Category Archives: ecumenical

2016 General Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland


Tomorrow morning the 2016 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will convene in Edinburgh for their annual week-long meeting. While the hype in the main-stream media probably exceeds the reality – more on that in a minute – it should still be an interesting meeting with all the usual pomp, ceremony, formality and of course interesting discussion that we come to expect of this GA.

If you are interested in following along, here are some starting points to help you:

  • 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 (and it is back to its blue cover this year) 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. The Daily Papers will contain late-breaking changes are available on the Papers, minutes, letters, and speeches page. 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. Unfortunately the essential “An Introduction to Practice and Procedure” is still listed as under revision and not available.
  • A brief order of the docketed events and reports can be found on the General Assembly 2016 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 as well as the Facebook page for the National Youth Assembly.

On Twitter the starting point is the Kirk’s main feed at @churchscotland and the official hashtag #ga2016. There is an official account for the Moderator of the General Assembly, @churchmoderator, but during the Assembly we will have to see how much opportunity there will be to tweet. Similarly, the Church of Scotland Youth will likely be tweeting at @cosy_nya and the official account for the NYA Moderator, currently Hanna Mary Goodlad, is at @NYAModerator. 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.

This year I would also suggest three semi-official accounts. The account Church Scotland Voices with weekly rotating contributors at @churchscovoices will be curated by GA commissioner Andrew Kimmitt (@akimmitt). The official photographer will be Andrew O’Brien at @AndyOBrienPhoto. And during the Assembly I. D. Campbell (@idcampbellart) will be the artist-in-residence painting people from the Poverty Truth Commission (@PTCScotland).

In suggesting personal accounts to follow, let me start with two past Moderators of the General Assembly. The first is the Very Reverend Lorna Hood who is always a good read at @revlornascot and has been very active the past few years with projects related to Srebrenica justice and remembrance (@SrebrenicaUK). The other is the Very Reverend Albert Bogle at @italker who has been getting some recent traction with the Sanctuary First ministry (@sanctuaryfirst) that is now seeking to become a completely online church. Another well-connected individual to follow 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 member of the Church and Society Council (@ChurchSociety01) 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). Another who will probably weigh in, whether or not he is in Edinburgh, is Glasgow theologian Douglas Gay (@DougGay). I will update with more as the Assembly gets under way.

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. The theme of both the Assembly and the Heart and Soul event this year is “People of the Way.” One of the new features of Heart and Soul this year will be link-ups with concurrent local events throughout Scotland.

Concerning the business before the Assembly there is a nice summary of each report on the Life and Work site. Three items in particular have been in the news. The first is the Columba Declaration for mutual recognition between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England. After the Moderator of the Kirk spoke at the CofE General Synod in February the Archbishop of Canterbury will participate in the CofS debate on the Declaration as part of the Ecumenical Relations Committee presentation on Wednesday. (I hope to post a few of my observations and thoughts on this in the next couple days.)

The big mainstream media coverage the last few days – which has even made it over here to the states – relates to the Legal Questions Committee report on Saturday and specifically item 14:

14. Instruct the Committee, jointly with the Mission and Discipleship Council and the Theological Forum, to research the implications for the Church of Scotland of the development of online church and report to the General Assembly of 2018.

The body of the report itself focuses on new technologies and particularly their application to voting and administrative contacts. There is mention of the changing nature of membership in that section of the report and one, just one, reference to sacraments in general that says “As fewer people join up in the traditional sense and as they make choices which include ever greater interaction with the Church through online access and social media, questions arise about online membership and even about access to the sacraments while not being physically present in the congregation.” The next line begins “There are no easy answers…” It should be an interesting discussion but the report is really concerned with particular administrative items yet in looking forward does contain an invitation to start thinking more broadly about issues that will arise. However, it is nowhere near the invitation to approve online baptisms as the media reports would make you think. The Church of Scotland issued a press release to put the reports into perspective.

Finally, the Assembly Arrangements Committee report contains the results of a review of the Assembly operations and response to many suggestions that have been made. Some, like biennial assemblies or moving out of Edinburgh, are recommended against based on factors considered in the study. The committee does seek permission to further review one suggestion, moving the Assembly to the second week of June so more young adults are available following completion of university exams. This discussion will also occur on Saturday and there is a Kirk press release on this as well.

So fasten your seat belts and get ready for the full week of Presbyterian action. As always, our thoughts and prayers are with the commissioners and officers of the Assembly and we look forward to following along with your discernment process.

Church Of England General Synod Discusses The Columba Declaration Tomorrow

The General Synod of the Church of England began meeting today. While that fact alone may be of interest to polity wonks, for the GA Junkies this Synod meeting holds particular interest as they take up the matter of the Columba Declaration, a joint agreement with the Church of Scotland.

According to the agenda for the Synod the Report of the Church of England-Church of Scotland Joint Study Group will begin at 2:30 PM BST tomorrow, 16 February 2016. If you wish to follow along there is a livestream and there are Twitter accounts @c_of_e for the church and @synod for the Synod meeting itself. There is a #Synod hashtag to follow as well.

Of particular note is the address to the Synod by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Angus Morrison early on in the report. According to the Church of Scotland news article it is believed this is the first time a currently serving moderator has ever been given this privilege. In addition, Rt. Rev. and Mrs. Morrison will be the guests of Archbishop and Mrs. Welby at Lambeth Palace during their stay in London.

The action before the Synod has three parts: To welcome the report as a significant development between the two churches; To approve the Columba Declaration; And to request the Council for Christian Unity to oversee the implementation.

We will see how this goes tomorrow in London and we can expect to see reciprocal action at the Church of Scotland General Assembly in Edinburgh in May.

Top Ten Presbyterian News Topics Of 2015

Once again, as I think back on the year and review what has happened I decided to make a list of the different themes that stood out to me from different Presbyterian branches. Here, in no particular order, is my list. Your list may vary.

Racial Reconciliation

One of the more dramatic moments in a Presbyterian General Assembly this year occurred at the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. A good narration of the action comes from Travis Hutchinson’s blog. He begins his post with this description of the personal resolution offered from the floor of the Assembly:

Mississippi Teaching Elders, Drs Sean Lucas and Ligon Duncan entered a personal resolution at the beginning of the Assembly which acknowledged the involvement of our denomination (and our predecessor denomination) in promoting racism and failing to act to support the goals of the Civil Rights movement. It encouraged us to seek repentance and carry this message to our local churches. The resolution was referred to our Overtures Committee for a recommendation.

The Overtures Committee recommended referring it to the next GA to allow for it to be perfected but when it returned to the floor it was clear that many commissioners felt making the statement at the current Assembly was a more important action than waiting for refinement. But in that parallel universe that is Standing Rules and Parliamentary Procedure the choice before the Assembly was not to adopt the original motion but to refer it back to the Overtures Committee or refer it to the next GA. After much debate, a couple of votes and not a small amount of prayer the Assembly voted to send it to the next Assembly. Then a protest was filed “expressing [personal] confession of sin and hope for repentance.” Over 200 of the commissioners signed onto the protest according to the official news item. Another detailed description of the Assembly action on this item can be found on TE Timothy R. LeCroy’s blog.

Other news in this topic includes the continued work of the Reformed African American Network, the formation of the African American Presbyterian Fellowship within the PCA’s Mission to North America ministries, and the PC(USA) has launched an anti-racism campaign.

In the PC(USA) the presbyteries approved the addition of the Confession of Belhar to the Book of Confessions leaving only the final approval of the 222nd General Assembly in 2016.

Finally, in Canada, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been working with the indigenous peoples and at the release of their final report the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada made a statement that acknowledged the pain of the past while expressing hope for the future.


Mass Shootings and Gun Violence

With several high-profile mass shootings in the U.S. this year it may be impossible to chronicle every Presbyterian connection. But two in particular caught my attention. The first was the shootings at Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church in June. Among many connections, the church has had a long and close connection to Second Presbyterian next door. I chronicled some of the many connections in a headlines piece at the time. The other tragedy was the recent San Bernardino shootings close to where I live and several friends were mentioned in local news stories about responses and pastoral care. The PC(USA) issued both a pastoral letter as well as an initial and then a follow-up news article.

In addition, the Vice-Moderator of the General Assembly, Larissa Kwong Abazia, issued her own personal statement about the situation and asking the denomination to seek ways to respond to gun violence in general. In addition, in light of all the shootings it was a year in which the PC(USA) film about gun violence, “Trigger“, was highlighted.

As I said above, there were multiple incidents world-wide and that same June Headlines piece also contained links to several stories about a terrorist attack in Tunisia that killed adherents from the Church of Scotland.


Presbyterian denominations and same-gender relationships

This was an issue across many Presbyterian branches this year with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada beginning a study process to consider making their standards more inclusive and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland debating and sending to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act the proposed changes to their governing documents. For the Canadian church the study documents have been released. In the case of the Kirk the indication is the changes to the Acts and Proceedings have been approved by a majority of the presbyteries but the results will not be certified until next year.

In the American Presbyterian church, the PC(USA) presbyteries approved a change in the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship in the Book of Order. That change went into effect at the end of June and in early September the chapel at the PC(USA) national offices hosted its first same-gender wedding ceremony.


Reaction within the Presbyterian family to same-sex marriage decisions

The reaction to these decisions is worthy of its own item in the list with the reaction to the PC(USA) decision being swift and wide-spread. Within two weeks of the vote total being reached the National Black Church Initiative cut ties with the PC(USA) over the vote. A couple of months later the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPIB) and the Evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed Church of Peru (IEPRP) ended mission partnerships on the national level. The PC(USA) has issued a news article acknowledging these breaks but also saying that other mission partners have decided to continue the partnerships.

Elsewhere, the decision by the Church of Scotland was a concern in the Presbyterian Church of Ireland which initially expressed “deep sorrow” at the decision and during their General Assembly decided that they would not send a representative to the Kirk’s 2016 General Assembly. Outside the Presbyterian family the Russian Orthodox Church has broken off ecumenical discussions with the Church of Scotland over this.


Shifting between Reformed branches

The movement of churches between different Presbyterian and Reformed branches continues unabated. ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians announced that their membership had grown to over 240 churches, most are congregations that have departed the PC(USA). In Scotland the Free Church continues to see a few congregations and ministers wishing to move from the Church of Scotland. In addition, a few churches completed the process of transferring from the Reformed Church in America to the PCA.



With shifts in Reformed branches comes the question of taking or leaving property. Those moving from the Church of Scotland to the Free Church typically do not get to take it. University Reformed Church was assessed about $300,000 to take their campus to the PCA.

But bigger and more plentiful property disputes came from churches departing the PC(USA) including congregations that walked away, were graciously dismissed with a payment, kept their property in civil suits, lost their property in civil suits, and one of the more unusual cases where the court awarded the property to the PC(USA) faction of the congregation but not on behalf of the presbytery.

Other interesting property cases include a very convoluted property case in California with the KAPC and a case in Malawi where the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) “sued itself” over property.


Presbyterian branches working together

Particularly in light of very recent developments this might qualify as the most interesting topic of the year.

Let me begin with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America whose Unification Task Force is on track to bring a proposed set of bylaws to the 2016 General Assembly. This would put the two denominations on track to make final approvals in 2017 and unite in a single general assembly in 2018.

While not a move with unification in sight, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church held their General Synods jointly in a move to strengthen the ties between these two streams of American Presbyterianism. For those not aware, each of these branches traces their heritage back to Scotland separately and apart from the mainstream branch of American Presbyterianism.

Finally, in a move that is not between two Presbyterian branches but between two national churches, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England just formally announced their intent to be more intentional in their joint work in what they are calling the Columba Declaration. This was followed by the Church of England’s Anglican partner in Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, issuing something of a “what about us” statement.



In putting this list together it seemed at times that I could have filled it with humanitarian crises. But if there is one that that Presbyterians world-wide seemed not just outspoken about but responsive to it would be the Middle East refugee crisis.

Regarding statements, these came from all quarters including the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Free Church of Scotland, the Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the PC(USA), and many others.

In terms of action, there are accounts of relief and resettlement efforts all over the news. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is partnering with the Hungarian Reformed Church. Presbyterian churches are among those across Canada ready to help resettle refugees. Similar things can be said for the U.S. where, among many towns and churches, Trinity Presbyterian in Atlanta is ready to sponsor two families. And in Princeton, NJ, Nassau Presbyterian Church and the Seminary are working together to help resettle a family.

And we also have the account of a PC(USA) group traveling to Turkey and seeing relief efforts first hand as they worked in a local soup kitchen and food pantry to help feed Syrian refugees.

In another refugee story, the final Central American individual who found sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson was able to go home after 15 months under a confidential agreement. However, with an announced round of deportations coming up the church, with others, has responded that they are ready to offer sanctuary to more refugees who fear for their lives if they are deported.


Membership trends continue

Not much new to say here. As with all the mainstream churches in the U.S., the PC(USA) membership decline continues with a loss of 2.1% in the number of congregations and a 5.3% decline in the total membership. What is interesting, at least to me, is that when normalized and compared the membership decline in the PC(USA) over the last decade is very similar to the decline in the Church of Scotland.


Publications and Media

Not sure what it was this year but publications and media, particularly those recognized with awards and honors, seemed to catch my attention more than most years.

Let me begin with the Learn resources from the Church of Scotland, particularly the Learn Eldership book that I reviewed last spring. It has been joined by two additional pieces – hard to call the relatively short How Will Our Children Have Faith? a book – that I might get time to review in the future.

But the series in general, and the Learn Eldership in particular, have been recognized by different organizations. In addition to being a best seller, Eldership was a finalist in the Publications category of the Scottish Creative Awards. It was also recognized in the Innovation category as being among the crème-de-la crème of Scottish magazines in the Scottish Magazine Awards.

From Westminster John Knox Press we have a winner of the 2015 Christianity Today Book Awards in the Theology/Ethics category. It is Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. (Yes, technically announced in 2014 but awarded in 2015)

I would also include in this topic the just-released book by Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, For A Continuing Church: The roots of the Presbyterian Church in America. It is described as the “first full scholarly account of the theological and social forces that brought about [the PCA’s] creation.”

Finally, two films directed by PC(USA) Presbyterian Disaster Assistance agency photojournalist David Barnhart have been invited to the Beaufort International Film Festival in February. The films are “Kepulihan: When the Waters Recede” about the aftermath of the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami and “Locked in a Box” about immigration detention facilities.


So there you have my list of what caught my attention.

Some of you may be wondering where all the issues that were happening in Louisville are? In my list above I tried to capture more broad themes and those are more denomination specific. But, to add them here the news out of Louisville included: an outside audit of cost overruns at the last Presbyterian Youth Triennium; continued investigation, dismissals and lawsuits related to the New Church Initiative fiscal management; the departure of Linda Valentine and hiring of Tony de la Rosa in the Executive Director position; the search for a new Stated Clerk and Gradye Parsons announcing he would not apply again; and the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s own budget crisis.

For more information specific to the PC(USA) you can check out the Presbyterian Outlook’s list of top stories. For that matter, the Free Church of Scotland has their own year in review, and the Church of Scotland Mission and Discipleship agency has one as well.

And so I hope that 2015 was a good year for you and my prayers for all of you for a good 2016. My year will start out on a very high note, so stay tuned for that. Until then

Happy New Year and a Joyful Hogmanay

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:


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.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Week Ending October 20, 2013

Another week on the quiet side in my news stream, and the couple of active items that were there are “works in progress” that I will defer to the next round when there should be something more to report than “the committee is thinking about it.”

So to begin with, a few items from churches in Africa:

Malawi: Domasi CCAP Advises Faithful to Vote – from; “Domasi Presbytery of CCAP Blantyre Synod has called on all its faithful
that registered for the 2014 Tripartite Elections to exercise their
rights and responsibilities by voting for leaders of their choice.”

M’mbelwa roasts Livingstonia Synod over Kanyika mine – from Nyasa Times; “M’mbelwa district council on Monday took a swipe at  CCAP Livingstonia
Church and Society for frustrating the mining of niobium at Kanyika mine
in Mzimba.”

Presbyterian University College Council inaugurated – from Ghana News Agency; “The
Right-Reverend Professor Emmanuel Martey, Moderator of the General Assembly of
the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, has inaugurated the 5th Presbyterian
University College Council at Akropong.”

A couple of notes from the Church of Scotland:

Have your say on Scotland’s future – from Carrick Gazette; The Church of Scotland is ramping up the discussion sessions ahead of the independence vote.

Church of Scotland proposes changing religious observance in schools to ‘time for reflection’ – from Christian Today; “The Church of Scotland has proposed changing religious observance to a ‘time for reflection’. The Kirk said a time for reflection in schools would help shift the
debate about religious observance in schools from an argument between
opposing views to learning together.”

And finally from the PC(USA) and the Presbytery of Chicago:

Wild patience: Years of discussion lead to signing of covenant between presbytery and Islamic communities in Chicago – from The Presbyterian Outlook

So there is what caught my eye for last week.

A First-Order Quantitative Analysis Of Two New Hymnals: Glory To God and Lift Up Your Hearts

This year has seen the release of two new hymnals for mainstream Presbyterian and Reformed churches.

Last week my copy of the new hymnal Glory To God arrived in the mail. Now having a copy in my hands I did what I always do when I acquire a new hymnal, new or old… I analyze it. I will get to the numerical analysis in a moment but let me make a couple of prefatory comments.

First, I purchased the red pew PC(USA) edition published by Westminster John Knox Press, one imprint of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation of the PC(USA). I don’t think that having the purple edition or the ecumenical edition will make a difference for this analysis because, as I understand it, the PC(USA) versus the ecumenical only makes a difference in the liturgical bits, not the musical. (But that is not to imply that the musical stuff is mutually exclusive from the liturgical.) In the narrative discussion below I will refer to this as the “New Hymnal.”

It is of standard hymnal dimensions and I found it to be only 34 mm thick. Since it is a full 7 mm thinner than the current The Presbyterian Hymnal (which I will refer to at the “Old Hymnal”) it is replacing you can be assured that it will fit nicely into your pew racks. But don’t worry, this is not at the loss of material as the New Hymnal has 1018 pages, a 42% increase over the Old Hymnal. The difference is of course in the weight of the paper it is published on so if your congregation makes heavy use of the hymnal, as opposed to using them as a decorative feature of the pew racks as you sing off the projection screen, you might want to think about a shorter replacement cycle.

The other thing I had to laugh at is that the New Hymnal has the subtitle “The Presbyterian Hymnal,” as it seems a bit presumptuous that there is one Presbyterian hymnal. But this is nothing new. That was the title of the Old Hymnal and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland names theirs The Irish Presbyterian Hymnbook. But if both the Old Hymnal and the New Hymnal are both “The” Presbyterian hymnal, is that a contradiction or does the new automatically supersede the old?

The second new hymnal of the year is Lift Up Your Hearts: Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs published by Faith Alive Christian Resources, the publishing ministry of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America. If you ignore the subtitle this is a popular title for worship books and should not be confused with another collection of music issued a few years ago.

This edition is about 3 mm thicker than Glory to God but published on what feels like only slightly heavier weight of paper. It also comes in a nice red binding but with silver lettering, no denominational seal or logo and lightly printed gray wheat pattern on the front. That same wheat pattern is used inside the hymnal on title pages before each section. It has no complete liturgy printed in it but numerous prayers, responses and other liturgical pieces scattered throughout it.

OK, if you are only here for the discussion you will probably want to skip down below the table now. But for the hymnal geeks, as the title suggests, here is an analytical breakdown and comparison of the contents of these two new hymnals with a few others.

I want to clarify at this point that this is a first-order technique that I use that allows me to get a feeling for the content and tone of a hymnal within three to five minutes. It uses particular markers (sources) as indicators of larger trends. For a more detailed, and time consuming, analysis there is a second-order analysis which would do component analysis on the full contents. A third-order analysis that drills down into the words of the hymns themselves – included or omitted verses and altered words – as well as the musical settings of each is even more enlightening but much more time consuming.

As I said, I have picked out certain authors and translators whose inclusion or exclusion provides a quick guide to the particular bent of a hymnal. Some of them will be immediately obvious, like heavy inclusion of Martin Luther for the Lutherans and of Charles Wesley for the Methodists. For Presbyterians the ratio of Isaac Watts to Charles Wesley is usually greater than one. Also for Presbyterians, the heritage of exclusive Psalm singing shows through in generous inclusion of pieces from earlier Psalters.

The recognition of translators is also important and John Mason Neale is an indicator of the inclusion of earlier songs in Greek and Latin (e.g. All Glory, Laud and Honor) while Catherine Winkworth was a translator of German language works (e.g. Now Thank We All Our God).

For music from the Revival tradition the lead indicator is the number of songs by Fanny Crosby, but I also include those by Philip Bliss. And modern hymn writers are important and there are some subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, differences in styles that lean towards one tradition or another.

So here is a breakdown of the hymnals Glory To God and Lift Up Your Hearts in comparison to a number of past and present Presbyterian hymnals as well as The Hymnal For Worship and Celebration which is frequently cited as the most popular non-denominational hymnal in the US today and its revision the Celebration Hymnal.  The two hymnals of focus in this piece are highlighted to help you track the variations. The nicknames “The Green Hymnal” and “The Red Hymnal” are included as I have found that will immediately identify them to Presbyterians of a certain age.

The Hymnal
“The Green Hymnal”

The Hymnbook
“The Red Hymnal”

The Worship
The Presbyterian Hymnal
Glory to God


Lift Up Your Hearts


Trinity Hymnal
The Irish Presbyterian Hymnbook
The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration
Celebration Hymnal


John Mason Neale
15 16 12 15 12 6 15 10 6 5
Martin Luther
4 2 6 6 5 3 5 0 1 1
Catharine Winkworth
10 14 22 19 11 9 19 4 4 3
Isaac Watts
23 20 10 13 14 12 36 9 15 13
Charles Wesley
15 15 10 13 14 15 21 17 16 16
Psalters 13 60 12 21 35 63 78 26 6 2
John Newton
6 7 2 2 2 4 13 7 4 3
Fanny Crosby
0 5 0 2 2 3 10 2 16 16
Philip Bliss
0 1 0 0 1 3 6 3 6 7
Spirituals 0 3 8 20 27 24 5 0 6 5
Brian Wren
0 0 0 11 11 9 0 5 0 0
Thomas Troeger
0 0 0 8 9 4 0 0 0 0
Ruth Duck
0 0 0 2 16 8 0 2 0 0
Edith Margaret Clarkson
0 0 0 0 0 2 6 1 7 3
William Gaither
0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 15 17
Keith Getty
0 0 0 0 0 9 0 5 0 0
Total musical selections
608 600 646 605 853 879 742 669 plus full psalter 628 818

First, a couple descriptive comments:

1. Yes, A Mighty Fortress is our God does not appear in the Irish Hymnbook

2. In looking at the new hymnals I find that going forward I need to include Taizé music/prayer as a category. While it has not been included in hymnals I have looked at before, Glory to God has 21 pieces and Lift Up Your Hearts has 18. None of the other hymnals I include in this analysis has any pieces from the Taizé Community but the Irish Hymnbook has 10 from the Iona Community I mention below.

3. If you are not familiar with it, the Trinity Hymnal, as well as the Trinity Psalter, are published by Great Commission Publications, the publishing house of the OPC and the PCA.

4. I will admit that Psalters are a pain in the neck to tally in this first-order model. Unlike authors where you look in one place, Psalters have a variety of names and in some cases the pieces are listed by author and not the Psalter.

5. It is worth noting that the Old Hymnal contains a section of about 100 Psalms, some of which are metrical Psalms taken from Psalters and some of which are Psalm paraphrases. That explicit section has been eliminated in the New Hymnal.

As I look at the table above the thing that jumps out at me first is the increase in the content of the hymnals. You can see that most of the 20th Century hymnals I track above tended to have just a bit more than 600 musical numbers. However, in the last couple of decades the musical content has increased up into the 800’s. Doing a quick calculation this means that there is enough material to go about five and one-half years with three hymns per Lord’s Day without repeating one. (This ignores the fact that there are only 76 hymns in the Advent and Christmas categories in the New Hymnal which at three hymns per worship service and seven days of celebration in each cycle would last you only three years without repeating.)

However, while the total size has increased dramatically the indicators that I have tracked have only changed slightly with some of the older sources declining slightly and some of the more recent increasing slightly. The one exception is the recent decline in works translated by Catherine Winkworth suggesting that works from non-English European traditions are being displaced, possibly by works from other traditions. The appearance is that in general hymns which have stood the test of time are being retained while new material is being added. This is noted in the appearance of the Taizé music I mention above. In addition, Lift Up Your Hearts has 21 pieces by John Bell of the Iona Community and Glory to God has 18.

It has struck me that some of this added content is specific to the hymnals. For example, in Glory to God at least two members of the editorial board have multiple numbers in the hymnal — Alfred Fedak has 25 pieces and David Gambrell has 14. It is worth noting that Fedak has 13 in Lift Up Your Hearts along with 11 by their editorial board member Martin Tel and seven by another board member, Joel Navarro. In fact, several of the board members and an editorial assistant have at least one contribution to the hymnal. (And one board member has his name spelled differently on the board list and in the index of authors, but I digress.)

The point is not that this is a problem with conflict of interest, and this is not a new occurrence as Isaac Watts and John Newton each published collections of their own works. But it will be interesting to see if, like Watts and Newton, some of the contributions from the “in house” writers stand the test of time. (And yes, I do realize that the total output by Watts that is in any of these hymnals is less than 2% and that it will take a long time to see if the new works “stand the test of time.”)

But, relative to the markers that I have been using, these two hymnals have retained much of the tone of Protestant and Reformed hymnals with the use of early and Reformation era music to a degree that the popular non-denominational hymnals do not. The non-denominational works are also much lighter on Psalter works, pieces from other racial ethnic traditions and works of traditional modern hymn writers (e.g. Duck and Wren). The new hymnals also continue the trend of sparingly using the revival era hymns that the non-denominational hymnals heavily use as well as music that might be categorized as praise songs. The praise style pieces are not completely missing and where these two hymnals show the greatest divergence is that Lift Up Your Hearts appears to have a slightly more contemporary praise feel than Glory to God with a piece by William Gaither, if this marker is indicative of the hymnal as a whole. In addition Lift Up Your Hearts has a solid number of works by contemporary-style modern hymn writer Keith Getty. (And no, I am not going to go there today.)

As I indicated above, the real story here does not appear to be significant abandonment of the pieces, or at least the sources, that have appeared in previous hymnals. Rather, it is first a broadening to include alternative and diverse sources and traditions of music. Second, it is a selective inclusion of more modern works with Glory to God leaning towards the traditional modern and Lift Up Your Hearts leaning towards the contemporary modern.

Let me conclude by noting that the editorial boards for hymnals live in the same tension that all who are concerned with the future of the church are in. On the one hand is tradition and doctrine and a denominational hymnal says something – it is carefully put together to reflect the theological stance and values of the denomination, at least to the extent the editorial board reflects it. On the other hand, there is societal expectation and there are certain hymns that have stood the test of time and the audience expects to see them in the hymnal and, to some extent, with a particular set of words. My favorite example of this is the hymn Rock of Ages by Augustus Toplady. Toplady was, as one paper puts it, an “extreme Calvinist” who first published the poem in his Gospel Magazine in one of his regular articles strongly arguing against the Arminian theology of John Wesley. Yet today it is regularly found in Methodist hymnals as it has become part of the standard set of hymns people expect to find in a hymnal.

It is clear that the editorial boards of each of these hymnals made specific choices to reflect the underlying doctrine of their respective denominations. Choices were not made to include popular hymns just to boost sales. But it should be remembered, at least in the case of Glory to God, that the final product did not have the explicit approval of the General Assembly. That body only approved the creation of a committee that would create the hymnal. So does it really reflect the denomination at this moment, especially if there is an ecumenical edition?

The marked expansion of the contents of the hymnal may have an interesting consequence, intended or unintended. Studies have shown that a typical congregation has a standard pool of only about 150 pieces that they sing outside of special seasons like Advent and Christmas. With a hymnal that is expanded by upwards of 30% it is more likely that any given congregation will find their special 150 hymns in the hymnal and may be more likely to buy it. It could be that the expansion of the contents, which was partly intended by the editorial board to give any particular congregation a greater range to sing from, will actually do more to increase the number of congregations that buy the book.

Finally, I was a bit tongue in cheek at the beginning where I commented about the hymnal being a nice pew rack decoration but never used if the Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are always projected on a screen in front of the congregation. But more and more this is becoming the case and where a congregation does this they create their own virtual hymnbook which can be subjected to the first through third-order analyses I talk about above. The use of projection particularly allows for the type of modifications that a third-order analysis highlights with eliminated verses and different musical settings easily accomplished. This takes us into the realm of not only every church having its own specific musical reflection of its doctrine, but one that can be tweaked at a moment’s notice. Not only is the landscape different for each congregation but it can be a constantly shifting landscape as well.

It will be interesting to see how widely each of these hymnals finds acceptance. Early in the pre-order period that was a comment that about 600 congregations had already ordered their new copies. That is about a 6% market penetration in the PC(USA). Given all the options today in terms of hymnals on the market as well as the option of dispensing with hymnals all together when the words are projected I would be interested in what sort of adoption ratio there is by GA next summer.

So that is what I see at a first-order level here. As I get into it more it will be interesting to see what other trends I find.

Reverberations From Ordination Decisions: The PC(USA) And Her Global Partners

[Ed. note: This is the first in a three part series that I hope to get written and posted over the next week.]

Over the last few months a couple Presbyterian branches have made decisions to make, or move towards making, standards for ordination more inclusive, particularly regarding the ordination of individuals who are in active same-sex relationships.  These decisions have made waves in the international Presbyterian community and these waves will be reverberating in the community for a while to come.  This is a look at one specific reverberation.

In a couple of widely publicized decisions the General Assemblies of the
Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana de México (IPNM) (National Presbyterian Church In Mexico) and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana (PCG) have gone on record expressing disapproval of the passage of Amendment 10-A by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and warning that it jeopardizes the partnering relationship between the churches. However, each of these decisions have multiple nuances that seem to be getting lost in the media headlines and tweets.

The IPNM decision was made at a called Consultation of the General Assembly held August 17-19.  This decision was then communicated to the PC(USA) in a letter to the Stated Clerk and the PC(USA) has posted an English translation.  It says in part

In my position as Secretary of the H. General Assembly of the
National Presbyterian Church of Mexico, I [Presbyter Amador Lopez Hernandez] am sending the present
document to communicate the official decision made by our National
Presbyterian Church of Mexico, in the last extraordinary and legislative
Council meeting held at El Divino Salvador Church, in Xonacatlán,
Mexico, on August 17-19, 2011, regarding the partnership between our
Churches, which states:

“To revoke Article 41, number 4 of our Manual of Procedures, which
entitles us to have official, covenant relations of work and cooperation
with the PC (U.S.A.) and terminate the official relationship with the
church, starting on August 18, 2011. As the General Assembly, we are
open to restore the partnership and work together in the future, if the
Amendment 10 A is rescinded.”

As I said above, this came from a special Consultation of the General Assembly and it is interesting to note that the primary purpose of the called meeting was ordination standards, but specifically the ordination of women.  The Presbyterian Outlook article helps fill in the details:

The Mexican church, with close to two million members, held a special
assembly Aug. 17-19 specifically to discuss the ordination of women –
voting overwhelmingly, by a margin of 158 to 14, to sustain its policy
of not ordaining women. The assembly also voted 103 to 55 not to allow
any sort of grace period for presbyteries that had, on their own,
already begun ordaining women. That vote means that any presbytery which
has already ordained women must immediately revoke those ordinations.

They also let us know that the vote to end the relationship with the PC(USA) came on a vote of 116 to 22 and was only a small part of this meeting.

In light of the full scope of these decisions made by this General Assembly it is interesting to note that in the blogosphere and twitterverse the PC(USA) related decision seems to be held up with little to no mention made of the other one. To be fair only the one decision directly affects the PC(USA) so that is one possible explanation. (At least one blog (non-PC(USA) related) did highlight the decision about the ordination of women and only mentioned the other in passing.)

Now, my Spanish is not very good, but from what I can tell and getting translation help from a couple of different sources it seems that when this meeting is discussed on the IPNM Facebook page it seems to be the women’s ordination issue which gets the most attention.

There is of course a response from the PC(USA), first an official statement then a webinar (archived presentation available from the Mexico Ministry page) to help those involved in ministry with the IPNM understand the new lay of the land.  In the webcast Dave Thomas (World Mission regional liaison for Mexico) gives a great description of the timeline and process for the decision.  He concludes by saying “And I think it’s ironic to think that here’s a church in Mexico that has nearly two million members, do you know it is almost the same size as the PC(USA), and yet 116 men voting on one Friday afternoon changed things. And in spite of the fact that thousands of people on both sides of the border, thousands of people from both countries have been impacted, have been transformed by God’s grace and by the work that they have been able to do jointly through this partnership we have had with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico.” There is clearly a tone of sadness and frustration in his voice as he says this but also a hint of condescension. My personal reaction is “this is what Presbyterianism is about” were a small subset of the whole church, be it 200 commissioners or 850, try to discern God’s will and make decisions for the whole church. And it seemed to me that throughout the webinar there were times when comments by panelists or questions from participants projected the expectations, process, standards or norms of the PC(USA) onto our sister Presbyterian church.

The webinar did offer an opening – As Maria Arroyo (World Mission area coordinator) said “…[The IPNM] would continue receiving the presbyteries in partnership that voted against 10-A and also were willing to sign something saying that they were against 10-A and they would conform to the principles of the Mexican Church.”

In his comments, Hunter Farrell (Director of Presbyterian World Mission) summarizes the situation and includes this comment, “Perhaps the most regrettable piece in this is that the Mexican Assembly in its action reduces us and our 139 year relationship to one question, our stance on a particular issue — It is critically important, and that is not to say the theology is not important, but the result is that we are reduced to yes or no on one particular question. And ironically that is what our church was trying to move away from by adopting 10-A — to broaden that understanding of ordained ministry.” He continues “At the same time our part in this, we understand from the perspective of Presbyterian World Mission, is to accept and respect the decision by the Mexican Presbyterian Church.”

This changed relationship will have to be lived into and there are still more questions than answers. The Mexico Ministry page does note that on September 8 an agreement between the two churches was reached to continue boarder ministry.

The second decision made and stance taken was from the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. This came from the 11th General Assembly recently concluded and can be found in both a communique from the Assembly as well as a summary page. But again, there appear to be nuances that are not reflected in the blogosphere and twitterverse.

For example, one article is headlined “Presbyterian Church of Ghana (PCG) severs ties with US partner over homosexuality.” Is the the situation?  That is a definite maybe!

First, let’s take a look at what the church has actually publically said.  The Communique is a bit longer and so I will focus on that.  The section begins on page 21 and starts by echoing the announced stance from earlier this year. It also reaffirms the earlier announcement that “The General Assembly wishes to state that although it unreservedly condemns homosexuality as sin, the Church is prepared to offer the needed pastoral care and counseling for those wishing to come out of the practice, in keeping with the truism that, ‘God hates sin but loves the sinner.’”  It is only in the last paragraph of this section that they address foreign partners and say, in total:

The Presbyterian Church of Ghana is further taking steps – a process which has began with its just ended General Assembly to sever relationship with any partner church local and foreign that ordained homosexuals as ministers and allowed for same sex marriages and wants to make it clear that we respect the decisions of our Ecumenical Partners abroad concerning gay and lesbian practice and same-sex marriages and believes that our position would also be duly respected by them.

Note that there is an “and” in there – that the conditions appear to be both “ordained homosexuals as ministers” AND “allowed for same sex marriages.”

Now unfortunately this appears to be all we have to go on.  I have requested clarification from the General Assembly Clerk on this point but am still waiting for his response.  (Will update if I get one) I am not aware that the church has sent official notification to any partners yet, but please point me in the right direction if I have missed something. It looks like we will have to wait until the church has worked out more of the details.  It also raises the question about other partners like the Church of Scotland which has not approved ordination or marriages but has set a trajectory in that direction.

So all the headlines about severing ties? At the present time it appears that no specific action has been taken from this decision and since the PC(USA) does not currently permit same sex marriages it appears that the PC(USA) does not currently fit the stated criteria.  It is interesting to note that the Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCG, the Rt. Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Martey, is currently touring the USA and we may get more clarification from his statements here.

Are there other partnerships in jeopardy? It does appear that there are.  Without being specific, in the webinar Maria Arroyo does say that some partners in the Caribbean and Latin America will be considering their relationship with the PC(USA) at their upcoming General Assemblies or General Synods.  In addition, Rev. Jim Miller gives us a five point declaration from the National Council of the Korean Presbyterian Church of the PCUSA. This is an entity within the PC(USA) but probably reflects broader attitudes within this ethnic community nationally and internationally.

I don’t think I need to stick my neck out very far to predict that over the next year we will see a variety of responses from PC(USA) international partners ranging from approval to acceptance to disapproval to dissolution of the relationship.  And in cases like there, where a possible way forward is provided based on their standards, it will be interesting to see how all this develops. But in it all we do pray for God’s mission to be advanced in whatever ways God ordains.

Next, a look at what has been happening in the Church of Scotland over the last few months.

National Council Of Churches Membership Data — We Can Correlate That

This past Monday the National Council of Churches USA announced the release of their 2011 Yearbook, a press release that traditionally includes the membership data for the 25 largest denominations in the country.

My first reaction, after a quick look at the data, was “nothing new here — move along to something else.”

My second thought was “why don’t I just take that part of the post from last year, copy and paste it for this year, strike out the old numbers and fill in the new ones.”  In all honesty, the two sets of numbers look a lot alike and I was wondering if there was anything new worth saying about it.

Well, I finally came to my senses, remembered that my motto is “I never met a data set I didn’t like,” and on my commute home I thought about what I could do with it.  I then spent my lunch hours the rest of the week crunching data.  Yup, that’s the way I roll.

Now, a couple of years ago I correlated the NCC data against surveys about political opinions and found that for the mainline churches the degree of membership decline correlated with stronger liberal political opinions.  But, based on reading I have done in the last couple of years I have modified this hypothesis and now think that part of the problem of decline is not the political opinions of the churches per se, but rather that the problem is a lack of clear and well defined beliefs and expectations, particularly in the mainline.  That is to say that trying to be too broad in doctrine leaves those looking for a church uncertain about that church and no need to be committed to anything in particular.  It is the hot and cold of Laodicea and shown on a small scale by the division of the Londonderry Presbyterian Church which split and, at least when I wrote about it a year and a half ago, the combined membership of the two churches had nearly doubled over what it was before the split.  (Now, when I get the the end of this post I won’t necessarily have proven that thesis, but I think it will support it.)

Now, to give credit where credit is due, this is not something I pulled out of thin air but, as I said, saw in the studies and essays I was reading.  Prominent among these, in the chronological order in which I read them: Beau Weston, Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment; Dean Hoge, Donald Luidens, and Benton Johnson, Vanishing Boundaries; Bradley Wright, Christians are hate-filled hypocrites… and other myths you’ve been told;  and Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian.

So, I set about seeing if I could find correlations between indicators of strength of faith and the NCC data.  Thanks to Brad Wright’s book I knew that the Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life was a wealth of information.  The data is split into two reports, the Religious Affiliation Report (full report ) and the Religious Beliefs and Practices Report (full report ).  To tinker a little more, I downloaded The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey dataset from the Pew Research Center.  The resulting analysis and data manipulation is mine and it should be kept in mind that “The Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life bear no responsibility for the analyses or interpretations of the data presented here.”  OK, you got the required disclaimer.

I was fun look at the raw data because there are some interesting details in there although they are generally not related to this present discussion.  For example, of the 480 participants who identified themselves with the Assemblies of God, 420 said there was a heaven but 432 said there was a hell.  While that may say something interesting about the theology, in fairness I would have trouble with the wording of the study’s questions because they were base on merit, that is if someone led “a good life” and not on Christ’s free gift of eternal life.  Since individuals could self-identify the denomination they were with it is interesting to note that there is one who said Emerging Church, one each who identified as Liberal Presbyterian and Conservative Presbyterian.  But my favorite has to be the two individuals who identified themselves as an Electronic Ministries Baptist and Electronic Ministries Pentecostal.  Can I now call myself a Virtual Ministries Presbyterian?  We will have to wait to see when the Open Source Church appears.   I am going to keep playing with the dataset and see what other interesting details I can find.

Anyway, some additional interpretation details: The survey was conducted in 2007 so technically a bit of a time offset from the 2010 NCC data.  In addition, the data package comes with one database for the continental U.S. and another for Alaska and Hawai’i.  I only number-crunched the former which contains a bit over 35000 records.  For the first set of correlations with the demographic data I have taken the numbers from Appendix 3 of the Religious Affiliation report which lists results as percentages with no decimal places.  Results for religious behavior that I calculated from the provided dataset are reported as percentages with one decimal place.  And for those interested in trying it themselves at home, the data is provided in SPSS format which you can also read with the open source package PSPP.  I will talk about correlation coefficients which test only for a linear correlation and the data is supplied with a weighting scheme designed to reflect reliability, which I did not use for this initial exploration.

For the NCC data, of the 25 churches on the list only 14 provided numbers for membership change. Of these, we saw notable growth in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (+1.42%), and significant growth in the Jehovah’s Witnesses (+4.37%) and the Seventh-Day Adventists (+4.31%).  There was small growth in the Roman Catholic church (+0.57%), the Assemblies of God (+0.52%), and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) (+0.38%).  The mainline/oldline churches had typical declines including the United Methodist Church (-1.01%), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (-1.96%), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (-2.61%), the Episcopal Church (-2.48%), the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. (-1.55%), and the United Church of Christ (-2.83%).  Slightly smaller declines were experienced by more evangelical churches, such as the Southern Baptist Convention (-0.42%) and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (-1.08%).

All of the correlations I ran are available in a web-published Google spreadsheet and the sheet also contains the 2009 membership changes and correlations with those as well.  For this discussion I only use the 2010 membership changes.  As always, use at your own risk.  For those who don’t regularly work with correlations a quick introduction: If the number is positive the correlation is direct and if negative it is inverse.  Correlation statistics range in absolute value from 1, which is perfect, to 0 (zero) when there is no correlation.  Values of 0.8 and greater are generally considered strong correlations and values below 0.5 have weak to no correlation and need to be looked at carefully.  Also, this analysis assumes that the correlation is linear and I have not run tests for leverage effects by extreme values. (But as you will see in the graphs below there are a pair of high values that usually cluster nicely.)

The first demographic data I looked at was for members’ marital status and there was little to no correlation between that and a denominations growth rate.  However, looking at the extremes of age distribution we find that growing churches have a higher percentage of younger members (18-20 years old) than declining members and the declining churches have more older members (>65) than growing churches.
These correlations are good with 0.77 and -0.78.  The question is whether there is a cause and effect relationship.  Are growing denominations growing because they have more young people, or are more young people there because they are growing.  We can probably safely conjecture that the relationship is complex and mutual and there is a bit of each going on probably establishing a positive or negative feedback loop.

The correlation with number of children is somewhat predictable based on this preceding relationship. While families with no children are more likely at declining churches (correlation -0.63), it surprised me that the strongest correlation in the children categories was the relationship of families with one child to be at growing churches (correlation 0.81) and then to have families with two children to be completely uncorrelated (-0.03).  The correlation returns with moderate strength for three children (0.63) and for four or more not quite as strong at (0.50).  Like above, assigning dependency is problematic and there is probably a complex relationship. (Maybe something to crunch the numbers around a bit for.)

There is one other demographic relationship and that has a moderate correlation — college grads are more common at declining denominations (correlation = -0.55).

Now, what about the idea I really wanted to test – that patterns of behavior and belief that indicate more intense or dedicated religious practice are correlated with denominational growth.  The survey provides us with several of these.

First, again taking a lead from Brad Wright’s book, I look at church attendance, as self-reported.  I have combined six categories down to three with the frequent attenders (once a week or more than once a week) in one group, the occasional (less than once a week but still multiple times a year) in the second group, and the seldom to none in the last group.

In the first two cases there is a strong correlation with the frequent attenders (weekly or better) to be members of growing denominations (correlation=0.76) and the less-than-weekly to be members of declining denominations (correlation=-0.82).  For the seldom to none, they are more likely in declining denominations, but the correlation is weaker (correlation=-0.40).  For comparison purposes, the Presbyterian Panel asks a similar question and found that for members 26% responded that they attend weekly and another 38% said they attended “nearly every week.”  That total of 64% is a bit higher than the 56.9% in the RLS data, but seems a reasonable match in light of the different wording of the questions.

The survey has two ways of looking at the importance of religion to the participants.  The first is a direct question if their religion is very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important.  The percentages that answered very important and somewhat important are both well correlated with the growth/decline numbers, but in opposite senses.  For those who said their religion was very important there was a correlation of 0.74 indicating they are more likely to be in growing churches.  For those who answered somewhat important, the correlation is -0.74 and they are more likely in declining denominations.

The second is a question that asks “When it comes to questions of right and wrong, which of the following do you look to most for guidance.”  Of the four choices, two were substantially preferred by respondents.  “Guided by religious teachings and beliefs” is shown with the red squares in the graph below and has a 0.77 correlation with denominational growth.  On the chart you can see the outlier to the trend at 0.57% growth which is the data point for the Roman Catholic church.  Removing that data point the correlation jumps to a strong 0.83.  As you can see, the other strong answer is “Practical experience and common sense”, shown in green, and that has an inverse correlation at -0.77.  So in growing churches the members rely more on church teaching and in declining churches the members are guided more by their own experience.  It is interesting, and somewhat surprising to this scientist, how far below the first two the reliance on philosophy and on science fall.  And both of those have almost as strong inverse correlations.

You can have a look at the spreadsheet for a bunch of the other correlations I ran.  It pretty much holds up that strong religious beliefs, certainty in those beliefs, and practices correlate with denominational growth while the moderate to weak responses for these things are inversely correlated and are more likely in declining denominations.

Well, crunching the numbers is the easy part.  What does this all mean and can it be applied to reverse mainline decline?

First, let me say that I think it is difficult to separate what should be the neutral practices from the doctrine.  As I said, correlation coefficients for the relationship between beliefs and growth/decline are pretty much identical to correlations between practices and growth/decline.  To put it another way, at what point does regular weekly attendance at church change from being just a religious practice to being a matter of doctrine or belief?

Another tricky point here is that for most of the indicators measured, while the doctrinal ones may be teachings of the church, what the statistics show is not the effectiveness of the churches teachings directly, but the ethos of the church and the expectation for accepting those teachings.  In other words, almost every church would want a member to be guided by the church’s teachings to determine right and wrong, but the growing denominations pass along not just the teaching, but the expectation that members take it seriously.

Finally, it has to be remembered that a denomination is composed of particular churches and in most cases we are measuring one of these on the level of the individual member and the other on the level of the denomination.  Lost in the middle are the different congregations where this is actually implemented.

So by way of conclusion here are two things that surprised me in this analysis:

The first was the uniformity of the correlations.  Yes, there were some variations but in general there were a lot that fell in the 0.7 to 0.8 range or the -0.7 to -0.8 range.  This suggests to me that you should not be looking through this to find the “silver bullet.” Instead, these measures show broad patterns that probably reflect the overall nature of the denominations rather than where to improve on one or two specific practices.

The second thing that surprised me was how high the bar was.  In looking at this data we are not seeing the line between growing and declining as being in heresy or apostasy.  We are seeing the difference in whether members attend once a week or once a month.  We are seeing the difference in whether someone is certain or God, or fairly certain of God.

Now, I welcome you to stare at the data and draw your own conclusions.  My number one take-away is that “Being Christian” is not about what you do for one-hour on Sunday morning (OK, one and a half hours if the sermon goes long and you stay for a cup of coffee.)  Rather, it is about how you live your life the other 167 hours out of the week.  It is about whether that hour influences the other 167.  It is about how your Christian faith affects the rest of your life.  To me, these data show that the indicator of a growing denomination is a pattern of faithfulness in many areas of our lives.

Your mileage may vary.  OK, now what do I do with my lunch hour next week?

Technical note:  I think it is important to note that for questions with only two choices any correlations with a third variable will be of the same magnitude and opposite sign for the two choices.  For the Guidance question above, while there were four choices, the Philosophy option and the Science option were selected by so few respondents that there are effectively only two answers, the Religion option and the Experience option. That is not the case with the demographic graph since substantial numbers of respondents fell into the age ranges between these two end groups.  Combined, the two end members represent no more than 40% of the sampled population.

New Leader Of NCCI From The Mizoram Presbyterian Church Synod

The new General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of India is the Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, a member of the Mizoram Presbyterian Church Synod of northeastern India.  Rev. Gaikwad was installed in his new position on December 9.

Mr. Gaikwad has been serving in ordained ministry for 33 years, most recently as the Principal of the Aizawl Theological College. He is a noted preacher, teacher and writer and a frequent speaker at church events.  His service extends beyond the school and denomination to participation in ecumenical and international committees.  As principal of the college he also had the responsibility of editing and publishing the Mizoram Journal of Theology.  His wife, Pi Zomuani Gaikwad, is also active in church work and is the first woman in Mizoram to hold a B.D. degree.  Her work has included chairing the Synod Women’s Fellowship and as president of the Women’s Assembly of the North-East India Christian Council.

Mr. Gaikwad’s term of office will include the centennial anniversary of the NCCI in 2014 and he will have much of the responsibility for planning that event.

The best coverage of the event seems to be from the NCCI press release and a story from Mizoram Synod.  There are several media reports, most echoing the official press release, like the one from the South Asia Mail .

Congratulations to the Rev. Dr. Gaikwad and best wishes and prayers for his work.

Past Meets The Present In Scotland — Rome Amidst The Reformed

It has been interesting to observe the dances, sometimes delicate and sometimes not, that have been going on in Scotland, and to a lesser degree all across the British Isles, this summer.  We have the conjunction of two important events that each has implications for the other.  One is the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation and the other the visit of the Pope in September.

A little while back I commented on this visit and the fortuitus timing that will find the British Monarch in Scotland to welcome the Pope so that she will only be acting as head of state.  If the Queen were to meet the Pope in England she would also be acting as the head of the Established Church.

There have also been rumblings about how the Scottish Parliament has been playing down the 450th anniversary.  Speculation as to reasons includes sensitivity to the Pope’s visit, but also mentions the secularization of the nation, consideration for other faith traditions, and just apathy to the anniversary.  Or, as one writer says about the Scottish Reformation and the anniversary “…a trail of violence, vandalism and destruction, from which Scotland’s heritage has never recovered, and  which is the possibly the real reason authorities can not touch the 450th anniversary of the Reformation with a rather long barge-pole.”

But in the last few days the plans for the Pope’s arrival have been announced and the spectacle is to include a parade in Edinburgh which will include actors portraying historical figures.  Amongst those characters will be John Knox, and that seems to be drawing all the attention.

Please note the irony, or down-right discordance, here.  It was not just that John Knox lead the reform that separated Scotland from Rome.  In the process he did not have a lot of nice things to say about the pontiff, specifically equating him with the antichrist.  He is quoted in one instance as saying “the papal religion is but an abomination before God” and “flee out of Babylon, that you perish not with her.” (source ).  Another quote from Knox says “The Papacy is the very Antichrist, the Pope being the son of perdition of whom Paul speaks.” (source )  Finally, the Scots Confession, of which Knox was a principle author, says this in Chapter 18:

So it is essential that the true kirk be distinguished from the filthy synagogues by clear and perfect notes lest we, being deceived, receive and embrace, to our own condemnation, the one for the other. The notes, signs, and assured tokens whereby the spotless bride of Christ is known from the horrible harlot, the malignant kirk, we state, are neither antiquity, usurped title, lineal succession, appointed place, nor the numbers of men approving an error.

Now, having gone through that background let me also add a few important points.  First, while the Church of Scotland is today the National Church, the Catholic Church is the second largest faith tradition in the country.  It is also important to know that the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland are involved in ecumenical discussions and their Joint Committee is talking and producing reports seeking to have the different faith traditions better understand each other and find points of commonality.  And while the Scots Confession is part of the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Book of Confessions also contains in the Preface this disavowal:

Specific statements in 16th and 17th century confessions and catechisms in The Book of Confessions contain condemnations or derogatory characterizations of the Roman Catholic Church: Chapters XVIII and XXII of the Scots Confession; Questions and Answer 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism; and Chapters II, III, XVII, and XX, of the Second Helvetic Confession. (Chapters XXII, XXV, and XXIX of the Westminster Confession of Faith have been amended to remove anachronous and offensive language. Chapter XXVIII of the French Confession does not have constitutional standing.) While these statements emerged from substantial doctrinal disputes, they reflect 16th and 17th century polemics. Their condemnations and characterizations of the Catholic Church are not the position of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and are not applicable to current relationships between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Catholic Church.

In line with this stance an article in The Scotsman contains quotes from an unnamed spokesman for the Church of Scotland saying:

“When Pope John Paul II met the Moderator of the General Assembly on his visit to Scotland, it represented a milestone in relations between the two churches, which greatly improved as a result, and we would hope that the Pope’s visit later this year will strengthen the links even further.

“It is a sign of a healthy nation that diversity within the Christian community is something to be celebrated as opposed to a source of division and struggle.

“It is a gift to those of us of a Protestant persuasion that, by including this figure [Knox], the Catholic Church is contributing to the celebrations of the Reformation.”

Along the same lines, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Rev. Dr. Norman Hamilton, approves of the visit and the Queen’s decision to invite him.  Will Crawley of the BBC quotes him:

As someone who is committed to Christ, I have no sense of threat or fear by the visit of any world leader to our country, whether he be a political or a faith leader or a cultural leader. I have to say I don’t feel undermined, I don’t feel diminished, I don’t feel undervalued by any visitor to these shores.

However, the welcoming attitude is not present in all of the Presbyterian branches of the UK.  The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland has published a short book with six essays critical of the Pope and his visit.  Similarly, the Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley, a political figure in Northern Ireland and founding member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ireland , has called the visit a “mistake.”

Finally, it is important to note that there are other reasons besides the anniversary of the Reformation that this visit to the UK may feel a bit awkward.  One is the difficulties involved in resolving a major clergy abuse scandal in Ireland.  Another is the cost of this trip at a time when the economy is struggling to recover.  Finally, there are also the current controversies in the Church of England and the invitation that the Pope has extended for Anglo-Catholics to realign with the Catholic Church, a realignment that will be echoed during the visit in the beatification of Cardinal Newman who switched between these churches in an earlier century.

So, come September it will be interesting to see in what degree history leads to conflict or coexistence, or maybe just confusion.  If nothing else it will be a spectacle that will give us something to watch and ponder.