Category Archives: seminary

You Keep Using That Word…

[Prefatory note: Yes, it has indeed been almost two months since I last posted here, a full month beyond my planned quiet period. While I have several articles in draft form that I want to complete I have been busy on a couple of other fronts that has taken time away from my writing. I am hoping to be a bit more regular for the next few months. In addition, I have a large data acquisition and analysis project related to my Big Tent series that has been where I have dedicated my blogging hours. We will see where that goes.]

Today was one of those days where I ran across something that hit one of my sensitive nerves, raised my blood pressure and sent me to the keyboard to vent. It was an online article from the Presbyterian Outlook titled “Distance education: Seminary comes to you.” It is overall an interesting article from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary – and not from the Outlook staff – that talks about distance learning, particularly for those that don’t traditionally attend seminary. The lede begins with a quote from back in May from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), RE Heath Rada:

Recently Heath Rada, moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), asked, “How might the denomination use the seminaries more effectively? . . . Could the training of commissioned ruling elders be moved under the seminaries’ oversight? Might a renewed emphasis on education of the laity be incorporated into the curricula of these schools in ways that could incite enthusiasm throughout our denomination in new ways?” The University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (UDTS) has been asking just these sorts of questions for the last 15 years and has answered with the development of a wide variety of online educational options for the theological education of laity and clergy.

Did you catch the wording? I did a quick check on the PC(USA) Book of Order and the words “clergy” and “laity” are not to be found. Even worse, this quote, and in places in the rest of the article, seem to use “laity” interchangeably with “ruling elder.” (The term is also used in places where they talk about other educational tracks that could include students from non-Reformed traditions so it may be awkward for the Presbyterians but technically acceptable.)

To be fair, this is not the only place in discussions of Presbyterian polity that you will find these terms used. But in a strict sense as I understand it Presbyterians know nothing of the laity in its traditional sense. To quote that bastion of knowledge, the Wikipedia article for laity,


Presbyterians do not use the term “lay”. Thus the Church of Scotland has “Readers”, men and women set apart by presbyteries to conduct public worship. This arises out of the belief in the priesthood of all believers. Ministers are officially ‘teaching elders’ alongside the ‘ruling elders’ of the Kirk Session and have equivalent status, regardless of any other office. In the Church of Scotland, as the Established church in Scotland, this gives ruling elders in congregations the same status as Queen’s chaplains, professors of theology and other highly qualified ministers. All are humble servants of the people in the congregation and parish. Ministers are simply men and women whose gift is for their role in teaching and possibly pastoral work. They are thus selected for advanced theological education. All elders (teaching and ruling) in meetings of Session, Presbytery, or Assembly are subject to the Moderator, who may or may not be a minister but is always an elder.

OK, Wikipedia is not my first choice for a credible argument, and in this case I disagree with a couple other details in the article and the emphasis is on the Church of Scotland, but I think it correctly makes the point that there is a priesthood of all believers and some are set aside for ordered ministry. Furthermore, teaching and ruling elders rule jointly and in the administration of the church generally either flavor of elder may hold any given leadership position.

Now, if you want the argument from a credible Presbyterian source, you can do no better than Teaching Elder Joe Small, the previous head of the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship. In a talk he gave in 2010 before he retired he is quoted as saying “Clergy and laity are two words that should never escape the lips of Presbyterians.” He expands more fully on the historical development of the ordered ministry in the Reformed tradition in a chapter he contributed to a book on church governance.

If you want corroboration of this thought, two other giants of Presbyterian polity, John Bolt and Jan Edmiston have also spoken or written about the distinction and its importance. And yes, I have ranted about this before – as I said it touched a sensitive nerve with me.

So as I close this discussion, or a sequel rant if you will, I want to be clear that this is not just a semantic distinction. In my thinking about Reformed theology this is at the heart of how we view ourselves as the Body of Christ. Traditionally the use of the terms clergy and laity imply a difference in function and standing between the two groups. If we accept the concept of the priesthood of all believers this distinction does not exist. Yes, there is an ordered ministry for proclamation, one for spiritual guides and a third for mercy ministry. But these are always exercised within the context of the covenant community. It is everyone working together with some set aside (not elevated) for particular tasks.

OK, rant over. We now return you to your regular programming.

[And it is nice to be back. More about my summer later.]

2015 General Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Ten Presbyterian News Themes Of 2014

As we close out this eventful year I will once again join the numerous sources putting out top ten lists for the year that was. And as in past years my primary focus will be on stories, or themes, that were seen across multiple Presbyterian branches with a few more selective ones thrown in.

General Assemblies and Same-Sex Relationships

This was probably the top news theme of the year: The Church of Scotland GA sending to the presbyteries, and the presbyteries approving, language for churches to opt-out of the traditional standards. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 221st GA approving language to redefine marriage in its Book of Order and it appears on path to approval in the presbyteries. The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand approving a change to their Book of Order to prohibit same-sex marriages. And momentum is building around an overture to the next Presbyterian Church in Canada GA that would remove the prohibition against ministers being in a same-sex relationship.


This was a category that really caught my attention this year but which I have yet to write up in detail. In any year there is interesting seminary news, like Doris J. García Rivera’s installation as president of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico. But this seemed to be a year with more initiatives than normal.

These included the reorganization of the Free Church Seminary as the Edinburgh Theological Seminary. There was also the new joint initiative between Reformed Theological Seminary and Redeemer Church in New York City.

More radical seminary initiatives include a non-accredited communal seminary associated with Church of All Nations in Minneapolis and San Francisco Theological Seminary has launched a Center for Innovation in Ministry with a workshop on the theology of video games.

But the one that I have found most interesting is the Redesigned Master of Divinity Program at Fuller Theological Seminary. Fuller listened to their alumni and launched a new program which is described in part like this:

Many graduates can no longer count on traditional systems to create jobs for them. They will have to invent new ways to minister. Our reshaped curriculum is designed to prepare students with entrepreneurial skills.

One of the interesting things about this new initiative, and Fuller in general right now, is the prominence of Presbyterian leadership. In addition to Mark Labberton becoming President last year, the initiative is under the oversight of Scott Cormode, the Academic Dean. Behind the Vocation and Formation part of the initiative are some well-known Presbyterian faces that include Tod Bolsinger, Steve Yamaguchi and Laura Harbert.

Congregations Switching Branches

The moves between branches continue with the PC(USA) once again transferring more churches than it closes. And in the Church of Scotland there has been a slower, but noticeable, departure.

The other interesting movement is churches moving from the Reformed Church of America to the Presbyterian Church in America. Last Spring one of the flagship churches, University Reformed Church, voted to transfer. This fall five churches in Illinois have also voted to make the move.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

The General Assemblies of both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand considered this issue. In the PC(USA) the Assembly did not approve an outright divestment but referred it to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee for further consideration. The PCANZ instructed their Property Trustees to divest and recommended that individual churches do likewise.

Independence Referendum in Scotland

The Church of Scotland was prominent in the time leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum with an open session at their General Assembly that presented a variety of voices on the subject and further national and regional level gatherings leading up to the vote. Following the vote there was a service of unity hosted by the Kirk.

The Free Church of Scotland also held a session at their General Assembly and issued their own material providing viewpoints on Independence.


For the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this was certainly a hot topic with a GAPJC decisioncivil legal challenges, settlements and high-valued negotiations. For this post the full extent of the property news is left as an exercise for the reader but there are still a lot of open questions and at the moment there seems to be momentum in favor of the hierarchical church.

Another property news item is the Greyfriars Church in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The historic structure was sold to a developer and it’s future is uncertain. Some preliminary demolition has begun and efforts are underway to try and preserve it.

PC(USA) Ethics Investigation

In a still developing story, it was revealed that four PC(USA) church development employees associated with Presbyterian Centers For New Church Innovation were the subjects of an internal ethics investigation for not following policy in setting up an outside non-profit corporation to facilitate distribution of 1001 Worshiping Communities funds. Initially there were administrative actions taken but as the story grew the four were placed on administrative leave and an outside law firm brought in to conduct an independent investigation. At year’s end it was decided that firm had a conflict of interest and a new firm was chosen.

Israel-Palestine Actions

The other hot topic leading up to the PC(USA) General Assembly was issues around Israel-Palestine. At the previous GA a proposal for divestment from three companies who profited from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory failed by a very narrow three-vote margin. The proposal was returning to this GA. In addition, a PC(USA) affiliated group, The Israel/Palestine Mission Network, (IPMN) issued a controversial study guide Zionism Unsettled that questioned Israel’s character and identity. While IPMN does not speak for the PC(USA) the study guide was sold by the official Presbyterian Distribution Services making the distinction fuzzy in many minds. In addition, there was some advanced controversy when the commissioner chosen to moderate the related commissioner committee was asked to step down because a number of people questioned his impartiality.

The 221st General Assembly did approve the divestment proposal by a slim seven-vote margin, but the action also encourages ecumenical dialogue in the region and affirms the denomination’s commitment to Israel and the peace process.

The Presbyterian Distribution Service dropped Zionism Unsettled shortly after the Assembly and it is now available on the IPNM web site. However, studies around this topic are available on Thoughtful Christian.

Women’s Ordination and Related

The religion gender issues news this year was dominated by the Church of England and the completion of the process to have women serve as bishops. In fact, in Presbyterian circles it was a very quiet year for complementarian/egalitarian discussions, which in itself is probably news.

The one big item is the decision by the Mizoram Synod conference to reject a long-standing request from Kohhran Hmechhia, the Women Ministry of the Presbyterian Church, to ordain women theologians.

In another story, history was made when Michael Barry and Liz Hughes tied in the first round of voting for Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev. Barry was elected in the second round by one vote over Rev. Hughes and a third candidate, Rev. McNie. This was the strongest showing that a female candidate has had in the election.

Death of Ian Paisley

Among several notable deaths in the Presbyterian community, the death of Ian Paisley stands out for his iconic status in both Northern Irish religion as the leading founder of the Free Presbyterian Church and for his important roll in politics and reconciliation in Norther Ireland.

And a couple of other Presbyterian-ish stories

Knox 500

While the date of birth of John Knox is not known with certainty, the best information suggests that it may have been in 1514 making this the 500th year of his birth. This was marked by the Knox 500 Conference in Edinburgh as well as the making of a documentary about him titled “Give Me Scotland.”

Spectacular Viking treasure hoard found on Church of Scotland land

Not your typical religion news story but a very important archaeological discovery involving the Kirk and a couple of its ministers as well as a metal detectionist.

And let me take a moment to throw in two transitions: The retirement of Jerry Van Marter after over 26 years with the Presbyterian News Service and Jack Haberer stepping down from the helm of the Presbyterian Outlook to return to parish ministry. Best wishes to both in their new settings.

And those are some of the highlights of 2014. Now as we look ahead to 2015 – and many of my friends around the world are already there or now busy celebrating Hogmanay – I wish all of you a very Happy New Years and best wishes for the coming year.

May you balance your ardor and order and remember to be decent and in order.

Happy New Year!

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of October

And we keep on plugging through these. This time period is a bit lighter…

A new conference center director

Richard DuBose Named President of Montreat Conference Center – from Montreat press release

The preservation organization Historic Scotland proposes charging for tourists visits to Glasgow Cathedral, a move opposed by the kirk session:

Anger over admission charge plan for Glasgow Cathedral – from BBC News

A plan to improve educational opportunities:

Livingstonia Synod to construct agriculture college in north Malawi – from Nyasa Times

The Free Church of Scotland endorsed a proposal to cut the voting age for regular elections following the success of the move in the Independence Referendum. The suggestion is being seriously considered:

Voting age should be cut to 16, says Free Church – Herald Scotland

Plan to cut voting age for 2016 Scottish election -from BBC News

The Church of Scotland is working with other churches on economic reforms and initiatives. More on that at a future date, but here is a bit from this time span:

We should bank on a fair deal for everyone – from The Scotsman

A gift from the Lilly Endowment:

Louisville seminary gets $8 million endowment grant – from Louisville Business First

Repurposing unneeded church buildings (I visited the one in the lede picture when the GA was there):

Former Churches Blessed With New Lives in Pittsburgh – New York Times

And another one, a historic building in Scotland:

Falkirk businesswoman gifts church to arts group – from The Falkirk Herald

And finally, it is not Presbyterian per se but I got a smile from this one – a participant in the Vatican Synod on the Family who thought the process was a bit too open and equal?

RI bishop: Synod process is ‘rather Protestant’ – from Crux; “The concept of having a representative body of the Church voting on doctrinal applications and pastoral solutions strikes me as being rather Protestant.”

So have a good holiday season. I will try to catch up on headlines in the new year and have plenty, probably way too much other stuff that I want to cover the next couple of weeks.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of September

As the year winds down I am hoping to get caught up with the news headlines posts – a daunting task considering how far behind I am and while I am also in the midst of a number of other drafts I am working on. So here are a few of the items that caught my attention the second half of September.

Maybe the most interesting is a new partnership between Redeemer Church and Reformed Theological Seminary:

Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church and Reformed Theological Seminary to launch NYC campus – from Religion News Service

I have previously mentioned churches who have offered sanctuary to immigrants, but now there is the announcement of this as a movement:

Inaction Spurs New Immigrant Sanctuary Movement – from Texas Observer

Church network offers sanctuary to illegal immigrants to avoid deportation – from The Washington Times

A church burglary:

Historic church robbed days before last service: Board Member: I believe it was an inside job – from KSAT San Antonio

A delegation from the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan visited the Church of Scotland during the month including the time of the Independence Referendum. They found the visit interesting, to say the least:

Delegation from Taiwan in Forfar – from Kirriemuir Herald

Taiwanese Moderator’s Message to Scotland – from The Church of Scotland

The passing of an influential pastor who served for 50 years:

Malawi: Nkhoma Synod Hero Rev Chalera Laid to Rest – from allAfrica

And finally, a milestone anniversary for a historic church in North Carolina:

Historic African American church to celebrate 150th year – from The Times-News; “During the last full year of the Civil War, a slave founded a new church in the community that, 17 years later, would be incorporated as Mebanesville.”

And now, on to a couple of Canadian developments…

A Brief Comment On Presbyterian History Regarding The Princetons

The political news of the day is the upset primary victory of Dave Brat over Eric Cantor, the US House of Representatives majority Leader, i.e. the second highest leadership position for the Republicans in the House.

I am not going to wade into the politics of that race, but something else, something Presbyterian caught my eye.

Professor Dave Brat has an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Yup, it looks like another alum of that venerable institution might be going into government service. You can check out his academic credentials on his faculty web page at Randolph-Macon College.

Looking at his faculty web page it would suggest that he has a Reformed background, having also attended Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Now, I am not saying that Dr. Brat was ever Presbyterian, let alone PC(USA), but there is a connection. And his campaign bio lists him and his family attending a local Roman Catholic parish.

It is interesting that his campaign bio has gotten a few people worked up because in it, and elsewhere, he talks about getting an M.Div. from “Princeton.” without being any more specific. This apparently has most people thinking PU, leading that institution to need to clarify when asked by the media.

OK, enough about politics and on to what really got my attention.

What I found most interesting is that the Princeton University spokesperson, Martin Mbugua, made this comment (as quoted on the Washington Post live blog):

Mbugua said people occasionally “make an association between the
institutions here in Princeton, an incorrect association.” The two
independent institutions simply “happen to be in the same town,” Mbugua

May I take exception to his comment? I will grant you they are two independent institutions but it is not by pure chance they are in the same town. At least to me, to say that there is no association between them ignores the fact that they were both established by early American Presbyterians, that the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) was founded to train ministers and most of its early presidents were Presbyterian ministers. Further, Princeton Theological Seminary was founded as a spin-off from the College to provide a more extensive theological training and the first Principal of the Seminary, Archibald Alexander, came over from the College to head up the seminary. While the college and the seminary may not have always had similar viewpoints, I think it is fair to say that the seminary is a younger sibling of the college.

If you want to take it a step further up to the present day the University’s Wikipedia page notes that “Today, Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary maintain
separate institutions with ties that include services such as
cross-registration and mutual library access.”

While the two schools grew apart during the Civil War and the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy, it is worthwhile to note that at their root they come from the same stock.

OK, history distraction over – back to the GA’s.

P.S. Waiting to see if David Brat does win the fall election if that might get him distinguished alumni recognition at the seminary. His name has already been added to the Notable Alumni section of the Wikipedia page.

Presbyterian News Headlines For December 2013

Yes, I am going to attempt to do a whole month at once to get caught up. This does mean that by necessity I will be a bit selective about the headlines included.

The month began with a public safety helicopter crash in Scotland that saw the Church of Scotland on the front line with chaplaincy services and worship services of remembrance:

Chaplains at front line of Glasgow tragedy – from Church of Scotland press release

Prayers for helicopter victims – from BBC News

And in Kenya, ten youths were killed and thirty six more injured in a bus crash as they were returning from a Presbyterian Church in East Africa youth conference:

President mourns Mariakani accident victims – from Standard Digital News

In Louisville it was decided that the resources were not available to reopen the Presbyterian Community Center that had been closed a few months earlier:

No hope of reopening the Presbyterian Community Center in Smoketown, board says – from Courier-Journal

Concerning damage to churches, we have two fires and the theft of copper pipes:

Fire damage closes 900-year-old Aberdour church at Christmas – from Fife Today

160-Year-Old Long Island Church Goes Up In Flames – from CBS New York

Wyoming church recovering after copper pipe theft – from Times Leader, in Pennsylvania

In Africa, words from church leaders to politicians:

Ghana pregnant with bribery, corruption — Moderator – from CitifmOnline

ASUU Strike: Presbyterian Prelate urges government action – from WorldStage News; about a student strike in Nigeria

Two Presbyterian-related schools in the U.S. got court orders exempting them on religious grounds from the Department of Health and Human Services Affordable Care Act Contraception Mandate:

Judge rules Geneva College does not have to provide coverage for contraception – from Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Christian universities and seminary win against HHS mandate in federal court – from (Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania)

And finally, two more articles. The first a gift that allows a Presbyterian camp to continue and the second a new high-profile hire in the Church of Scotland Communications Office:

Woman, 81, leaves church camp $2.5 million from her estate – from WBRC (Birmingham)

BBC’s Rob Flett to join Church of Scotland comms team – from allmedia

And with that we close out the year. Best wishes for the new one and back with more headlines in a few days.

Top Ten (Plus) Presbyterian News Topics of 2013

As we spend this day looking back I thought I would once again post my personal list of the top ten news topics related to Presbyterians around the world from 2013. In this list I deliberately use the term “topics” because, as you will see, there were a number of parallels in the different branches when it came to certain items.

And so here, in no particular order, are my picks for the top ten news topics of 2013…

Elections, Elections, Elections and a Referendum

This fall it seemed that various Presbyterian branches were regularly linked with elections happening in their state or country. The list includes the Presbyterian Synod in Mizoram state in India asking for – and getting – a change in polling dates, CCAP synods defining the terms for political involvement of clergy running for office and commentary from the Presbyterian Church of Ghana on election decisions.

Falling into this category is the work of the Church of Scotland running forums and debates ahead of next year’s Scottish independence referendum.


Somehow the natural disasters, and the global Presbyterian response, for this year stick out more than in previous lists and it includes damage done in a tornado outbreak in the central U.S. in May and typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November.

World Hotspots

The variety that could be included here is pretty large but let me mention Presbyterians speaking out to two of them – the response against attacks on Syria (e.g. PC(USA) ) and those speaking out about the violence in South Sudan (e.g. Presbyterian Church in Ireland).

In a particularly moving story, a Church of Scotland pastor lost many members of his family in an attack on a church in Pakistan and spoke of forgiving the attackers.

New Presbyterian Leaders at Seminaries

Four Presbyterian teaching elders were named, approved and/or installed at seminaries in the Presbyverse: Rev. Dr. Stafford Carson at Union Theological College, Belfast; Rev. Dr. M. Craig Barnes at Princeton Theological Seminary; Rev. Dr. Mark Labberton at Fuller Theological Seminary; Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Church of Scotland General Assembly Middle Way on Same-sex Issues

The Church of Scotland General Assembly dealt with ordination and marriage issues and rather than adopting one of the two options presented by their Special Commission chose a middle option that affirmed past teaching while opening the door to congregations being able to dissent. This led to their speaking against the proposed legislation in the Scottish Parliament that would permit same-sex marriage and asking for robust religious protections. In addition, the compromise solution was not completely satisfactory to the whole church and a few pastors and congregations have left.

Congregational Loss in the PC(USA) and Gracious Dismissal

In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2012 Membership Statistics for the first time ever the number of churches transferred out of the denomination (110 churches) was larger than the number of churches dissolved (86 churches).

Associated with this was the emphasis on presbyteries having Gracious Dismissal Policies and fairly generous allowances to be dismissed with property, although there was at least one PJC case and some civil litigation, e.g. Caldwell and Highland Park.

Re-purposing Church Buildings

Along with the dissolution of churches comes the question of what to do with the property? Although to be fair this also may be a question if the church outgrows their existing property. Answers this year include a residence in Scotland, a restaurant in Belfast, and maybe a town hall in Maryland. In addition, there were several, at least, demolished and controversy down under with a presbytery of the Uniting Church proposing to close churches and sell off the buildings to satisfy debts.

With that I have hit all the cross-branch and big-topic themes that I ranked highest and have to decide on the last three from a field of several worthy and interesting candidates. Well, this is my blog and I can adjust the rules so here are five more…

The BBC Northern Ireland produced a documentary on Irish Presbyterians called “An Independent People”

Also from Northern Ireland, there was an agreement that the leaders of the failed Presbyterian Mutual Society would be ineligible to head up other companies and word of at least one bank that declined the offer to take over the failing institution.

The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission regarding the dark history of native residential schools continues in Canada and this year the Commission was addressed by the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the church issued a formal apology to Kenora residential school survivors.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year issued guidelines on what was required to be included in employee health care plans and several Presbyterian-affiliated organizations objected to the contraception mandate. This year at least two, Geneva College and Westminster Theological Seminary, won court cases exempting them from the HHS mandate. Review by the U.S. Supreme Court is expected so this may come back again next year.

And the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation issued a new hymnal, “Glory to God”, but not without a little controversy about one hymn that was originally to be included but deleted when a slight word change was not approved by the authors.

And there you have my suggestions for the top ten twelve Presbyterian news topics of 2013. Your mileage may vary.

So as we look ahead to 2014 – and many of my friends around the world are already there or now busy celebrating Hogmanay – I wish all of you a very Happy New Years and best wishes for the coming year.

A New Presbyterian Leader… At Fuller Seminary

Well, the white smoke drifted over Rome yesterday but on you could be forgiven if on Tuesday you thought you saw a tiny bit wafting over Pasadena as Fuller Theological Seminary announced that Teaching Elder Mark Labberton would become the fifth person to hold the position of President of the Seminary beginning on July 1.

Mark is a bit of an insider at Fuller holding an M.Div. from there as well as currently serving on the faculty as the Lloyd
John Ogilvie Associate Professor of Preaching and Director of the Lloyd John
Ogilvie Institute of Preaching. (Not bad – going from Associate Professor to President. I presume the new job will come with a bump in status up to full prof.) TE Labberton has served as the pastor at Wayne Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church, Berkeley before joining the Fuller faculty. (And First Pres Berkeley has posted a nice little announcement on their web site as well as a letter he wrote to them about the new position.)

I am sure that many of you know that Fuller Seminary is a multidenominational institution and according to the Association of Theological Schools list of members in the Fall of 2011 they had 3708 students with a Full Time Equivalent (FTE) of 1772. That guide says that there are 88 full time faculty and including the part-time instructors the faculty FTE is about 203.

What many people don’t appreciate is the very strong connection that Fuller has to Presbyterianism. Fuller was co-founded by Harold Ockenga who began his pastoral training at Princeton Theological Seminary but departed in the midst of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy and finished at the brand new Westminster Theological Seminary. After seminary he served a few different churches including two Presbyterian churches. In addition to being the co-founder he also served as the first president of Fuller and took up the post again a few years after he had stepped down from the first term.

Fast-forward to today when, according to the web page for Fuller’s Office of Presbyterian Ministries, the largest denomination group on campus is the Presbyterians and more faculty, including the current President Richard Mouw, come from Presbyterian churches than any other tradition.

The FAQ page tells us that the number of Presbyterian students has averaged about 300 over the last ten years of which about 130 are in the M.Div. program. And they do point out that these students come from multiple Presbyterian branches.

Let’s turn back to that ATS member list and look at a couple of PC(USA) seminaries. For comparison purposes the three seminaries with enrollments greater than 300 are Princeton with 539 and an FTE of 526, Columbia Theological Seminary with 387 and an FTE of 243, and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with 307 and an FTE of 222. To be fair, San Francisco Theological Seminary is just below the cut-off at 292 with an FTE of 151. For other schools with Presbyterian connections Covenant Theological Seminary has 689 students with an FTE of 391, Westminster (PA) has 630 students with an FET of 412 and Reformed Theological Seminary has 1135 students with an FTE of 593.

The comparison of the number enrolled with the FTE would be an interesting study – very close for Princeton and about 2:1 for SFTS, RTS and Fuller – but that is a topic for another day. The bottom line here is just to make the point that Fuller holds its own in Presbyterian circles right up there with denominational seminaries.  And yes, I have counted total students at the other seminaries so the total Presbyterians at Fuller are probably greater than the Presbyterian majority at the other PC(USA) seminaries and probably at most of the others as well. But having said that, I have heard multiple stories about how PC(USA) presbyteries are hesitant to accept Fuller grads because it is an independent school with an evangelical history. This must be an issue since the FAQ page has an answer to the question “My Presbytery knows little or nothing about Fuller Seminary. Is there a convenient way to help it
understand what Fuller has to offer?”

So with that we want to extend our congratulations and best wishes to Rev. Labberton as he prepares to assume the office of President of Fuller Seminary. Our prayers are with you in this calling and we look forward to seeing more of you around our presbytery.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Week Ending April 14, 2012

Some interesting news items that crossed my screen this past week

Synod of Livingstonia Pledges to Support JB

Nyasa Times, April 10, 2012
In a continuation of the story last week about criticism from the Nkhoma Synod of the President of Malawi – who died of a sudden heart attack at the end of the week – another CCAP synod has spoken up in support of his successor Joyce Banda ( JB ).

Mizo church body issues dress code

Times of India, April 9, 2012
The Synod Executive Committee
of the Presbyterian Church of Mizoram, India, issued guidelines for modest dress for attending worship services and church gatherings. Another, probably updated, Times of India story about it is titled “No revealing, tight clothes in Mizo church

Her Calling, Now With Ordination

The Herald-Sun, April 12, 2012
One of several stories about the ordination of Katie Ricks as a teaching elder, the first open homosexual woman to be ordained since the passage of PC(USA) Amendment 10-A.

Pitt cuts off some grad applications

Pittsburgh Tribune-Reivew, April 13, 2012
This article is about the University of Pittsburgh cutting applications to certain graduate programs as a potential first step to eliminating programs due to budget considerations. While the article does not mention it there is a Presbyterian connection in that one of the impacted departments, the Department of Religious Studies, has a Ph.D. Cooperative Program in Religion with Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

104-year-old preacher gave up driving, golf, but not the pulpit, April 14, 2012
And the feel-good story of the week about retired professor Dr. Joe Gettys who is about to turn 105 and still ministering at his Presbyterian Home and at the church he attends. The best quote from him is “The Lord left me here for a reason so I try to do something with it.”