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.

Presbyterians And Brexit

On the eve of the referendum in the United Kingdom on whether they should leave the European Union I wanted to very quickly look at where various Presbyterians stand on the issue.

To my knowledge, the only top governing body or denomination that has taken a stand is the 2016 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland which endorsed remaining in the European Union. In the article the convener of the Church and Society Council, the Rev. Sally Foster Fulton, says that it is a work in progress and remaining is the only way to influence the transformation.

While the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has not taken a stand, they did publish an article to help people understand the referendum and think about it.

And some churches have been hosting debates as well including the London Kirk and Craigy Hill Presbyterian Church.

If there is another official denominational voice on this please let me know and I would be happy to update.

There are some prominent individual voices that have weighed in so sticking with the Church of Scotland one of those voices is the Hanna Mary Goodlad, the Moderator of the National Youth Assembly, who was highlighted in a separate article articulating reasons to stay. She tied it to her trip to the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Centre and Cemetery in Bosnia where more than 5,000 people are buried, the scene of the worst European genocide since World War II. The message was Europe is more peaceful and stable if it is united.

There are prominent individual voices on the other side. One of these is the Rev. David Robinson, the immediate past Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, who says that after spending no small amount of time studying the issue:

[Democracy] is for me the key issue. Those who make our laws should be accountable to those for whom they are made. The elected should answer to the electorate. The demos needs a democracy. And the European project is fundamentally at its core anti-democratic.

And for a very different perspective, from Northern Ireland we have the Rev. David McMillan of the Free Presbyterians who favors leaving. The article in the Irish Times talks about his view that the European Union was prophesied by Daniel and that “this union of nations would bring to a close ‘the Times of the Gentiles'(the end of the world)”.

I will leave it at that.

Our prayers are with the UK tomorrow as they make this important decision.

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.

 

36th General Assembly Of The Evangelical Presbyterian Church

2015-EPC-sealAnd today we complete our “four diamond week” with the opening of the 36th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. What we have are the three largest and, what was until recently, the fourth largest American Presbyterian denominations meeting all at the same time. And it is worth noting that they all are part of that great dividing of the mainstream branch, while acknowledging that a few pieces of the Reformed Presbyterian branch have been absorbed in.

The next four days the EPC will be meeting at Ward Church in Northville, Michigan. According to the schedule, today there will be workshops as part of the Leadership Institute seminars, and some additional related keynotes on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Business begins with opening worship tomorrow afternoon followed by the beginning of business sessions. The meeting is docketed to adjourn by noon on Saturday morning.

The Assembly meeting will be live streamed through the host church and the view is embedded on the Documents page.

There is a lot of information on line, most linked through the Documents page. Here are some of the links for information about Assembly business and operation:

As for social media, there is a bit of that out there. There is a Facebook page for the EPC that is currently being updated regularly with Leadership Institute items. The official EPC Twitter feed is @EPChurch and the declared official hashtag (#epc2016ga) has sprung to life. There is also a feed for EPC Student Ministries (@EPCStudentMin) and the Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah (@Jeff_Jeremiah -but not active for a while). I would add to this the host church, @wardchurch.

As for individuals, so far Ivan Strong Moore (@ivansmoore) is going strong live tweeting it, so there is a good point to start. For some tweets with a slight edge and sense of humor, check out Chreeha (@chreeha) and their hashtag #rowdyGA.

The list of the business items shows that much of the business is important but generally routine. Maybe the most out-of-the ordinary set of recommendations deal with a revised Position Paper on Human Sexuality that can be found in the report of the Committee on Position Paper Revision. There is also a request to appoint a committee to draft a pastoral statement on Ministering to the Church and the World on Issues Pertaining to Human Sexuality.

With that, I will wish the EPC commissioners well and we will be lifting them up in our prayers as they meet.

Wrap Up And Reflection On The Third Day Of General Assembly

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

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

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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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