Category Archives: PC(USA)

Prelude To Friday At The General Assembly

Last night the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) kept going right up to the 11:30 PM deadline and I am pleased to say that they are almost caught up to docket. There are two business items left. This is a very encouraging sign after the very first report was arrested at the end of Wednesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon only one committee reported.

But with the late hour, I chose the pillow instead of the keyboard last night so there was no wrap-up. Here are a few very brief (I hope) notes about yesterday.

Yesterday was about voting.

I will note at the front that the last item of the night was item 11-05, the LGBTQ/Q apology. While there was a substitute motion to reinstate the language of the original overture but the committee’s alternate resolution was ultimately adopted. While it was agree to by a substantial 90% majority that was no consolation to many. Talking with friends, watching Twitter and just seeing the faces of many I know this was not the outcome they had hoped and prayed for. The PC(USA) is evolving. Too fast for some and not fast enough for others.

The other vote of interest last night was not in the Assembly hall but in the UK. I have been sitting a few seats away from the Rev. Derek Browning, Business Convener and parish minister in the Church of Scotland. Going into the vote the Church of Scotland had supported staying and Rev. Browning though that would be the eventual outcome. He sat in disbelief last night at the results came in and it went the other way. To be noted, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted stay, but England had the votes to pull to leave. All this was not lost on the Assembly and many people came up to chat with Derek during the evening and the Assembly paused not once, but twice, to pray for the future of the country. The second time specifically included prayers for the Church of Scotland. Connectionalism on a global level. And Rev. Browning will be bringing the ecumenical greetings this morning.

Finally, as I watch the Assembly and the vote numbers there seems to be a consistency in many of the counted votes with a lot of votes coming in between 80% and 90% on the prevailing side. It is interesting to wonder if the commissioners are of such a similar mind on all these issues. Or, considering the work load and the backlog the Assembly had, were they putting trust in the work of the committees. Specifically, based on what I would have expected, a couple of synod items and the apology at the end of the night would have gotten more maneuvering. I hope to get a correlation plot up in a bit and see if what I think I am seeing is in the data.

So now we head into the morning session. Up first is the Stated Clerk election. Based on history the search committee’s nominee should have not problem being selected, but we will see if this Assembly has that mind about it.

So here we go… Hang on!

[Live blog coming in a couple minutes]

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

And we are back with lots to do this evening. Word on the street is this will either go really fast or really slow. The concern is that Committee 4 – The Way Forward is reporting this evening.

And away we go…

Too late for anything else tonight, so…
Thank’s all folks!

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

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

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

Following worship we are in recess until 1:30 PM

Wrap Up And Reflection On The Fifth Day Of General Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here we go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here is the live blog app

The Assembly is in recess until 7 PM this evening.

Wrap Up And Reflection On The Fourth Day Of General Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you then.

 

Wrap Up And Reflection On The Third Day Of General Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This moves me into the third thought for the night…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There you go. We will see how these fare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good night from Portland