Author Archives: Steve Salyards

213th Stated Meeting Of The General Synod Of The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

arpc_2846216So extending my analogy from the last post, we started yesterday juggling three balls in the air. At this time two of those GA’s have concluded – the OPC and the PC Canada. With the PC Ireland GA still going strong let’s look at the new ball in the air, the 213th Stated Meeting of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

The meeting began yesterday evening, 6 June, and continues until tomorrow, Thursday, 8 June, at the church’s Bonclarken conference center in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

The basic documents for the meeting are posted. First, there is the tri-fold program that summarizes the meeting. The rest of the meeting documents and information are being hosted on a Google share. The document names are fairly clear, but Index A does contain a list of the reports and whether for Committee or Synod and is helpful to find specific reports of interest.

For the doctrinal and polity standards of the ARPC you can check out their Documents page which has all of those, plus some national forms, in one place.

While there is no live stream, the ARP’s official media outlet takes up the challenge nicely. ARP Magazine will be extensively covering the meeting on their news feed, Facebook page and on Instagram. The news feed will also be the place to look for daily updates every evening. They are also the official Twitter feed for the meeting as well (@arpmagazine) and the hashtag is #arpsynod2017, but they tell us to check #arpmagazine as well. Other official and related entity feeds that may or may not be active include the main @ARPChurch, Outreach North America (@ONA_ARP), World Witness (@theworldwitness), and Erskine Seminary (@ErskineSeminary). The latter two are significantly fresher than the first pair.

Looking at the initial Twitter action it looks like Muswell Hillbilly (@WVPitt) and Robert Flight (@rflight79) are actively tweeting the activities. It is also worth noting that Iver Martin (@IverMartin), Principal of Edinburgh Theological Seminary of the Free Church of Scotland, is also attending the meeting.  It is a short meeting, but I will try to update with others as the meeting progresses.

One of the bigger items coming to the Synod this year is a draft of a new Book of Discipline to be received by the Synod and distributed to the church for comment this year, anticipating adoption of the final version at next year’s Synod meeting. A couple items of interest from the Committee on Inter-Church Relations. One is the invitation from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America to hold concurrent meetings in 2019. The second is the proposal to enter into Fraternal Relations with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales. And worth noting that the Rev. Iver Martin is at the meeting as the fraternal delegate from the Free Church. There’s also an interesting contribution from the Committee on Worship whose report contains a white paper on a Directory of Private and Family Worship and whose recommendations include one to form a special committee to consider if one should be adopted.

For the GA Junkies, Polity Wonks and Presbygeeks out there, I wanted to share a memorial (frequently considered overtures in other branches) from Second Presbytery. The concern is that the valued Presbyterian fundamental of parity between teaching elders and ruling elders is frequently a problem at presbytery and the Synod meeting with teaching elders being the dominant group in the commissioners present. The solution proposed is a specialized Point of Order they are calling a “Parity Challenge.” Not a challenge to get the ruling elders there but a parliamentary procedure to challenge a vote so that the parity of the two different groups of elders can be considered. The proposed addition to the Form of Government is:

2.13 In order to promote the unity, peace, purity, and prosperity of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, presbyters have the right to invoke “Parity Challenge” at all prebytery [sic] and General Synod meetings. A “Parity Challenge” may be called as a point of order immediately after any action of the court. When challenge is called, the court’s action is delayed until subsequent, immediate votes are taken of both elders and ministers by group. A simple majority vote of both groups is required for the challenged action to stand, otherwise the challenged action is revoked.

Seems like a creative way to handle an imbalance in elders but not sure how that discussion will go. (If anyone at the meeting wants to report back on this business item I would be interested in the arguments on each side.) If nothing else, I will put it in the polity book I am writing. 😉

So, in the midst of this General Synod we pray for their deliberations and look forward to hearing how they are guided by the Holy Spirit in their business.

 

2017 General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Ireland

bushAt this point it seems a bit like juggling where you keep adding one more ball to the collection that are in the air. It started with the OPC General Assembly. Add the 143rd GA of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Today we add the next one…

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland convened their 2017 General Assembly in Belfast a little while ago with a worship service and the installation of the new Moderator, the Right Rev Dr Noble McNeely. The Assembly runs through Friday 9 June. With the meeting under way here is some info to help follow along:

  • The live stream is embedded in the main Assembly page and further down the page a few of the streaming highlights for the week and even further down a summary docket of report dates and times.
  • The special Wednesday evening program is themed “Everyday Disciples” – the new Moderator’s theme for the year – and will be live streamed. In addition, following the Assembly’s adjournment there will be the traditional Youth Night on Saturday evening, which will also be live streamed. It’s theme is “(UN) Faithful – A faithful God and His unfaithful people, lessons from Hosea
  • More background for the Assembly can be found on the Assembly Resources page and the reports coming to the Assembly can be viewed individually on the Reports Page or as a whole by downloading the Blue Book.
  • The polity documents include the main document, The Code, as well as the helpful A Guide to Assembly Procedure.
  • The News page will carry official press releases and news items including the pre-Assembly press release which contains a rundown of the major moments and business at the Assembly this year.

There are plenty of social media contact points for the Assembly, beginning with the official Twitter account @PCIAssembly which always provides a detailed and comprehensive report of the Assembly. Please note the comprehensive part, because the level of detail can make the feed very busy. This is generally a good thing but you have been warned that the number of tweets will be very high. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) The official moderator’s feed at @PCIModerator has become a great source as well. We will see if Rev. McNeely tweets during GA and how much he shares in his moderatorial year. (He does have an almost unused personal feed @mcneelynoble, but I don’t think we will see much there this week, or maybe even this year.) The official hashtag for the Assembly is #pciga17. And it is worth keeping an eye on the PCI Facebook page as well.

Other ministries of the church that have Twitter accounts are Presbyterian Women (@PWinIreland), Mission Ireland (@MissionIreland) and PCI Global Missions (@PCIOverseas). Fair warning that I have included the latter two only for the sake of completeness, but they have been dormant for a while.

The other set of social media contacts to keep an eye on are those related to the Youth Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. They can be followed at a couple of different Twitter handles including the Youth Assembly account for PCI SPUD (@pcispud), and the Youth and Children’s Ministry account @PCIYAC. They have previously hosted Fringe Events and you can watch their Facebook page to see what they might be up to this year.

My list of others to watch for interesting and useful updates always starts with outside reporter and insightful commentator Alan in Belfast (@alaninbelfast). He has indicated that he won’t be around the GA as much this year, but still worth keeping an eye on his feed. For those active in leadership in the church I would point to former Moderator Rob Craig (@RobCraig54) and Cheryl Meban (@cherylmeban) who is active with WCRC and PCI board leadership. So far there seems to be potential from Stuart Morrow (@stuart_morrow), Niall Lockhart (@BallyhenryPres) and Ballygilbert Church (@ballygilbert). And while the PCI does not send a representative to Edinburgh for the Church of Scotland GA, the Kirk Moderator is present at this Assembly and tweeting @ChurchModerator. Will update with others as appropriate. UPDATE: To this list I would add Peter Bovill (@peterbovill) as he had been actively contributing to the feed. And while I have not seen him on the GA feed, please note the recommendation in the comments below for ongoing comments about the PCI.)

In looking at the business of the Assembly a few reports caught my eye. One of these is from the Council for Congregational Life and Witness. In looking at fostering revival in the denomination they are presenting the goal as Fruitfulness and many of the actions in agricultural terms. For example, one of the action items is “Clearing the ground for fruitfulness – Asking the hard questions.” I am encouraged when the stage is set to realize there are no easy answers and that change, particularly rebuilding from a biblical foundation, is called for. A consideration that plays into this and which is mentioned in multiple reports is the decline in those training for the ministry. (see the Council for Training in Ministry report) Another interesting report is the on Relationships with Other Denominations which is Appendix 3 in the General Council Report (starting on the 107th page in the Blue Book). One of the denominations discussed is the relationship with the Church of Scotland and it’s trajectory (and that is the word used in the report). The report also contains the PCI position on human sexuality and marriage (page 114). And the report presents a possible path to work through the differences in the section titled Principles for Pursuing Mutual Reform. It will certainly be an interesting discussion.

As always, our prayers are with the Assembly and the Moderator for the work ahead and their discernment and guidance by the Holy Spirit. We look forward to following their work.

143rd General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Canada

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)We may be in the single busiest week of this year’s General Assembly Season – again with two live streams – and with one GA in progress now the second of the week, the 143rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, is just about to get started.

The first sederunt of the Assembly has just begin with worship and installation of the Moderator, and the meeting will continue through Wednesday 7 June, 2017. It is being hosted by the Presbytery of Kingston and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Opening worship will be at the church and the business sessions will be in the gym of the Athletic and Recreation Centre at Queen’s University.

A few things to know to help follow along:

  • There will live streaming of the Assembly meetings and they are typically archived afterward
  • From the GA 2017 page you can download the full and final Book of Reports. The daily schedule is found on page A-1 (the 5th page) of the packet and a more detailed docket begins on page C-1 (the 11th page in the packet). The Supplementary Reports is available there as well. Also downloadable from that page is a good Summary of Reports piece that gives an overview of the meeting.
  • Official news updates are available on the news feed. While we will miss the reporting from the Presbyterian Record, which ceased publication in December, we can probably expect follow-up after the meeting in the new PC Connect e-newsletter.
  • I anticipate there will be daily GA Briefings and probably video recordings of the sederunts posted regularly. The Briefings, a summary of each sederunt, will probably be are available on the GA 2017 page and the videos archived on the Live Stream Page.
  • The General Assembly Resources page is where you will find the important doctrine and governance documents including the Book of Forms and a link to the Acts and Proceedings page.

The theme for the meeting is “Yesterday, Today, Forever”, taken from the phrase in Hebrews 13:8.

The Assembly can be followed on social media through the PCConnect Facebook page and through their official Twitter feed @PCConnect. The hastag for the meeting is #pccga2017. The Presbyterian Record Flickr feed is still there but not clear it it will be updated. Let’s see if anything appears there or watch the Facebook page. UPDATE: Yes, there are pictures but they are on the PC Connect Flickr feed – sorry to overlook that in the original post.

In early Twitter action I would point to Jeff Loach (@passionatelyhis) (but he may be too busy at the front table) and Scott McAndless (@A_Nobel_Theme) who appears to be blogging the GA. I have not included some of the usual suspects as I don’t know their status but will update as things get rolling. UPDATE: A number of individuals with great Twitter feeds this week beginning with First Presbyterian Brockville (@first_kirk) who has a nice play-by-play going. Add to that, in no particular order, Matthew Ruttan (@MatthewRuttan), Jacqui Foxall (@JacquiFoxall), Kristine O’Brien (@bloomingrev), and Curtis Wilson (@CurtisWilson4). Thanks to all of you for your efforts on social media for the Assembly.

Again this year a closely watched item is the joint Committee on Church Doctrine (CCD) and Life and Mission Agency (LMA) report with the follow up from last year’s discussion on human sexuality. The 16 recommendations they are bringing can be divided into three general groups: 1) Two “substantive scriptural studies.” One leads to the conclusion that Bible supports the current stance of the subordinate standards; the other argues for a revision to the understanding concerning human sexuality and marriage in particular. These are presented for study and prayerful consideration. 2) Acknowledging that the members of the church have “consulted in good faith” this past year but “recognize that the church has failed to fulfill the resolution ‘to listen to and share the very real pain of homosexuals and their families’ that was adopted by the PCC in 1994 and failed in its call ‘to be a welcoming, nurturing, loving and supportive community.'” and 3) A proposal from the LMA to produce a new study on marriage but in the interim to allow clergy to bless, or not bless, civil marriages according to their conscience. Besides the reports volume there is a Guide to Understanding Reports about Sexuality. [Will automatically download a PDF.] Business related to Sexuality Overtures is docketed for various presentations and times of discernment throughout the days of the meeting and the recommendations and docketed groups are in the Guide linked above.

There are a number of other important business items at the meeting. Many committees and agencies will be reporting on their actions related to the new strategic plan approved by the last GA. The Committee on Church Doctrine will also be presenting a resource on Physician Assisted Suicide. A couple related reports deal with the review of the Pensions Plan and its solvency. An overture last year asked for a study to address the reasons for the decline of the church. In their response the Life and Mission Agency says “Decline is a complex issue and while we can speak in generalities, it is impossible to point to any one thing or factor the church must address in order to reverse the decline. In our current cultural context, all bodies of the church have a collective responsibility to equip the whole people of God to work towards renewal.” They go on and recommend ways to develop Visionary Leadership and Empowering People and Congregations for Ministry as well as recommend resources.

So prayers and best wishes for the members of the 143rd General Assembly and as they address issues so important to the future witness of the church. May you indeed by guided by the Holy Spirit in these substantive matters of witness and ministry.

84th General Assembly Of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church

210px-OrthodoxPresbyterianChurchlogoThe 84th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church will convene today, Wednesday, 31 May, in just a couple hours at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois. The meeting will conclude no later than noon next Tuesday, 6 June.

This GA does not have live streaming but we usually have the next best thing: There is a tradition of very well done running daily reports for the OPC GA and expecting the tradition to continue watch this page when the assembly gets under way.

The agenda and reports are not posted on-line but you can access the Book of Church Order and the Standing Rules and Instruments of GA if you need background material. There is also a collection of reports from previous GA’s and it is possible that last year’s report on Republication might be the topic of some additional discussion this year.

The OPC has elected to keep a perpetual hashtag for their meeting (no sticking a year or GA number in there) so it should once again be #OPCGA. In terms of who to follow let me list the usual suspects and update once things get rolling.  The list would include Ryan Cook (@ryanlawdawg), “Toad” (@oldprinceton), and Rachel Stevenson (@whatshewrote). It is probably worth keeping an eye on D. G. Hart’s feed (@oldlife), maybe The Daily Genevan (@TheDailyGenevan) will have more, and @chortlesweakly has been commenting in the lead-up to the meeting. Will also include one of their denominational associations, NAPARC.

Since reports and detailed agendas are not available to anyone but the commissioners, it is difficult to highlight any particular business items that will be coming to the Assembly in advance of it being considered on the floor. I would simply pass along the blog post from Rev. Todd Smith at Faith Bible OPC, Brick, NJ, who mentions two items for his congregation to pray about. The first is a number of judicial cases and appeals that the Assembly will have to render judgement upon this week. As that is done in closed session we can expect to hear almost nothing further on that. The second is a concern for a denomination that they are in fraternal relations with which is considering changes to their ordination standards to include the ordination of women. I suspect we will hear more of that as the week progresses.

So prayers for the teaching and ruling elders of the OPC as they spend a week reflecting on what the Spirit is doing in their branch and their discernment of the future. May you indeed discern God’s will in your decision making.

PC(USA) Membership Numbers For 2016

A couple of days ago the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released the summary of statistics for 2016 and the corresponding narrative. This does of course provide new data points for my growing data set and gives me an opportunity for some statistical analysis which is, for me, a “source of innocent merriment.”

On the one hand, it is tempting to just tell you that if you read my analyses from the last couple of years you can move on since there is really nothing new in this year’s numbers. The bottom line is just about the same as 2015 and 2014 – number of churches down 2.0% and membership down 5.7%. OK, you are welcome to move on now if you want.

On the other hand, the commentary – some might refer to it as the spin – from the OGA invokes their new slogan, motto, mantra, tag line, I am not sure what they are calling it, regarding the PC(USA) that “We are not dying, we are Reforming.” There is an interesting statistical facet on that so in the second part I will drill down into that a bit.

But first, let’s run the numbers. Here is what I have for the last 24 years:

Year Num Churches Num Change % Change Num Members Num Change % Change
1993 11,416 -40 -0.3% 2,742,192 -38,214 -1.4%
1994 11,399 -17 -0.1% 2,698,262 -43,930 -1.6%
1995 11,361 -38 -0.3% 2,665,276 -32,986 -1.2%
1996 11,328 -33 -0.3% 2,631,466 -33,810 -1.3%
1997 11,295 -33 -0.3% 2,609,191 -22,275 -0.8%
1998 11,260 -35 -0.3% 2,587,674 -21,517 -0.8%
1999 11,216 -44 -0.4% 2,560,201 -27,473 -1.1%
2000 11,178 -38 -0.3% 2,525,330 -34,871 -1.4%
2001 11,141 -37 -0.3% 2,493,781 -31,549 -1.2%
2002 11,097 -44 -0.4% 2,451,969 -41,812 -1.7%
2003 11,064 -33 -0.3% 2,405,311 -46,658 -1.9%
2004 11,019 -45 -0.4% 2,362,136 -43,175 -1.8%
2005 10,959 -60 -0.5% 2,313,662 -48,474 -2.1%
2006 10,903 -56 -0.5% 2,267,118 -46,544 -2.0%
2007 10,820 -83 -0.8% 2,209,546 -57,572 -2.5%
2008 10,751 -69 -0.6% 2,140,165 -69,381 -3.1%
2009 10,657 -94 -0.9% 2,077,138 -63,027 -2.9%
2010 10,560 -97 -0.9% 2,016,091 -61,047 -2.9%
2011 10,466 -94 -0.9% 1,952,287 -63,804 -3.2%
2012 10,262 -204 -1.9% 1,849,496 -102,791 -5.3%
2013 10,038 -224 -2.2% 1,760,200 -89,296 -4.8%
2014 9,829 -209 -2.1% 1,667,767 -92,433 -5.2%
2015 9,642 -187 -1.9% 1,572,660 -95,107 -5.7%
2016 9,451 -191 -2.0% 1,482,767 -89,893 -5.7%

So what have we got? Both the number of churches and the number of members had a somewhat consistent decline for the first part of this time period through about 2004. The membership decline was creeping up but still hung below 2%/year. The rate of decline in the number of congregations was much more stable hanging a bit below 0.2%/year. Both then show a bit of a acceleration up to 2011 with the rate of church decline rising to just below 1%/year and the membership decline rising to a bit over 3%/year. Then in 2012 there was a rapid increase to a plateau that continues in the 2016 data. The rate of decline of the number of congregations has been right around 2.0%/year, the number for 2016, and the decline in total membership has generally been above 5%/year, with the 2016 number at 5.7%, a tie with the previous year for highest rate in the time period.

It is a bit interesting to see the headline of the narrative from the OGA: “PC(USA) membership decline continues but slows.” The answer to this headline is a bit of yes, and no. They are correct that in terms of net numbers the membership loss in 2016 is the lowest that it has been in three years. Good news? Not really, because as noted above the decreasing total membership number means there are fewer members to lose so the net number is magnified and the rate of decline, as expressed in percentage loss, is actually among the highest it has been.

Moving on, let me make some comments based on the slogan “We are not dying. We are Reforming.”

One important aspect of this is that the annual statistical reports and these summary statistics are more and more missing a developing component of the denomination. These reports reflect traditional congregations, but the PC(USA) is developing New Worshiping Communities which are not in the reports. While not yet substantial enough to offset the significant losses in the traditional congregations they do reflect one of the ways the denomination is trying to reform itself.

The second aspect, and one of the reasons I have posted the long timeline above, is what is happening to the denomination with the membership changes. Going back to 2000 I have the reports on categories of membership gains and losses. Members are gained through transfer, affirmation of faith, and “other.” Similarly, losses are counted in transfers to other churches, transfer to the Church Triumphant (id est, deaths), and again, the ever popular “other.” In the case of losses this can generally be though of as people who walk out the door and don’t come back.

So, at the end of 2000 the PC(USA) counted 2,525,330 members. In the intervening 16 years they gained 328,519 members by affirmation of faith of those 17 and younger. There were gains of 638,308 from affirmation of faith of those 18 and older. From transfers in it was 444,527 members gained and from other it was 200,440. So the total new members received in those 16 years was 1,611,794.

Going the other way, 573,098 were transferred to churches in other denominations, 528,030 joined the Church Triumphant, and 1,553,301 are in the other category. The total losses were 2,654,429. It is interesting to note that this is just slightly higher than the total membership in 2000. There is not much that can be done to stop, or induce to come back to church, the members lost to death, so the losses from transfers and walking away are 2,126,399.

My point, related to the reforming aspect, is that with turnover of this magnitude the PC(USA) of 2016 is not the same PC(USA) of 2000. That is not to say that aren’t some of those members from 2000 still around. But it must be acknowledged that unless there are a lot of people who leave and return the number that flow through the denomination is fairly high. (And I would note that there are some of the leave and return, as evidenced in my own church when there is a pastoral transition.)

If you want a graphical depiction of how this develops with time, here is one that I put together. It is a bit simplistic because all losses come out of the year 2000 total membership (the “Base Membership” in the figure). And at any given time the total membership of the PC(USA) would be the Base Membership plus the Members Added – the top edge of the orange indicated by the arrow on the right side of the figure.

It is a simple first-order model but it helps to show the interplay of the gains and losses how the losses build up with time. There is significant membership flow and so membership turnover is one way the PC(USA) is reforming.

To really consider the membership dynamics a more multidimensional model is needed that considers losses in both categories and that some gains may be individuals in a previous year’s losses. If I find some time I might play around a bit with modeling this with more parameters. Definitely would make losses proportional between the Base Membership and the Members Added. Maybe add a bit of reentry into membership from the Other and Transfer Losses. And if the demographics of the latest Presbyterian Panel are reported some estimate could be made of the retention time in the denomination. (Yes, there is a reason this is starting to sound like an aquifer model.)

I will note in closing that on a first look I see no changes in trends in this year’s numbers compared to the last few years. One interesting trend that continues is the increase in the number of candidates ( 2014 – 562; 2015 – 632; 2016 – 653) and the decrease in the number of ordinations ( 2014 – 292; 2015 – 249; 2016 – 215). Watching the Church of Scotland General Assembly this week they have a number of empty charges (id est, called positions) and mentioned this over-supply in the PC(USA) as a possible source of trained pastors.

And so we look forward to the release of the detailed comparative statistics in the fall to get a better breakdown on some of these summary numbers. But for now, at least as I read the reported numbers, it appears to be a bit of status quo in the PC(USA).

Stay tuned…

And now back to our regularly scheduled General Assembly tracking.

2017 General Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland

Church_of_Scotland_LogoThe GA season is about to get busy…

Tomorrow morning the 2017 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will convene in Edinburgh for their annual week-long meeting. This is the mother church for us Presbyterians and while we now have a number of branches – the good old “split-P’s” – the Kirk can trace their Assemblies back to the original one in 1560.

So if you are interested in keeping track of the business and activities this year, here are the starting points:

  • There will be live streaming of the proceedings and you can connect to the stream appropriate for your device from the media page.
  • Most of the Documents pertaining to the Assembly are linked from the General Assembly Publications page. This includes the Proceedings and Reports volumes, known as the Blue Book in several different electronic formats including the traditional PDF as well as MOBI and EPUB formats for your eReaders. There is also a separate Order of Proceedings. The Daily Papers will contain late-breaking changes and 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. This web page also used to have the useful “An Introduction to Practice and Procedure of the Church of Scotland” but it was being revised and seems to have disappeared. While dated, I have a copy of the 2009 Third Edition available from my Resources Site.
  • A brief order of the docketed events and reports can be found on the General Assembly 2017 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.
  • UPDATE: There is also an official photo gallery of the Assembly

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 #ga2017. 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. And the incoming Moderator, the Rev. Derek Browning, can be followed at his personal account, @DerekBrowning2. Similarly, the Church of Scotland Youth will likely be tweeting at @cosy_nya and the official account for the NYA Moderator, currently Andrew MacPherson, 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.

I add to this list a semi-official account: I would expect the curated account Church Scotland Voices with weekly rotating contributors at @churchscovoices to be active at GA. And worth mentioning the Kirk innovative ministry incubator, Go For It (@GoForItCofS)

In suggesting personal accounts to follow, let me start with three past Moderators of the General Assembly. The first is the Very Reverend Lorna Hood who is always an interesting read at @revlornascot and has been very active the past few years with projects related to Srebrenica justice and remembrance and this past year has served on the Commission on Parliamentary Reform (@ParlyReform). The second is the Very Reverend Albert Bogle at @italker who has been getting some recent traction with the Sanctuary First ministry (@sanctuaryfirst) and whose charge is now related to online church. Finally, the Very Reverend Angus Morrison (@angusmorrison6) is an interesting and entertaining read and frequently tweets in Gaelic.

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 Andrew Harris (@aharris2729) . Another who will probably weigh in, whether or not he is in Edinburgh, is Glasgow theologian Douglas Gay (@DougGay). Earlier this spring, in his three-part Chalmers Lectures, he presented some interesting ideas regarding the future of the church and how it might consider restructuring. I will update with more as the Assembly gets under way. (Well worth watching, by the way.)

UPDATE: Found that Peter Nimmo is now able to make the Assembly this year but still worth keeping an eye on his remote observations. Yes, @ChurchScoVoices is being curated by an Assembly commissioner, Scott Paget (@smpaget). Another interesting follow is Marc Falconer (@marcfalconer81) who is also blogging the meeting. And two others there an providing good insight and substantive updates are Louis Kinsey (@louiskinsey) and Paul Middleton (@DrPaulMiddleton).

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 “Word of Life,” a theme that has extended to the Assembly as a whole. It is reflected on the cover of the Blue Book and in advance of the meeting groups are encouraged to post a picture to social media with the hashtag #wordoflife. And again this year there will be link-ups with concurrent local Heart and Soul events throughout Scotland. The hashtag for the event will be #heartandsoul but it is worth noting that neither it, nor #wordoflife, are exclusive to this use. There are other fringe events throughout the week, including a public Speak Out event on Wednesday night in advance of the upcoming general election in the UK.

Concerning the business before the Assembly there is a nice summary of each report on the Life and Work site. Two items have hit the news in the days leading up to the Assembly. The first is the report of the Theological Forum, An Approach to the Theology of Same-Sex Marriage. The report presents the opinion that a theological basis does not exist to prohibit pastors from conducting same-sex marriages and recommends that the issue be sent to the Legal Questions Committee for action at a future GA. It also has as part of its deliverance to “Invite the Church to take stock of its history of discrimination at different levels and in different ways against gay people and to apologise individually and corporately and seek to do better.” The second item is a Joint Report on the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration. The document encourages all parties to work for a just peace in the region and recommends engaging with the Kairos Palestine document. While the report seeks to be balanced and honest about the history of the area, as with other statements about seeking peace in the area not all observers are positive about this report. The Theological Forum report will be the last one on Thursday and the Balfour Centenary is in the middle of the order of reports on Monday.

Lots of other interesting items coming up this year so have a look at the summaries. One that caught my attention is that the Assembly Arrangements Committee is planning to not just live stream the Assembly but to post the recordings for later viewing. The GA Junkies who, like me, are on the other side of the world thank you. [ed. note: And as a preview of coming attractions, I am seriously considering covering GA week in Edinburgh next year in person.]

So here we go as the busy part of General Assembly Season gets underway. There are more coming up in a couple days so there will be no shortage of options.

As for the Church of Scotland and all my friends there, and especially to the (almost) Rt. Rev. Browning, know that you have my prayers for your deliberations and public witness in the coming week. I look forward to watching every minute, even if by “tape delay.”

General Assembly Season 2017

It is May 1st – Already? We have once again returned to the date on my calendar that marks the beginning of the General Assembly Season. Where has the time gone?

This is simply the list – further detail will be necessary on a number of important and interesting items of business that will come before the GA’s this year.

As always, this is the line-up as I know it – I will update as I clarify additional Assembly and Synod meetings.

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62nd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Taiwan
18-21 April 2017

 

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Synod
The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
2-4 May 2017
Mt. Druitt, N.S.W.

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Tasmania
16 May 2017 (begins)

 

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General Assembly
Church of Scotland
20-26 May 2017
Edinburgh

 

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
22-25 May, 2017
Edinburgh

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland
22-25 May 2017
Edinburgh

 

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General Assembly
United Free Church of Scotland
31 May – 2 June 2017
Perth

 

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84th General Assembly
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
31 May – 6 June 2017
Trinity Christian College
Palos Heights, Illinois

 

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)143rd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Canada
4-7 June 2017
Queen’s University
Kingston, Ontario

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
5-9 June 2017
Belfast

 

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213th Stated Meeting of the General Synod
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
6-8 June 2017
Bonclarken
Flat Rock, North Carolina

 


45th General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in America
12-16 June 2017
Greensboro, North Carolina

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Queensland
18-22 June 2017
Fairholme College Toowoomba
Toowoomba
Note: The Presbyterian Church of South Australia will not hold an Assembly again this year and operates as a presbytery of PCQ

 

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142nd General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America
18-21 June 2017
Innisbrook Resort
Tampa, Florida
Concurrent with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church

 

cplogosmallwithtext200x200187th General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church
18-23 June 2017
Innisbrook Resort
Tampa, Florida
Concurrent with Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America


37th General Assembly
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
20-23 June 2017
Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church
Fair Oaks, California

 

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186th Synod
Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
28-30 June 2017
Indiana Wesleyan University
Marion, Indiana

 

 

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N.S.W. State Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Australia
in the State of New South Wales

3 July 2017 (begins)
Croydon, N.S.W.

 

NYA_0National Youth Assembly
Church of Scotland
21-24 July 2017
Stirlingshire
(Technically not a governing
body, but still an Assembly I track)

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81st General Synod
Bible Presbyterian Church
3-7 August 2017
Edmonton BPC, Edmonton, Alberta

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Victoria
9 – 13 October 2017

 

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Western Australia
27 October 2017

 

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

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

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

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

Yes, what started as a six part series expanded into seven completed articles with two more unfinished ones (still) in the queue.

And finally, on to the ridiculous. Lest we take ourselves too seriously, a couple years ago I had a little fun with the General Assembly and in the post passed along the GA drinking game and GA Bingo. In addition, Allan Edwards has posted an alternate Bingo card reflecting the polity of the Presbyterian Church in America and Neil MacLennan has created one that reflects the idiosyncrasies of the Church of Scotland. Please play responsibly. 😉

One other thing is that you may have noticed a new tab on the top navigation bar for a Calendar of Presbyterian and Reformed General Assemblies, Synods and Other Events. I have just begun to populate it but hope that within the week I will have most of the items in this post, plus a few more, entered into that calendar. It is an attempt to provide a resource for those times when someone asks about a GA date well before my May 1 date for publishing this list.

So GA Junkies, go for it. It is GA season so enjoy! May you have an exciting experience over the next few months of watching us do things decently and in order!

The Curious Case Of The Kuyper Prize

So apparently the tent is not that big…

But I am getting ahead of myself here.

First, in case you need the elevator pitch on what is happening, Princeton Theological Seminary announced that the Abraham Kuyper Lecture would be delivered by a Presbyterian pastor of some note, the Rev. Timothy Keller who is about to retire as the senior pastor of a church in New York City. A bit of a ruckus arose because TE Keller is apparently not the right type of Presbyterian pastor – it turns out that he is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America. An initial attempt by the President of PTS, TE Craig Barnes, to explain the situation apparently did not help and so, with the gracious consent of both the Kuyper Committee and TE Keller the prize will not be awarded this year but in the interest of academic freedom and hearing a variety of voices Mr. Keller will still give the lecture.

When I initially heard about the prize I must admit that I was a bit surprised at the choice of Tim Keller. On the one hand, considering the description of the prize is:

The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is awarded each year to a scholar or community leader whose outstanding contribution to their chosen sphere reflects the ideas and values characteristic of the Neo-Calvinist vision of religious engagement in matters of social, political and cultural significance in one or more of the ‘spheres’ of society. A condition of the Prize is that the recipient deliver a lecture on a topic appropriate to the aims of the Center. This lecture normally opens the annual spring conference, which is usually on a related theme.

Tim Keller – with his pastoral and missiology work – has easily done this. He founded, developed and put a program of expansion in place for church planting in an urban setting. If you want a statistic here, his multi-site congregation is roughly half the size of the combined total of the 101 PC(USA) congregations around him in New York City Presbytery. He has left a mark on Manhattan of “social, political and cultural significance.” On the other hand, my jaw dropped a bit at the chutzpah of a unit of PTS inviting a Presbyterian of another flavor to give the lecture knowing that he did not share some of what are becoming essential tenets of the modern PC(USA). It was no surprise to me that the controversy broke out.

Several strong voices of opposition appeared on the internet regarding the decision and how TE Keller was a part of a religious tradition that, while Presbyterian in governance, did not model the inclusiveness now expected in the PC(USA) and at its seminaries. Exempli gratia: Carol Howard Merritt, Traci Smith, and a faculty, staff and alumni online petition.

On the other hand, I was appreciative of the Kuyper Center reaching out to TE Keller and although I understand the motivation behind the criticism I was saddened to see such a strong reaction. I will not deny his overall theological views and their incompatibility with the modern mainline, but I want to take a few steps back and consider all this in a wider temporal and spacial context. A few points came to mind.

First, the topic of the lecture is not about what we as American Presbyterians disagree on but on something which we share regarding the social impact of the church. I believe that the walls that American Presbyterians have put up in the name of orthodoxy do a disservice to the proclamation of the Gospel and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. (I sometimes wonder if we are a bit too much like an award winning heretic joke.)

Second, Tim Keller seems like a reasonable leader for those in the PC(USA) to reach out to if the point is to develop this dialog. Within each denomination the membership is spread across a range of opinions on any given issue and it is helpful to remember that within the PCA there are some who became a part of it when the Reformed Presbyterian Evangelical Synod merged with the PCA in 1982 and those from the RPES gave up their ordination of women. While TE Keller did not come in through that branch, his church has been the target of criticism for having deaconesses serving along side deacons in the church leadership. As the PC(USA) knows very well, church beliefs evolve and maybe an evolution will be seen in the PCA’s stance with time. And I dare say, we acknowledge there are those within the PC(USA) who do not affirm the latest moves towards inclusiveness and might there actually be a few individuals who are still not fully in favor of the ordination of women?

Finally, what does this controversy say to PC(USA) ecumenical partners, many in Latin America and Africa who still do not ordain women? Is this saying, there are certain non-negotiables in what we say presbyterianism means and you don’t fit it? Or is this broadcasting a double standard for what it means to be an American Presbyterian versus a global Presbyterian?

I should probably finish by saying there has been a lot of criticism of PTS for the flip-flop and to a wider audience I suspect the perception is turning out more negative than positive. Again, Exempli gratia: Owen Strachan, Denny Burk, and Rod Dreher. In the mainstream media there are stories from the Washington Times and the Deseret News picked up the RNS story. And it appears in Abrahan Kuyper’s homeland a Dutch news site has picked it up as well.

And so with that, we will see how this all goes. One commentator has even noted that Abraham Kuyper would not qualify for the prize named for him under these new unwritten expectations.

So how large is the tent? Hang on to your hats as we try to find out.

Brief Comment On The Central (now Alps Road) Presbyterian Church Decision, Athens, Georgia – The Exception That Proves The Rule

I began my previous property post on the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church court arguments with the reference to the cliché “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” This is a very apt phrase to keep in mind when dealing with church property cases because the law varies significantly between states and each case has its own particular circumstances. Earlier this month we got a very good example of this in a court decision from Athens, Georgia.

Being in Georgia the hierarchical church gets strong support as laid out in the 2011 state supreme court decision of Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Inc. v. Timberridge Presbyterian Church, Inc. (Timberridge decision). The court wrote in the conclusion:

Like the trial court, we conclude that neutral principles of law demonstrate that an implied trust in favor of the PCUSA exists on the local church’s property to which TPC Inc. holds legal title. See Barber, 274 Ga. at 359; Crumbley, 243 Ga. at 345. The Court of Appeals erred in concluding to the contrary.

The critical word in that block is “implied,” sort of like “if you are a PC(USA) church than the trust clause applies to you – end of story.” Very few states have given this level of deference to hierarchical churches. But the latest decision shows that it is not necessarily that simple and it is probably best to wait on analysis until you have the data.

In the case of Central Presbyterian Church, now Alps Road Presbyterian Church, a decision was handed down earlier this month that made a preliminary award of the property to the congregation. [And our thanks to The Layman for posting a copy of the decision.] The difference in this case is the strong documentary evidence that from the highest levels of the PCUS and then PC(USA) the understanding was that the trust clause was a theological understanding. The section begins with this:

Testimony showed that CPC believed that its property rights were not going to be affected by the reunion (or by any amendments to the PCUS constitution pre-dating the 1983 merger containing similar trust language). This belief was informed by a 1981 letter written by Rev. James Andrews, the Stated Clerk of the PCUS at that time, regarding a similar trust clause proposed by PCUS. The letter stated that the new trust clause in the PCUS constitution would not change the Presbyterian Church’s historical position on property. He writes, “These amendments do not in any way change the fact that the congregation, in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., owns its own property.” (Aff. Parker Williamson, Ex. I). In 1982, Rev. Andrews affirmed the denomination’s position in a report to all of the PCUS commissioners. The report reads, “The language dealing with trust does not in any way establish any kind of an encumbrance on church property as that term is understood in connection with real estate.” (Aff. Parker Williamson, Ex. K)

These communications, while not speaking directly to the PCUSA trust clause but
rather to the PCUS trust clause, are very important because in the Articles of Agreement
between PCUS and UPCUSA, PCUSA stated its intention to be bound by the representations
of its predecessor denominations. (Aff. Parker Williamson, Ex. G)

And that is just the start of that section.

The court clearly needed to address the Timberridge decision and how it relates to this one. The flavor of that finding is evident in the opening lines and since you know the bottom line of the case you can probably figure where the section goes from here:

In this case, there is a sharp conflict in the evidence as to the PCUSA mode of government (unlike in Timberridge where the parties agreed that the PCUSA was hierarchical). Petitioners presented evidence suggesting that the PCUSA structure of government is a hybrid congregational-hierarchical structure. Respondent’s witness testified that the PCUSA is hierarchical with a representational form of government.

Bottom line – take these property cases one at a time based on their own merits. Corollary – who knows what interesting material from American Presbyterian history may come to light in doing so. It will be interesting if we see more of those James Andrews quotes in the future.

I will leave it at that for today. From what I have been tracking there is a lot more property stuff in the pipeline and we will see where all this leads.

Stay tuned…

Musings On The News Report Of The First Presbyterian Church Of Bethlehem Property Arguments Yesterday

Once again, in the “where angels fear to tread” territory, I wanted to muse a bit and post some brief comments on the arguments in the Northampton County Court (PA) yesterday between the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Lehigh Presbytery, and the minority “stay” group.

The article from The Morning Call of Allentown is titled “Court arguments reveal deep divide in First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem.”

I am going to cast this in the light of the most recent case law for Presbyterian disputes over property in Pennsylvania right now, the 2014 Peters Creek decision.

And with those two inputs, maybe there is something appropriate to Mark Twain’s quip “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”

Now, it is worth noting that these were oral arguments to decide if this case needs to go to a full trial. The article quotes Judge Baratta as saying:

“I really would hate to render a decision at some point that’s going to hurt members of the community in matters of faith,” Baratta said. “If you’re getting close to a resolution I will do whatever I can to work with you, to push you over that line. But please, consider, 10 years from now when you look back on this, it may not be as difficult an issue as it is today.”

The argument from the majority of FPC Bethlehem is that the deeds do not mention the denomination and the church never explicitly accepted the PC(USA) Trust Clause. The judge responded “So you’re saying they didn’t really mean all of the Book of Order … only the parts they liked?” The majority’s lawyer responded that was an ecclesiastical question and not the scope of the civil courts. The judge replied that it could be looked at under neutral principles.

I must presume the judge has done his homework on this one. Part of the Peters Creek decision was laying out the boundaries of the neutral principles and the trust law related to the church trust clause. Under that decision it seems clear to me (reference Twain quote above) this court can deal with the property issue. Also under the Peters Creek decision a formal acceptance of the trust is not necessary but actions that would acknowledge PC(USA) ties and thus by inclusion the trust – like saying you are a PC(USA) church in your bylaws and charter and accepting the current Book of Order – are enough to demonstrate implicit acceptance of the trust clause. The decision quotes an earlier Presbyterian property decision that says (p. 19)

“In order for a court to find that a trust has been created, there must exist in the record clear and unambiguous language or conduct evidencing the intent to create a trust. No particular form of words or conduct is required to manifest the intention to create a trust. Such manifestation of intention may be written or spoken words or conduct indicating that settlor intended to create a trust.”

While a final decision in this matter would involve the close examination and history of the church’s bylaws, charter and property documents, the exchange between the judge and the lawyer is telling and may suggest that FPCB has a bit of an uphill battle on this.

But the initial questioning of the Presbytery’s lawyer was no less problematic. That revolved around the precedent that had been set and why three other churches were dismissed with property but FPCB has not yet been dismissed. The response was that a mutual agreement was reached in the other cases but was unable to be reached here. As noted above, the judge clearly hopes that something can be negotiated in this case and that it will not go to trial.

The lawyer for the minority was apparently there, according to the information in the article, to report back to the judge that while his initial order from November required the two groups to share the space the minority group had been running into problems with some of its activities.

My thanks to The Morning Call and their correspondent Sarah Wojcik for a good article. It is objective, balanced and tells the story with direct quotes while providing a reasonable national context for what is happening within Lehigh Presbytery.

But this was a preliminary hearing and to apply the situation in this case against the standard laid out in Peters Creek will require more documentation and that will come as admitted evidence if this does go to trial. From the little that was reported on from yesterday’s court appearances I would think the advantage goes to the presbytery but it is far to early to say that with any high degree of confidence.

So a decision, should one be necessary, should come within 90 days. The judge hopes this can be settled before then. As with much of what I discuss…

Stay tuned.