Category Archives: Church of Scotland

Moderator Designate For The Church Of Scotland 2016 General Assembly

RussellBarrEarly this morning the Church of Scotland announced their choice for the Moderator of their 2016 General Assembly. He is the Rev. Dr. Russell Barr, pastor at Cramond Kirk (pictured at left in an image from the Church of Scotland). However, he is well know in the church and community for his role in helping found the Fresh Start ministry to the homeless in Edinburgh. According to the Kirk’s announcement this organization “has helped 2,000 people get back on their feet in the last year.”

He has been at Cramond Kirk since 1993, recently served as the Moderator of Edinburgh Presbytery, and also served as the convener of the Africa and Caribbean Committee of the Kirk’s World Mission Council. In addition to his theological training in Scotland he holds a D.Min. from Princeton Theological Seminary.

He said of his appointment that he was “excited, honoured and overwhelmed” and that “It is humbling to be elected by your peers to serve the Church in this way.” Needless to say, among the issues he wishes to focus on during his moderatorial year are homelessness and food poverty. And he has expressed his support of the Tomorrow’s Calling pastoral recruiting campaign.

There has been significant media coverage of the announcement that emphasizes his work with the homeless including BBC News, stv News, The Falkirk Herald, Scottish Housing News, Edinburgh News from the Scotsman and Third Force News. I have the usual quibble with the last one whose headline called him “head of the Kirk.” No, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, he is only called to be the Moderator. And one news source jumped the gun on the embargo and quickly made the article go away.

And so we extend out congratulations to Rev. Barr, thank him for his outstanding service in the past and assure him of our prayers for the future. Best wishes as he prepares for the Assembly and may you find your moderatorial year a rewarding experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PC(USA) 2014 Membership Numbers

At about the same time that I was drilling into the religious affiliation numbers from Pew Research the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of the General Assembly was releasing their membership numbers for 2014. Since the numbers did not show much new, and not much beyond the general pattern of the Pew numbers, I did not rush to print with an analysis. In addition, there was an interesting change in one number that I wanted to find out more about. Now I am ready so let’s dig in.

Between 2013 and 2014 the PC(USA) decreased by 209 congregations, dropping from 10,038 to 9,829. An interesting point in 2014 is that the church returned to dissolving more churches (110) than they dismissed (101). The last two years the dismissed churches (2012: 110; 2013: 148) outnumbered the dissolved churches (2012: 86; 2013: 74). It is important to note that if a church majority unilaterally leaves for another denomination without the formal dismissal from the presbytery they usually either remain on the books if there is a continuing congregation or are listed as dissolved.

Regarding gains, no churches were received from other denominations and 15 churches were chartered. Here again, there are some shadow congregations as many of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities are not chartered and are working under a new model in many presbyteries so that it may be a long time, if at all, before they would be chartered and appear in these stats.

So over all the change in the number of churches in 2014 represents an annual decline of 2.1%.

Membership numbers are also declining from 1,760,200 in 2013 to 1,667,767 in 2014, an annual drop of 5.3%. The largest category of loss continues to be Other – people who leave without transferring – at 78,107. Certificate, or transfer, losses are second at 51,352 and transfers to the Church Triumphant (deaths) were 28,389. The largest categories for gains is profession of faith for those over 18 with 24,051 joining the church and 16,637 transferred in.

The PC(USA) had a total of 65,415 join the church and 157,848 leave for a net loss of 92,433 and a ratio of loss to gain of  2.4.

A couple of comparisons: The Pew survey found that the percentage of individuals in the U.S. who identified as mainline Protestants declined from 18.1% of the total population in 2007 to 14.7% in 2014. Converting that to absolute numbers that would represent a 14.1% decline in the number of members of the mainline. For the PC(USA), the decline was from 2,209,546 in 2007 to 1,667,767 in 2014 or a 24.5% decrease, a number significantly ahead of the mainline as a whole.

The second comparison is with the Church of Scotland. A little while back I looked at their numbers and compared them to the PC(USA). Now that I have the 2014 numbers I can add that last PC(USA) data point and do the full comparison. From 2003 to 2014 the Church of Scotland had a 10.8% decline in the number of churches while the PC(USA) had an 11.2% decline. For membership, the Church of Scotland declined 31.1% and the PC(USA) declined 30.7%. Very close numbers and I have updated the graphs of the ratios from the previous post and you can see they have very similar trends. In both graphs the PC(USA) is in blue and the Church of Scotland in red.

CofS_PCUSA_Congregations_2014b CofS_PCUSA_Membership_2014b

There is one piece of data in the report that really caught my attention: The number of PC(USA) candidates for ministry declined by about 50%. With thanks to the folks at Research Services and Assistant Stated Clerk TE Timothy Cargal for answering my question, this is a known issue and represents a change in reporting method. Rev. Cargal answered this question for someone else in the comments of the report download page:

Most of this change resulted from transition in January 2014 from one reporting system used by the presbyteries that relied on mailed in forms to a new, easier online reporting system. During the transition, many individuals who had left the preparation for ministry process in previous years by withdrawal, removal, or even ordination, but for whom this information had not been reported, were removed from the system. The new system encourages more accurate reporting because presbyteries have direct access to the system and so make more regular use of it. Additionally, those under care can now also see their status in the system through their online exam accounts and encourage their presbyteries to make sure their individual profile records are accurate. We are seeing a decline in inquirers and candidates (just as the Association of Theological Schools is reporting declines in total seminary enrollment across the country), but nothing on the order of 50% in a year.

So, from a statistics point of view this is a reset of the number and no comparison of 2014 to preceding data is relevant. In addition, this is one of my bellwether numbers every year and I have commented on it multiple times in the past. The implication is that previous numbers have lower reliability so my past analyses and comments must now be viewed with a more critical eye.

It is still interesting to note that there are 562 (new system) candidates reported and 292 ordinations last year. But, Rev. Cargal helps us out here in a piece he just wrote for the PC(USA) Preparing for Ministry blog. The new system gives greater granularity and he shares with us that as of mid-May there are 288 candidates that have been certified ready to receive a call. (For those not familiar with the system, “certified ready” is short for the last formal status in the PC(USA) preparation process: certified ready for examination for ordination, pending a call.) So of those 562 candidates just over 50% were certified ready. Furthermore, those 288 are close in number to the 292 ordained last year.

But Rev. Cargal informs us of another interesting data discrepancy: While 292 ordinations were reported on forms to the OGA Records Manager, only 166 teaching elders listed in the online rolls have a 2014 ordination date. It looks like we will have to stay tuned for resolution of that discrepancy.

Looking further at Rev. Cargal’s analysis, he notes that of the 288 certified ready candidates in the system, about 3 of every 10 have been searching for less than a year, 4 of 10 have been searching between one and three years, and the remaining 3 have been searching for more than three years. He also says that for those that have been ordained, 29% were ordained within six months, 30% ordained in the next six months, 25% ordained in the following year and 16% after more than two years.

I am glad to see that better numbers have resolved one of the big issues that I have had with the PC(USA) call system, the high number of candidates and low number of ordinations. I am curious to see the more detailed comparative statistics in the fall to see what additional light those data might provide regarding the current status of the PC(USA) call system.

So is the PC(USA) in a death spiral? Losing 92,000 members a year would bring the church to zero in about 19 years. If the loss is 5% each year over that time in 20 years the church would have a membership of a bit more than 600,000. If it were to return to the average mainline loss from Pew of 2% per year then the PC(USA) would have about 1.1 million members in 20 years.

There are a couple of factors which could work in the PC(USA)’s favor over the next two decades. First, maybe it has its controversy now behind it so going forward the church could find a missional rallying point and work to decrease or reverse the decline. The other is that the PC(USA) has started thinking about what church membership means in the current cultural context and as New Worshiping Communities grow these annual membership reports may not properly reflect the numbers affiliated with the PC(USA). We may end up with a new model of being a church that is less concerned with statistics, per capita and formal membership.

Finally, if you are concerned with the overall decline in church affiliation currently in the news, I would encourage you to consider the long view and have a look at a piece by Tobin Grant, “Religious decline in America? The answer depends on your time frame.”

So, regarding membership and the pastoral preparation and call process there is a lot here for us to do some further thinking about. I am not sure where it will take me next, but this is GA season and with a bunch of GA’s coming up next week more analysis on this will probably wait a while. As I always say… Stay Tuned!

2015 General Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland

Church_of_Scotland_Logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of January 2015

Hit a busy spot in my schedule and fell behind and things are about to get really busy with Assembly meetings starting, but I will see what I can get cranked out here.

For the second half of January, here are a few items that caught my attention.

There was a theme about the church protecting and helping the poor expressed from various branches around the world be it a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana:

Presbyterian Church urged to protect the poor – from GhanaWeb

Or the words about economic justice from a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to the Northern Ireland Executive:

Presbyterian Church voices concern over vulnerable – from Belfast News Letter

Or a church in Rochester, New York, responding to the severe cold of the winter to fast-track permits to host a homeless shelter:

Downtown United Presbyterian Church to be Interim Homeless Shelter – from WXXI News

 

A party in a church basement in Portland had a shooting occur in the street right outside. The party was not a church function but rented out for a private party.

Party in church basement leads to possible gang shooting, ‘people running all over,’ police say – from The Oregonian

Tabor Space changes party policy after shooting – from KOIN

 

A bill permitting assisted suicide is making its way through the Scottish Parliament and some Scottish  churches, including the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland, are uniting against it:

Bill raises questions about life and death – from Stornoway Gazette

Religious leaders to speak out on legalising assisted suicide – from stv news

However, a later article grabbed headlines when it quoted the Very Rev. Sandy McDonald – former Moderator of the General Assembly and father of actor David Tennant – in support of the legislation

David Tennant’s terminally ill father pledges support for assisted suicide – from Best Daily

However, in just the last few days the report has come back and church opposition is still present but there does not appear to be support for the bill from the members of parliament:

Church reaffirms opposition to assisted suicide bill following health committee report – Church of Scotland press release

Prof addresses assisted suicide conference – Free Church of Scotland press release

Setback for campaigners as MSPs fail to back Assisted Suicide Bill – from The National

 

From the Presbytery of Chicago, the presbytery was sued for alleged sexual abuse at a presbytery-run youth center

Seven men file sex abuse suits against Chicago Presbytery – from Chicago Tribune

Lawsuits allege abuse at West Side Presbyterian ministries – from Chicago Sun Times

 

A major gift to a seminary, the largest in its history

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary bequeathed $20 million – from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

Also from Ghana — a new President of the Presbyterian University College

Rev Prof Obeng inducted as PU College President – from spyghana

An appeal to let the missions run the mission schools

Hand over our schools to us to manage – Presby Church demands – from GhanaWeb

And

Church to clamp down on indisipline – from spyghana; “The Presbyterian Church of Ghana (PCG), has entreated Ministers, Catechists and Presbyters of the Church to abide by its tenets and principles in the discharge of their duties.”

 

A statement showing solidarity on racial justice issues

Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Presidents Issue Open Letter on Racial Justice – from Planet Princeton

 

And in New Zealand, the church working on racial reconciliation issues with the indigenous peoples:

Non-Maori urged to connect with Maori – from Radio New Zealand

Presbyterian Church to lead Waitangi Day dawn ceremony for first time – PCANZ press release; “For the first time in the history of the Presbyterian Church, its ministers, led by the Church’s Māori Synod, will conduct the Waitangi Day dawn ceremony at Waitangi.”

 

A church’s community project in northern Scotland is at full capacity. It was opened during the General Assembly with a royal visit.

Stornoway community project celebrates success after royal opening – from Stornoway Gazzete

 

Some news about individual churches and their buildings

Two Presbyterian Churches get historic landmark status – from Paterson Times (New Jersey)

 

And finally, a retirement

Farewell to the Royal Navy’s top ‘bish’ as chaplain of the fleet retires – from The News; “For the past four years, the Reverend Scott Brown has presided over a sizeable parish made up of 77 vessels and all the souls of the Royal Navy… Rev Brown, who is only the second ever chaplain of the fleet to be of the Church of Scotland, has served in the post for the last four 
years.”

And the funeral for Ernie Banks at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

Fans, former teammates, friends pay respects at Ernie Banks visitation – from Chicago Tribune

That’s it for now. Until next time have a good one.

General Assembly Season 2015

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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General Assembly
Church of Scotland
16-22 May 2015
Edinburgh

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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140th General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America

7-10 June 2015
Huntsville, Alabama

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Queensland
21-25 June 2015

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Western Australia
30 October 2015
Peppermint Grove, WA

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church of Scotland Statistical Report (And Comparison to the PC(USA) )

As I was looking through the reports to the Church of Scotland General Assembly 2015 I found the most recent statistical report at the end of the Legal Questions Committee Report.

The numbers in the report help to quantify the comments about the declining number of adherents in the Kirk. For example, over the last year the number of individuals On the Rolls has declined from 398,389 to 380,163, a decrease of 4.6%. Since 2003 – the time span covered by the report – the Total on the Rolls has decreased 31.3% from 553,248. Similarly, back in 2003 there were 1546 congregations, in 2013 it had dropped to 1389 and in 2014 the number had further dropped to 1379. Since 2003 it reflects a 10.8% drop and a 0.7% decrease in the last year.

Looking at the categories of membership change, over the last decade I found it interesting that membership loss to the Church Triumphant (deaths) was almost always right around half of the losses. Removals by transfer shows a fairly steady decline while removals in the other category are consistently higher than transfer but jumps around a bit. On the plus side, admissions by Profession and by Resolution run about equal while admissions by Certificate are a bit higher. However, in the bottom line the number of removals was about three times the number of admissions in 2003 and they gradually diverge over the next decade until by 2014 the removals were more than four times higher than the admissions.

Considering the similar patterns seen in the PC(USA) I thought I would compare the two data sets to see how similar they are.

The numbers for 2014 for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are not out yet so the decade drop to 2013 will be considered. The PC(USA) numbers can be found in the annual Comparative Statistics reports.

In 2003 the PC(USA) reported 11,064 congragations and 2,405,311 members. The Church of Scotland had 1,546 congregations and 553,248 total on rolls. In 2013 the PC(USA) had 10038 churches and 1,760,200 members. The Church of Scotland had 1,389 congregations and 398,389 total on rolls.

The decade drop in number of congregations is 9.3% for the PC(USA) and 10.1% for the Church of Scotland. The membership drop is 26.8% for the PC(USA) and 27.9% for the Church of Scotland. A difference of just about 1% for each of the measurements.

Since the two branches have significantly different numbers of congregations and members I have plotted comparison graphs using their numbers normalized to 2003 and so it shows the proportion of members or churches in each of the following years. The red line and points are for the Church of Scotland the the blue line and points are for the PC(USA).

CofS_PCUSA_Congregations_2014CofS_PCUSA_Membership_2014

There are some interesting differences between the plots, particularly the higher rates of decline for the Church of Scotland earlier in the time period and an increased rate of decline for the PC(USA) in the last few years. But overall, declines for both are fairly steady and very similar.

This raises all sorts of questions about why this is. This is too limited a data set to really speculate too far, but similar combinations of factors are certainly in play for both. On the one hand they have been wrestling with very similar internal discussions and actions regarding the role of same-sex partnered leaders within the church. On the other hand, they both have the bigger cultural issues that are causing the decline of mainstream/established churches throughout the western developed world. Figuring out the interplay and strength of those two components, and some others we might be able to think of as well, will take a much broader set of data to consider.

The strength of the similarity came as a bit of surprise to me because of the accounts I see about the rapid decline of Christianity in Europe (exempli gratia) and I expected to see Scotland declining noticeably faster than the American branch. If there are significant differences between the continents, this either speaks well for the Church of Scotland or poorly for the PC(USA), or both. More work is needed here.

It is probably worthwhile briefly noting one additional statistical item from the report and a point of significant divergence between the two branches. The final table in the Church of Scotland report shows that at the end of 2014 there were 215 vacant charges, just about one-fifth of all the charges in the Kirk. Furthermore, 39 students were training for the ministry. In the PC(USA) the Church Leadership Connection Applications and Positions Report shows that there are currently 45 Head of Staff positions being searched for and over 800 individuals who might want those positions. There are 213 solo pastor positions in the search process and 1421 individuals who are searching for such a position. And in 2012 – the last year these statistics are available for – there were 12,807 active teaching elders and 1,078 candidates for 10,262 churches. (And for those not familiar with the PC(USA) system, candidates are those students in the final stages of training or those who have finished and not yet ordained to a call.) And yes, I have skimmed over a whole bunch of nuance in both sets of numbers, but it does show the marked difference between the scarcity of Church of Scotland clergy and the abundance of PC(USA) clergy.

The membership and congregation data is however an interesting and enlightening comparison and it shows two related and culturally similar Presbyterian branches in similar circumstances. I will keep an eye out for additional data sets which may throw more light on the forces which might be controlling the similar behaviour. But that is what I see in the data now – your mileage may vary.

Postscript: If you are interested in the data set and the calculations you can view them on a Google Sheet.

Earthquake in Nepal: Science And Response

It has been a while since I have made some scientific comments about an earthquake so for those of you who are not aware, I am an earthquake geologist and part of my day job is research and public outreach related to earthquakes.

Needless to say the earthquake over the weekend in Nepal got my attention and my response may be a bit surprising – no surprises here.

If you have been following the coverage you know that the most commonly reported magnitude measurement puts it at 7.8 although another slightly different magnitude measurement scale gives is a value of 8.1. For the record those of us in the business don’t spend a lot of time fretting the differences between the scales. Let’s just say that they all measure the event in slightly different ways and each has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The bottom line is that it is a big earthquake.

The most interesting scientific result to me is the finite fault model. This is a method of reconstructing the behavior of the earthquake as the fault breaks and it is interesting to note that the fault started breaking on the west end and broke to the east. In addition, the larger fault offsets were in the eastern portion and both of these circumstances would have increased the damage in the Kathmandu area. In addition, at 15 km deep it was relatively shallow and therefore more destructive. In addition, Kathmandu sits in a basin with soft sediments which would also amplify the shaking for a couple of different reasons. The circumstances of this quake were not in its favor.

You may have caught in the news coverage that there was a slightly larger earthquake in this area back in 1934 so these events do occur on a regular basis. There have been some other smaller earthquakes in the area but this event does overlap with both the 1934 event and the previous substantial event back in A.D. 1255. The Earth Observatory of Singapore has a nice page with a lot of technical information about the event. There is also a set of slides from IRIS (available in a PDF file) that gives a great overview of the event.

The bottom line is that this is a plate boundary where India is colliding with and going under Asia — very large earthquakes are to be expected. The Himalaya are being pushed up and Southeast Asia is getting squeezed out the side. In fact, this event moved Kathmandu about 10 feet south and raised the central Himalaya a little bit and Mt. Everest is most likely a bit taller, but think in terms of an inch, not feet. The majority of the motion is horizontal and this was a pulse in the constant shortening of Asia that is bringing Beijing closer to New Delhi. [Update: My initial uplift calculations were a bit off and Mt. Everest appears to be on the far side of the flexture line and is actually now an inch shorter.]

Aftershocks will continue for a while but with a couple in the magnitude 6 range and a good number of magnitude 5 events everything is looking typical. The big question is triggering and whether the stress redistribution of this event will make another large earthquake more – or less – likely. It would seem that triggering another earthquake is likely but it is best to think on the scale of decades to centuries and not a few days, months or years.

So what Presbyterian news has come out related to this?

First, branches are reporting on the status of their workers in that area: The missionaries from the neighboring Mizoram Synod are reported safe and have declined evacuation and will continue working there. Similarly, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Church of Scotland have reported that their workers are safe and furthermore that all the workers with their partner agency, the United Mission to Nepal, are safe. And the Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Northern Ireland returned from Nepal the day of the earthquake and the church reports that members and workers with the Free Presbyterian Church of Nepal are shaken but safe.

Second, work has kicked into high gear across the Presbyterian family to solicit relief aid for the country. A quick rundown:

I will keep updating that list as I hear of more branches who are reaching out with aid for that country.

As we look ahead prayers for the country are certainly in order. The death toll has passed 5,000 and based on the building styles and the disruption of communication with smaller villages I think the Prime Minister’s estimate of 10,000 dead is unfortunately a real possibility. Thank you for your prayers and however you can help out in this disaster.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of January 2015

OK, we are getting caught up a bit – at least I am into the current year.

But I am going to start by including a few older ones around a single theme: There were recognitions of three missionaries over the past couple of months culminating in early January with the centennial of the death of Mary Slessor, a Church of Scotland missionary to what is now Nigeria. A few of the headlines from both Scotland and Nigeria:

‘The Queen of Okoyong’: The legacy of Mary Slessor – from BBC News

Plaque commemorates ‘extraordinary’ missionary Mary Slessor – from stv News

Mary Slessor: PCN honours late missionary with commemorative ceremony – from Pulse Nigeria: “The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria AkwaSynod will be holding a commemorative service to celebrate the centenary celebration of Mary Slessor’s death. “

The previous month Jane Haining was in the news as a BBC documentary about her premiered. She was a Church of Scotland worker in Budapest who refused to leave her work when the Nazis invaded and ultimately died in Auschwitz. (Unfortunately, it appears the documentary is not available online.)

Jane Haining: The Scot who died in Auschwitz – from BBC News

Finally, a Presbyterian Church of Ireland missionary was honored in India for his work there:

Presbyterian missionary remembered in India – from Presbyterian Church in Ireland; “A former Presbyterian missionary who served in India has been honoured during a special ceremony held recently at the Gujarat United School of Theology. Rev. John Faris and Miss Linda Jackson represented the Presbyterian Church of Ireland as the Ted Jackson Computer Training Centre and new library were officially opened in Ahmedabad.”

 

And in news on mission workers currently serving, an attack on a Northern Irish medical missionary:

Maud Kells: Brave humanitarian shot in DR Congo will not be deterred – from Belfast Telegraph

 

And now, a few other things that caught my interest…

From the Reformed Church in South Africa, after the general synod meeting was divided on the issue, a special synod will be called to discuss it:

Special synod to decide on Reformed Church women ministers – from The Citizen

 

A new General Assembly Moderator is inducted in Ghana:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church gets new Moderator – from Ghana News Agency

 

A new story related to a continuing discussion around the PC(USA):

Edison minister fights divestment policy: Presbyterian cleric says national body ignores Jewish voices – from New Jersey Jewish News

 

And in Scotland, opposition to a new opt-out system for organ donors:

Free Church of Scotland blasts organ donor plans – from The Scotsman; “The Free Church of Scotland has voiced its opposition to a blanket opt-out system for organ donation. The religious group claims specialist nurses and better education on organ donation in schools would be far more effective in increasing the number of donors.”

 

Also out of Scotland, the Kirk is a partner in providing a more friendly atmosphere for visiting families at a youth correctional facility:

Family bus scheme launched at Polmont youth prison – from BBC News

 

Over the last few months there have been several very interesting church-sponsored workshops around the globe. In this time slice there was one by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland:

‘Living and dying well’ conference draws key speakers – from a Presbyterian Church in Ireland news article; “Hosted jointly by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Union Theological College, the theme of the event is ‘Living and Dying Well’ and will address the ethical, pastoral and legal issues surrounding attempts to legislate in favour of assisted suicide.”

 

A few things about buildings, starting with the continuing saga of the Greyfriars Church of Scotland in Port of Spain, Trinidad:

Move to save ruins of Greyfriars church – from Trinidad & Tobago Guardian

Bid to settle Greyfriars demolition out of court – from Trinidad Express

Greyfriars owner, PoS Council in talks – from Trinidad & Tobago Newsday

In Texas, the oldest house of worship in town, originally built by Presbyterians, and later used by other denominations, has been vacant for over a decade is being converted to community space in a private initiative:

Edna leader restore church for community – from Victoria Advocate

Help with a new roof for a church in New York:

Historic Le Roy church receives landmark grant – from The Daily News

And from Scotland, a new proposal for a historic but abandoned church property but with concern for the adjoining cemetery:

Proposals to convert Kinfauns Church into luxury house back on the table – from The Courier

 

And remembrances of three notable gentlemen:

In Ireland, Mr. Jonathan Simms, MBE, a supporter of the Boys Brigade and other youth programs, remembered in a service led by the GA Moderator:

‘He had time for everyone – a rare quality’ – from Carrick Times

In the U.S., Professor Ed Farley of Vanderbilt Divinity School:

Remembering Nashville theologian, musician Ed Farley – from The Tennessean

And Syngman Rhee, seminary professor and the Moderator of the PC(USA) 212th General Assembly (2000):

Syngman Rhee, Presbyterian and ecumenical leader, dies at 83 – from The Christian Century

PC(USA) mourns loss of former Moderator and ecumenical leader – PC(USA) press release