charles V (from Wikimedia https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/83/Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Charles_V_in_Armour_-_WGA20378.jpg)

That would be Charles V. He was a native of Spain, He was a native of Flanders from the house of Hapsburg and assumed the leadership of the house of Burgundy upon his father’s death in 1506. He ascended to the Spanish throne through his mother’s line in 1516 and was elected the Holy Roman Emperor in 1519 upon the death of his grandfather. So he was not a ruler over the German states when this whole thing with Martin started, but as it progressed he became involved. He was present at the Diet of Worms and hearing Luther’s defense and possibly the famous “Here I stand” speech, rendered the verdict. He issued the formal verdict on May 8, 1521.

[Correction: Thanks for the email pointing out I got his early life wrong in my interest in focusing on 1517 and following. I think I have it corrected now and regret the error.]

But in an interesting historical coincidence it was on that same date that an offensive alliance against France was signed by representatives of Charles and the pope. This protracted conflict became the major concern for the emperor and certainly diverted his attention away from that monk in Saxony. His edict was never enforced.

The online version of the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that Charles considered the matter more of an ecclesiastical one and settled by the papal bull of 1520. In addition, in spite of the alliance against France, the Encyclopedia also tells us that Charles was not particularly fond of the pope and had his eyes on consolidating some of his holdings in Italy. In light of that, it is not surprising that France and the pope were the major parties objecting to him becoming the Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. Both the French conflict and the Italian/papal conflict were settled by treaties in the summer of 1529 on terms generally favorable to Charles. So now the coast is clear to return to the German states? Not quite…

On the eastern and southern sides of the empire the Turks were advancing and having conquered much of Hungary they reached as far as Vienna in 1529. While trying to juggle the Lutherans in Germany, Pope Clement VII in Italy and the Turks in the eastern corner, Charles made some preliminary attempts to reunify the Germans around religion at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Little progress was made and soon Charles was occupied with a new advance by the Turks the next year.

At this point I will not try to narrate a play-by-play of shifting European political alliances – have a look at the Encyclopedia entry if you are interested – but the bottom line is that between these shifting powers and the threats from the Turks religious unity in Germany was not a pressing concern for him. He finally had the opportunity in 1546 and 1547 to return to Germany with military power, but while taking back some measure of political control the religious situation had progressed to a point where Charles let the status quo remain and Lutheranism had established it’s foundation.

Charles died in 1558, having placed other family members to administer the parts of the empire. The shifting political alliances continued throughout his life and beyond making political solutions impossible without strong military backing. And the hoped for reforms from the Council of Trent were slow in coming and received throughout the western churches with a variety of reactions.

I readily admit that this is a cursory treatment of the wider political situation at the time, but the bottom line is that in a complex world the need to contain this particular religious rebellion was not perceived as a top priority for the emperor. He was distracted with other conquests and maybe a bit ambivalent about getting political power involved in an ecclesiastical dispute. The catch on the latter point is that in a world of established churches the ecclesiastical is political. (Consider Calvin and Geneva for more on that.)

But it gave Dr. Luther and his followers the space they needed and, unlike other reformers who were not as fortunate to have that slight buffer around them, in Saxony the Reformation had the elements it needed to establish itself and spread from there to large sections of Western Europe.

So on this Reformation Day, we remember not just the hard work of Martin Luther and the risk he took to challenge the established church’s doctrine, but also the favorable ground his thoughts landed on to be able to take root. And if distracting the Holy Roman Emperor is part of that, so be it.

Happy Reformation Day. And I am not sure whether to encourage you to enjoy, or possibly cringe, at the build-up in the coming year to the 500th.

luther_kleine

 

The Columba Declaration: A Statement Of Recognition and Cooperation Between The Church Of Scotland And The Church Of England

Late yesterday a joint announcement was made by the Church of Scotland and the Church of England that a Joint Study Group had refined an agreement, named the Columba Declaration, for mutual recognition and cooperation. This morning we have additional details and the full text of the document as the Church of Scotland and the Church of England have released a common statement.

A couple of background items for context. First, in case you wondered the declaration is named for Saint Columba, a 6th century monk from Ireland who founded the Iona monastery and did much to evangelize Scotland. The other item that people have joked about is that the British Monarch is way ahead of the churches in that while she or he is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England they are also an adherent of the Church of Scotland when they are up north.

The press release from the Church of Scotland says that the joint study group has been meeting for 15 years and the statement has been a working document for five. It also points out that the two churches have already been working on common projects such as the Church Mutual Credit Union as well as having a common interest in Fresh Expressions.

The importance of the report is highlighted in this excerpt

“Our hope is that joint affirmation by our two churches of The Columba Declaration would:

  • Affirm and strengthen our relationship at a time when it is likely to be particularly critical in the life of the United Kingdom;
  • Provide an effective framework for coordinating present partnership activities and for fostering new initiatives;
  • Enable us to speak and act together more effectively in the face of the missionary challenges of our generation.”

This was today’s front-page news in Scotland with stories by the BBC News, Herald Scotland, The Daily Mail, and The Telegraph. The story from the Telegraph contains some historical background including this paragraph:

Although virtually unimaginable now in a more secular age, the divide between Anglicanism and Presbyterianism was once one of the most deadly fault-lines in British history. The two groups emerged from the same tensions, around the interpretation of the Bible and issues of church and state, which ultimately fuelled the civil war across the British Isles in the 1640s.

It also has this quote from a former Moderator of the General Assembly that does a good job of providing context:

The Very Rev Dr Sheilagh Kesting, the Church of Scotland’s ecumenical officer, and a former Moderator, said: “This isn’t about union but about working across borders.

“This is putting a marker down saying our relationships are good; these are the things that are happening; this is why it is happening and why it should continue.

“We are accepting each other as we are in our diversity … there is still a wish on both sides that we could find a way, given that diversity, to recognise each other’s ministry fully.”

This agreement was also praised on the editorial page of the Herald with a piece that begins:

News that the Church of Scotland and Church of England have made a formal agreement to become ecumenical partners and to work jointly together on a variety of initiatives in future is little short of a religious revolution, the sort Calvin and Knox would have recognised as seismic. As befits our times, however, this historic step, outlined in a document called the Columba Declaration, has been taken not with great fanfare, but with quiet determination. The result of decades of deliberation and consultation, it has been distinguished by the thoughtfulness and lack of stridency for which the ecumenical movement is renowned.

For American Presbyterians, I would note that this agreement has some similarities to the various Full Communion agreements that the PC(USA) has but is is only a beginning and is not as extensive or complete of cooperation. In particular, ministers may serve in churches in the other branch recognizing each branches’ discipline, but that does not include stream-lined transfer of membership.

The Declaration will need the concurrence of the highest governing body of each denomination – the General Synod of the Church of England in February and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May. Each meeting will include an address by the presiding officer of the other church. We await the release of the full four-chapter report that will go to the councils.

The Columba Declaration is relatively short so here it is in its entirety:

THE COLUMBA DECLARATION

In the light of our common mission and context (chapter 1), our agreement in faith (chapter 2) and our significant opportunities for growing in partnership in mission (chapter 3), we recommend that our churches make the following Declaration.

We, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, make the following acknowledgements and commitments, which are interrelated.

a) Acknowledgements

(i) We acknowledge one another’s churches as churches belonging to the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and truly participating in the apostolic ministry and mission of the whole people of God.

(ii) We acknowledge that in both our churches the word of God is truly preached, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion are rightly administered.

(iii) We acknowledge that both our churches share in the common confession of the apostolic faith.

(iv) We acknowledge that one another’s ordained ministries of word and sacraments are given by God as instruments of grace and we look forward to a time when growth in communion can be expressed in fuller unity that makes possible the interchangeability of ministers.

(v) We acknowledge that personal, collegial and communal oversight (episkope) is embodied and exercised in our churches in a variety of forms, as a visible sign expressing and serving the Church’s unity and continuity in apostolic life, mission and ministry.

b) Commitments

We commit ourselves to grow together in communion and to strengthen our partnership in mission. Through this commitment, we hope to enrich our continuing relationships with other churches in the United Kingdom and around the world. We will welcome opportunities to draw other churches into the activities and initiatives that we share.

As part of that commitment, we will continue to:

(i) pray for and with one another;

(ii) welcome one another’s members to each other’s worship as guests and receive one another’s members into the congregational life of each other’s churches where that is their desire;

(iii) explore opportunities for congregational partnership, formal as well as informal, in those cases where there are churches in close geographical proximity;

(iv) enable ordained ministers from one of our churches to exercise ministry in the other church, in accordance with the discipline of each church;

(vi) identify theological issues that arise from growth towards fuller communion and be prepared to allocate resources to addressing them;

(vii) work together on social, political and ethical issues that arise from our participation in public life and be prepared to allocate resources to joint initiatives for addressing them.

In order to assist our churches in living out the acknowledgements and commitments of the Columba Declaration, we will appoint Co-Chairs and members of a Church of Scotland – Church of England Contact Group, whose purpose will be to coordinate the different activities that make up our rich relationship and develop new initiatives where these may be needed. The Contact Group will meet at least annually and will report annually to the Council for Christian Unity in the Church of England and the Committee on Ecumenical Relations in the Church of Scotland.

The Long View Of Presbyterianism

ContinuingChurchSo this book was officially released yesterday. Through the efficiency of a shipper I received my copy a few days early and so far I have only had time to skim through it. It looks good, from what I have seen, and I hope to carve out a bit of time later in the month to more carefully read it.

But what I have found interesting in the lead up to this has been a certain amount of push-back I have gotten from several different quarters as I have unapologetically indicated my interest in, and anticipation of the book before its release. My overall interest in Presbyterianism and Presbyterian history is enough to justify my anticipation of this book. But it was further heightened earlier in the year when the author, Sean Michael Lucas, was featured in a documentary produced by Union Presbyterian Seminary called Division and Reunion.

The push-back I have received, both in general over my years of blogging and specifically regarding this book, usually can be boiled down to the statement of either “But they ordain (fill in the blank)” or “But they do not ordain (fill in the blank).”

So here is a response and why this book matters in either case.

First, it is easy to just view this as an academic exercise. I am interested in global Presbyterianism, history and polity. That alone is enough for me to be interested in this book.

But let me dig in a little deeper. Please note the subtitle of the book, “The roots of the Presbyterian Church in America.” (emphasis added) What are those roots? It is predominantly the PCUS, one of the predecessor denominations of the current PC(USA). Hate to break it to some of the mainline folks but this is a book that is mostly about your roots too. The book has 12 chapters and is about 328 pages of narrative text. Of those, only two chapters and about 48 pages deal specifically with the actual formation and subsequent development of the PCA. Yes, most of the book deals with our shared heritage.

I am aware that a few objections can be raised about considering our shared heritage through this one book, one that it is written from a PCA perspective. Fair enough, and if I find it too heavily biased I will report that back to you when I write my final review. But based on the contributions by Professor Lucas to the documentary mentioned above I expect an academically honest and nuanced, if not neutral approach.

Another objection is that the PCUS was only part of the reunion and the PC(USA) has a lot of history from the northern side as well. (The PCUSA + UPCNA => UPCUSA line.) Again, a valid argument and again, I will find out more when I read it. But some of the more complex characters in the PC(USA) family tree, such as Robert Lewis Dabney and James Henry Thornwell, were part of the southern branch and it can be argued that their influence continues to the present day in both current branches. But to be fair, the book appears to start near the beginning of the twentieth century and neither Dabney’s nor Thornwell’s name appears in the index.

Finally, there is that doctrine and polity question about ordinations and a number of other differences. On this count let me remind you that the PCUSA began ordaining women as teaching elders in 1956, making that not quite six decades out of a history that spans over three centuries. Furthermore, ordination is evolving in other branches as well with women’s ordination becoming much more widely accepted in the EPC and questions being raised about deaconesses in the PCA. In the long view of American Presbyterianism there are a number of issues like this which have changed over the years with varying speed in different branches.

It will also be interesting to see what parallels and differences there might be between the PCA exodus from the PCUS and the current ECO exodus from the PC(USA). The Forward talks about the interest of the founders of the PCA to have a mainline denomination that was “characterized by biblical authority, doctrinal orthodoxy, experiential piety, and missionary zeal.” That sounds a lot like some of the core values of ECO.

I will acknowledge that there is another reason for some of the push-back. There is still concern and skepticism on the part of a few people I have spoken with about the way that the PCA/PCUS split played out that was very hurtful to them. In a few cases this is not just a continuing sore point but is still an open wound. I am curious to see how the book deals with that aspect of the formation of the PCA.

There is a final reason for taking an interest in this book and it gets down to something that is being talked about a lot in the PC(USA) right at the moment – Presbyterian Identity. The Epilogue to this book is titled Presbyterian Identity and the Presbyterian Church in America: 1973-2013. Again, the PCA identity and the PC(USA) identity developed out of some shared roots if not exactly the same roots. In his Forward, Ligon Duncan talks about the vision and legacy of the PCA concluding “Unwittingly, [the founders of the PCA] forged a body that has played a significant role in the resurgence of Calvinism at the end of the twentieth century and in the beginning of the twenty-first.” But his next line is “Yes from the onset of its history, the PCA has struggled with its identity.”

In some regards the PC(USA) and the PCA may be more alike than they want to admit. One of the manifestations of their shared roots is the fact that both are currently struggling to come to terms with their past regarding racial ethnic ministries and social justice work and figure out how to move beyond that to become a more inclusive and diverse churches for the future.

I found it interesting in the Twitter chat on PC(USA) Identity a couple days ago that one person commented “while history is important we need to forget ‘the way things used to be.'” If I correctly understand what he had in mind I might rather say that we need to move beyond the “seven last words of the church” – we’ve never done it that way before – but we need to realize how much of our present identity is shaped by our roots and how much we need to understand those to move beyond them in the future.

That is to say, I think we really do need the long view of American Presbyterianism because if we focus only on the last couple decades we miss a lot of the struggles, the high points and low points that shape our identity as American Presbyterians today. Looking forward to seeing if this book will help inform our knowledge of that history.

Note: Thanks to the reader who pointed out that I was not as precise as I had intended. The PCUSA began ordaining women at teaching elders in 1956 but it was a progressive move with ordination as deacons and ruling elders in the 1930’s. The above text has been modified to be more precise.

Thank You Alice

I spent this past weekend with my family back east and when I arrived Friday night I found out that the schedule included a memorial service that my dad was planning to attend at church the next day. Initially I thought that I would probably not go but when I spoke with my dad the next morning and found out the service was for Alice Gabriels there was nothing to decide. I had to be at the service for Alice.

Alice was a friend of mine from growing up in the church. She was always around and involved with the children and youth programs and was a chaperon on our Junior High youth group trip. As I went back and visited each year with my own family Alice was there to greet us and take an interest in my kids. And I looked forward to seeing her and made it a point seek her out. She was a ruling elder, having served on session multiple times as well as many committees and groups within the church.

Professionally, she had been a social worker and upon retirement had actively volunteered in various classrooms around the city as well as for organizations of interest to her. In her spare time, when she was not volunteering one place or another, she enjoyed folk dancing.

At the service the gathered community spent a significant amount of time remembering her as there were many stories to tell. I will tell you one of mine in a minute. But as one of the speakers said, “God made each one of us unique. And then there was Alice.”

You also need to know that Alice grew up in an observant Jewish family in Holland. During the German occupation of the country the family split up and went into hiding. After the war when they reunited Alice found her two siblings had survived but their parents had been betrayed and died in Auschwitz. Alice chose not to remain in Holland but to immigrate to the States sponsored by her uncle who was already living there. While the siblings scattered geographically they remained in close touch through the years and the service included readings from letters written by her sister and nieces.

Needless to say, Alice’s personal experience made her a powerful voice when social justice and human rights issues like immigration, oppression and racism arose. She was not shy about her life story and was glad to tell you if you asked. In those classrooms she volunteered in it was said “she would tell the young children about St. Nicholas and the older children about the Holocaust.”

One of my stories about her begins with the church sponsoring an Indonesian family that immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1960’s. The mother of the family spoke at the service about arriving at the airport knowing nobody and not knowing the language. But they did know Dutch, as Indonesia had been a Dutch colony, and Alice was there to greet them and provide one small piece of familiarity in what was otherwise a very confusing situation. Their oldest son was my age and was a friend of mine growing up.

Fast-forward to a few years back at the memorial service for the father of that family. I have a vivid memory of Alice getting up at the service and singing a hymn in Dutch to honor their heritage. I don’t know what she sang but I know the tune was Beecher so it could have been a Dutch version of “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling.” While Alice had no problem speaking in front of groups, singing was a different matter. Talking with her after the service and thanking her for doing that, as she was clearly uncomfortable doing it, she acknowledged that but also expressed her respect for the gentleman being honored and felt that some tie to home should be offered.

Which brings me to the final question for today: What was the journey of an observant Jew to become a ruling elder in the Presbyterian church? From knowing Alice I was aware of two important pieces of this. The first was that when the family went into hiding they were hidden by fellow Dutch Christians and this dangerous act of sacrifice had a profound impression on her. The second was that when she found herself in Rochester, while she did have natural family in the area that had sponsored her, over the years the church became her family and in the community of faith she found support, identity and a sense of belonging. (And as a symbol of that, after the service there was no receiving line as we were all her family and we just gathered around cookies and some of her mementos to share stories.)

But during the service I found out about a third influence. As a young adult she had begun reading the New Testament and the stories of Jesus she found there also raised her interest and started to draw her in.

So on a side note, as we discuss the relative importance of the Proclamation of the Gospel, Nurture and Fellowship of the Children of God and Promotion of Social Righteousness, for Alice it was all three that combined to draw her into the Body of Christ.

Alice will be missed. I have lost a friend and a sister in Christ and look forward to being reunited before the throne of God. And in this week when Americans give thanks for what we have it is only appropriate to say “Thank you Alice” and thanks to God for her life and witness and the opportunity we had to know her.

As an acknowledgement of her heritage and history, a tie to her journey, the service concluded with a reading in Hebrew and then a unison reading in English of the Mourner’s Kaddish.

May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen.)
in the world that He created as He willed.
May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,
and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,
swiftly and soon.
..

Amen.

[Ed. note: The title of this piece unapologetically borrowed from the title of Rev. Pat’s meditation at the service.]

The Reformation Lives… At Least In Miniature

It is Reformation Day, the day on which we remember, if not celebrate, the tradition of a German monk turned university professor who is said to have nailed a debating document of 95 theses to a chapel door in Wittenberg 498 years ago. As the quincentennial approaches things are starting to ramp up. And that led to a very interesting event this past year.

luther_boxLast spring Playmobil released a special figure as part of the Luther 2017 celebration. (According to one source this was at the request of the German and Nuremberg tourist boards and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria.) Literally overnight this became the fastest selling Playmobil product with over 34,000 boxes out the door in 72 hours. Needless to say, additional stock was quickly ordered.

luther_kleineWhat are we to make of this popularity? It should be acknowledged that Luther had a tremendous impact on the secular history of Germany as well as the history of the church there and around Europe, something I reflected a bit on a few years ago. So maybe we are just seeing a recognition of that historical significance?

Maybe it is purely a collector’s rush recognizing that it is being issued in conjunction with the wider celebration of the event. It is a commercial item to mark a significant anniversary so it is worth something sentimental now and possibly commercial later. (As you can see from the picture at the right I decreased the future value of mine by opening it and putting it together.)

But maybe, just maybe, the Reformation still means something. Does this “Little Luther” as some are calling it, still stand for something? (yes, pun intended) Does he come with a quill and book, rather than a hammer and parchment, to remind us that the lasting value of the Reformation was not as much in the theological debating points as in people being able to hear and read the Holy Scripture themselves in their own language.

I like to think it is the latter, that the work Luther and so many others started continues today. And while many more were involved in the Reformation I’m not sure a Playmobil version of Calvin, Beza or Farel would be as big of hits. However, if you want a set of – how shall I say this – some of the more colorful reformers maybe there should be a set that includes Ulrich Zwingli and John Knox.

It should be noted that this is not the only commercial tie-in to the Luther 500 celebrations. One particular site I know of is the Reformation 500 special collection from Concordia Publishing where you can not only get this dashing replica of Dr. Luther but a whole line of products. Not to be missed is the “Here I Stand” dress socks. (I’ll let that sink in for a minute. 🙂 ) The real sign that this is catering to modern audiences is that there are three different containers for coffee,  but only one beer stein.

On a more cultural note it is an interesting success for Playmobil. An insightful article came out in the New Yorker last month where the author, Jason Wilson, wondered about the distinctions, and relative popularity, of Lego as compared to Playmobil. He came down on the side of the latter explaining it’s value like this:

No one would argue that Lego does not inspire creative, constructive play. But more and more Lego relies on its associations with pop culture in order to catch a child’s attention. The child may build and create, but the narrative is simply copied from the movie. It’s easy to snark, but Playmobil has quietly walked a different path over the past decade—slower, less flashy, more generic scenarios, much fewer licensing deals. This type of unscripted play is very good, for children and the culture. Playmobil may hold tighter to ideals of independent, imaginative narrative play, and it represents a less crass, less marketed, less ironic or knowing type of play.

In a sense is that not a little bit reflective of the Reformed faith – slower, less flashy but independent, imaginative and narrative? As opposed to marketed and associated with pop culture “in order to catch [the individual’s] attention.”

And so I will leave you with that.

And may you all have a merry “little” Reformation Day.

 

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of June 2015

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

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

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

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

Are Christians in Sudan facing persecution? – from BBC News

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

French Protestant church allows gay marriage blessing – from Reuters UK

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

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

 

And looking at it more broadly:

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

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

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

 

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

Church of Scotland hails recruitment drive success – from The Scotsman

 

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

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

 

From the PC(USA)

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Donald Trump Is A Proud Presbyterian – from World Religion News

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

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

The Latest US Religion Demographic Data

Ah, the Siren Song of new data…

In case you were not on social media yesterday the Pew Research Center released their new report on American’s Changing Religious Landscape and it is all over the interwebs from national mainstream media, to local news outlets, to the religious news sources to bloggers to the people in the pew. And don’t worry if you have missed it because it probably only quantifies what you already know. I like the way Derek Rishmanwy put it on Twitter:

The cool thing about Pew numbers is how versatile they are; bloggers can wear them with triumph, grief, & multiple shades of schadenfreude!

And a nod to Andrew Wilson and his tweeted observation:

Ironic, a few days after the UK discovered just how inaccurate polls can be, to see so much excitement / distress in the US over … a poll.

All that to say, I initially thought I would just look at it and say “Nothing to see here. Move along folks.”

But remember that my mantra is “I never met a data set I didn’t like,” so casting caution to the wind I jumped into the fray. Now join me as I drill down into a very small piece of the data released with this report.

First, in the event you have not taken a look, let me give you the bullet points everyone else is focusing on. Between the last survey in 2007 and this one in 2014:

  • The proportion of the population identified as part of mainline denominations has dropped 3.4% from 18.1% to 14.7% of the population
  • At the same time those classified as part of evangelical Protestant churches has dropped 0.9% from 26.3% to 25.4%
  • There was a 1.2% gain in non-Christian faiths (now 5.9% of the total population) and a 6.7% gain in what they identify as Unaffiliated which has grown to 22.8% of the population.

Now, Pew favors reporting in percentages since they are most interested in the proportional interplay of groups. But it is instructive in this case to convert this into absolute numbers. So in 2007 the estimated population of the U.S. was about 301.6 million. By 2014 it had grown to 318.9 million. Using the above numbers that means that the mainline decreased from 54.6 million to 46.9 million. However, in an absolute sense the number of evangelical Protestants grew from 79.3 million to 81.0 million.

OK, now my two biggest pet peeves about this data set. (Yes, this data set pushes the limits of meeting data sets I didn’t like).

  • The basic categories for Protestants are mainline, evangelical and historically black. In other words, if you are not the first or the last you must be evangelical – that mushy category that is tough to define. So, for example, you are combining into a single group those that subscribe to the Westminster Standards with those that have “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no name but the name Christian.” I think this classification could be a bit more granular.
  • The category Unaffiliated is similarly a catch-all, at least at least as I look at it. The category includes Atheists (3.1% of the population), Agnostics (4.0%) and Nothing In Particular (15.8%). Furthermore, the Nothing In Particular are further divided into Religion Not Important (8.8%) and Religion Important (6.9%). Jack Jenkins over at Think Progress dissects this corner of the classification a bit more.

Specific to that first bullet point though, Appendix B says:

Protestant respondents who gave a vague answer to denominational questions (e.g., “I am just a Baptist” or “I know I am Methodist but don’t know which specific Methodist denomination I belong to”) were placed into one of the three Protestant traditions based on their race and/or their response to a question that asked if they would describe themselves as a “born-again or evangelical Christian.”

OK, so if I am PC(USA), but don’t know or admit that I am PC(USA) and acknowledge to being born again, I get placed in the Evangelical Presbyterian category. Likewise, someone in another Presbyterian tradition that does not identify which one but does not consider regeneration to be technically the same as being born again, they would be placed in the mainline. To this point the report goes on:

Overall, 38% of Protestants (including 36% of evangelical Protestants, 35% of mainline Protestants and 53% of those in the historically black Protestant tradition) gave a vague denominational identity, necessitating the use of their race or their born-again status (or sometimes both) to categorize them into one of the three major Protestant traditions.

That appendix does list 16 different Evangelical Presbyterian categories that were reported, some of which were specific (exempli gratia: Presbyterian Church in America, Cumberland Presbyterian, Bible Presbyterian), some of which are ambiguous (does Reformed Presbyterian refer to the RPCNA or to the Hanover Presbytery?) and some are general catch-all categories like Ethnic Presbyterian and “Presbyterian, ambiguous affiliation.”

[I will note that the main report does have a two page section (beginning on page 30) on identifying evangelicals and they discuss how it can be by denomination (so Presbyterians are never evangelical), by the born-again test, or by a more detailed analysis of their beliefs. The latter is outside the scope of this report but they expect another report on that later.]

So in the report of data they group Presbyterians into three categories: the mainline PC(USA) and two Evangelical categories: PCA and everyone else. I found it interesting that in the population numbers reported in that appendix the size of the PC(USA) and the size of the Evangelical everyone else was the same with each being 1.1% of the population in 2007 and 0.9% in 2014. The PCA held steady at 0.4% of the population. For comparison purposes, if the PC(USA) had about 1.7 million members in 2014 and the US population was 318.9 million that means that only 0.5% of the population of the US was a member of the PC(USA). So based on the Pew results the adherents, or those who identify with the PC(USA), almost doubles when you consider how people self-identify or the survey classifies ambiguous answers.

Moving on to the detailed data, I will focus only on Presbyterians and refer only to the breakout pages for Presbyterians. There is one for Mainline Presbyterians generally and a subset for the PC(USA). Similarly, there is one for Evangelical Presbyterians and the subset for the PCA. So keep in mind that for the the general evangelical numbers, about half are the PCA. In addition, since I am not sure what a mainline Presbyterian who is not in the PC(USA) is I will simply focus on the PC(USA) data. But there is another 0.5% of the population that they classify as being mainline without being PC(USA).

And as I start this drill-down let me add this warning: I will be looking at small changes in some of the categories but my interest must be tempered with caution, or even skepticism, because the table of Margins of Error shows that for these sample sizes the margin is between +/-7% and +/-5.5%. That means that while many of the differences between the numbers below are interesting, very few of them are statistically significant.

So let’s start with Age.

I find it interesting that differences between all the Presbyterian categories were so similar in the 2007 survey. In general, they all had about 10% in the 18-29 age group, and 30% in each of the other age groups – 30-49, 50-64 and 65+. Yes, there are some slight differences but the pattern looks solid and there are uncertainty ranges (and the ambiguous classifications) to consider so I don’t get too concerned about that range.

Between 2007 and 2014 the PC(USA) and the PCA show very similar patterns of change in the age ranges. The youngest range stays the same, the 30-49 range decreases markedly ( -11% for the PCA and -9% for the PC(USA) ), the 50-64 range also remains the same and the 65+ range increases markedly ( +12% for the PCA and +6% for the PC(USA) ). The general evangelical as a whole shows less change in each category except that there is a marked increase in the 50-64 range ( +6%).

Gender composition

In terms of gender composition the PC(USA) remained steady at 45%/55% men to women. The PCA and the overall general evangelical both had a 5% shift from men to women.

Racial composition

Each of the groups became more diverse over the last five years with the PC(USA) dropping from 91% to 88% white, the PCA from 86% to 80% white and the general group from 88% to 81%.

For the PC(USA) the change was distributed over all the other categories with Black respondents increasing from 4% to 5%, Asian from 2% to 3% and Latino from 2% to 4%.

In the PCA it was a similar pattern for Black adherents with an increase of 5% to 6%. Asian members decreased from 4% to 3%. The biggest increase was in the Other/Mixed category jumping from 1% to 5% and a noticeable increase in the Latino category from 4% to 6%.

For the combined general evangelical category the Black percentage increased from 4% to 6%, the Asian from 3% to 5%, Other/Mixed from 1% to 4% and Latino was constant at 4%.

Income and Education

These two demographic measures appear to have some correlation as you might expect. For the PC(USA) the peak in annual household income shifted from the $50,000-$99,999 group in 2007 (37%) to the $100,000+ group in 2014. Actually, considering the margin of error the two bins are pretty close in 2014 with that lower bin having 29%. For education, the distribution is pretty flat in 2014 with just about 25% in each of the categories – High School or less, Some College, College, Post-graduate.

The interesting thing across all three classifications of Presbyterians for income is that it is bi-modal as they have binned it. In all the cases there is a lower peak in the <$30,000 bin. For 2014 the PC(USA) it is 24%, for the PC it is 27% and for the general evangelical it is 28%.

For the PCA and general evangelical the income distributions have their primary peak in the $50,000-$99,999 range with 31% in the PCA and 21% in the general. Likewise, the education peak for both groups is in the Some College bracket with 37% of the PCA and 35% of the general.

I suggested the income/education correlation, but another one comes to mind. Is the apparent correlation age reflecting the higher incomes in the PC(USA) does an older demographic with higher earning power or with more two-wage earner households account for that result.

Switching and Retention

The last set of data I want to look at is the information on individuals switching denominations and the retention of members. For this we need to turn to the section in the full report beginning on page 32. Overall, 19.0% of the country grew up in the mainline Protestant church. In the survey the measurement is that 10.4% of the population has left, 6.1% have switch into the mainline giving 14.7% now in the mainline. For evangelical Protestants the numbers are 23.9% that grew up in it, 8.4% left, 9.8% joined and now 25.4% are in that category.

Looking at all Presbyterians, 3.0% of the population grew up in a Presbyterian church of some flavor. Those who have left make up 2.0% of the US population and those that have joined make up 1.1% for a current total of 2.2% of the population.

Now, returning back to that margin of error stuff – in compiling all this data is struck me that there are some interesting differences between these three groups, but based on the demographic data in the report these three groups of Presbyterians are not that different after all.

So where do we go from here?

One thing that struck me was the “the sky is falling” response. As I said in the early discussion there is nothing new about these demographic changes. A lot of attention is being paid to the Unaffiliated growth but this group comes in a number of flavors and I am not sure combining them gives much insight. Looking at the data my interpretation is that the Nothing in Particular category has now become the point for loosely or barely affiliated individuals to now identify with. As Ed Stetzer puts it in his helpful analysis

One of the primary reasons it appears as though “American Christianity” is experiencing a sharp decline is because the nominals that once made up (disproportionately) Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism are now checking “none” on religious affiliation surveys.

In the long view what is happening now is more of a pruning or consolidation. A vital core is still there for the church to move forward.

However, this consolidation does not seem to favor the mainline. There are enough theories as to why that is the case that I won’t go there now. But I think the same principle applies — there is pruning and consolidation going on with that branch. The key will be finding a central core and shared vision to organize around in the years ahead.

Can the mainline do that? It will be interesting to see. There is certainly a lot of pruning going on in the PC(USA) although you will get significant discussion as to whether there the mainline is the core that needs to be pruned or the part that is being shed in the consolidation. But with the Split-P’s the divisions come and reunion later comes as well. We will have to see which groups can develop strong cores or whether the declines will overtake them before they can.

I also wanted to add that for purposes of forecasting future trends grouping and reporting the data a bit differently would be useful. The primary example is the age data where the ranges are large enough that having a report with shifted age ranges so that individuals in the 2007 report are in the same group in the 2014 report would be useful. Even better, maybe a report with the age ranges reflecting the customary demographic groups – Builders, Boomers, Gen X and Millennials – could be considered. The purpose of course is to isolate the groups to see if they fit the oft-reported trends. Similarly, when dealing with something like household income it would be helpful to not just see it in the bins but also report the quartiles of the data.

So there are a few of the things I was chasing here. A couple other items jump out at me but this close to the opening of the Church of Scotland General Assembly convening that I want to chase those any further. Lots to think about here so something to return to later if times get slow. And there is always that report on Evangelical Protestants. But for now…

… On to Edinburgh

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of December 2014

In addition to my earlier posts on the approval by the presbyteries of the act concerning partnered same-gender clergy in the Church of Scotland and the various Christmas messages, here are a few items that caught my attention at the end of the year:

There was a crash of a bin lorry (garbage truck) into a group of Christmas shoppers in Glasgow just before Christmas resulting in six fatalities and numerous injuries. The Church of Scotland was a major responder and these articles talk about that pastoral care and remembrance as well as having quotes from the Moderator of the General Assembly and the Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery.

Glasgow bin lorry crash: Church leader tries to comfort grieving families – from The Guardian

Glasgow bin lorry crash: Memorial service for dead and hurt – from Glasgow Churches Together

Kirk moderator warns there are “no trite answers” to George Square tragedy – from Herald Scotland

Also from the Scotland, the Kirk is one of a group of churches forming a credit union to promote fair financial practices. The new endeavour received government approval.

Church’s flagship credit union is ready to launch – from Church Times

 

The AirAsia jet that crashed in the ocean off southeast Asia carried a family from the Yeosu First Presbyterian Church

Missing AirAsia Jet Carried A Young Family Of Korean Christian Missionaries – from Huffington Post (an excerpt from a WSJ subscription article)

 

In Ghana, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church had some critical words for the country’s leadership

Ghana Needs A Visionary Leader – Presby Moderator – from Daily Guide

 

The Louisville Institute at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary received a major grant from the Lilly Endowment for work with Native American pastoral leaders:

Seminary institute awarded $2.5 million grant – from The Courier-Journal

 

Professor Kevin J. Vanhoozer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School won the 2014 Christianity Today Book Award in the theology/ethics category with his book “Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine.” Dr. Vanhoozer has served on the Panel of Doctrine for the Church of Scotland and the book was published by the PC(USA)’s publishing arm Westminster John Knox Press.

Trinity’s Vanhoozer wins 2015 Christianity Today book award – from Chicago Tribune

 

And in the category of stories that have taken on a life of their own, two that the press have managed to exaggerate or just get wrong. The first is a report that the Church of Scotland was evaluating its meeting space and while finding someplace else is a possibility it is not as much a probability as this story makes it seem…

Church plans exodus from historic Edinburgh home – from The Scotsman

And from the PC(USA) an erroneous headline about a piece of business supposedly taken up at the last GA…

Presbyterian Church USA Voted on Erasing “Israel” from Prayers – from Breaking Israel News

 

As Romania marks the 25th anniversary of its revolution, a brief tribute to the Reformed pastor who started it:

The Pastor Who Brought Down a Dictator – from The Daily Signal

 

And another anniversary, the 10th of the Great Sumatran Earthquake and the recollectons of a minister who was working in Sri Lanka:

Kirk minister recalls tsunami horror 10 years on – The Scotsman

 

Finally, numerous commemorations were held of the centennial of the World War I Christmas Truce:

Kings Presbyterian will mark First World War Christmas truce with special service – from Nova News Now (Canada)

Ballyclare match to recreate Christmas truce in Great War trenches – from Belfast News Letter (Ireland)

Christmas truce football statue unveiled in Liverpool – from BBC News

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.

Top Ten Presbyterian News Themes Of 2014

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

General Assemblies and Same-Sex Relationships

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

Seminaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congregations Switching Branches

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

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

Fossil Fuel Divestment

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

Independence Referendum in Scotland

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

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

Property

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

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

PC(USA) Ethics Investigation

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

Israel-Palestine Actions

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

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

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

Women’s Ordination and Related

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

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

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

Death of Ian Paisley

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

And a couple of other Presbyterian-ish stories

Knox 500

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

Spectacular Viking treasure hoard found on Church of Scotland land

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!