Category Archives: PC Canada

Who Speaks For The Church – Or At Least The General Assembly?

In my time doing this blog and watching global Presbyterianism, one of the things that has caught my attention has been the variation between different traditions about who speaks for the denomination.

Now, it is first worth noting that when it comes to pronouncements, particularly social witness stands, many branches recognize that a governing body (judicatory, council – whatever term you use) speaks only for itself and can not bind the next meeting of that deliberative body to that statement or commit other levels of the denomination to it. This is not necessarily the case in all branches, particularly those with strong national infrastructure and definitive decision making at the highest level, but it is true for the polity of many branches that have placed the presbytery as the fundamental governing body and the authority of the other bodies derives from the presbyteries.

The question of who speaks for the church has been an active one recently in the PC(USA) as the Way Forward Commission has wrestled with this. (See the section on Communications in the Outlook article in the link) While not decided yet, something may come out in their final recommendations for consideration by the 223rd General Assembly in June 2018, particularly in the area of communications and the various agencies and offices speaking with one voice.

Globally Presbyterian branches fall into two categories as to who is the voice of the denomination. In general, American branches tend to hand that responsibility to the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. However, elsewhere in the world the Moderator of the General Assembly or the General Synod tends to be the voice of that body.

I have been working with a semi-quantitative analysis of this over the last few months, but over the last couple weeks I realized there is a reasonable metric to do a quick sort on this. So here are the lists of who provided the official Christmas messages from different branches this year.

Moderators of the General Assembly or the General Synod

Stated Clerks of the General Assembly or the General Synod

Web sites checked where I did not find Christmas messages include the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, CCAP Zambia Synod, CCAP Blantyre Synod, CCAP Livingstonia Synod, Presbyterian Church of Taiwan (English site), Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), United Free Church of Scotland, Nonsubscribing Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Presbyterian Church of Wales, Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales, Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, Free Presbyterian Church of North America, Presbyterian Church in America (but see below), Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Bible Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in Australia, Presbyterian Church in Australia in the State of New South Wales, Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, and the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. If I have missed any in this group, or other branches not listed please let me know and I will update.

So the obvious conclusion is that most Presbyterian branches don’t post a Christmas message on their web site. A number of explanations for this: A few of the branches still hold to the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God which has an Appendix against celebrating festivals or holy-days. For others, it is simply the expectation of the denomination – it is a nice idea but that is not what the GA or GS is really there for. And for others, the greetings are distributed in other forms and do not appear on the web site.

The other obvious conclusion is that while this quick analysis shows two obvious trends – Christmas messages are posted by the big institutional Presbyterian branches and they come from the Moderator unless you are an American branch – the other part is that a lot are left out. So back to the drawing board and maybe the semi-quantitative approach. (And this shift in focus to the stated clerk in American branches is an interesting phenomenon I am interested in reading more about, or tracking down more historical details if it has not been done yet.)

A few additional comments:

While the Presbyterian Church of Australia did not have a Christmas message, the web site does have a dedicated page for the Moderator’s comments.

The state branch, the Presbyterian Church of South Australia has begun functioning as a presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland, but their Christmas message last year was written by the last Moderator, the Rev. Gary Ware.

The Presbyterian Church in America did not have a specific Christmas message, but their By Faith news arm does have a piece featuring one of their theology professors that does touch on Christmas theology.

And for the Church of Scotland, the advocacy and discussion of social witness policy is routinely delegated to the Convener of the Church and Society Council. Here are a couple recent examples of Kirk press releases related to “Church welcomes minimum pricing for alcohol ruling” and “Kirk hopes for a budget that will make Scotland a fairer and more equal society.”

Finally, something that was tracking with my other analysis but maybe is best considered an appendix here – a short case study on speaking for the denomination, in this case the PC(USA).

As the top continuing ecclesiastical officer the Stated Clerk speaks for the General Assembly, and not for him or herself, on matters related to policy of the PC(USA). This is covered in the Manual of the General Assembly.

Recently the Stated Clerk, The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, preached in South Korea as part of an ecumenical visit. The headline of the article said “Stated Clerk pledges repentance for No Gun Ri massacre: Nelson: ‘We’ll not let the silence continue’ about Korean War atrocity.” So the question is, as part of the sermon was he speaking for himself, or as the ecclesiastical officer of the PC(USA) was he speaking for the General Assembly?

Again, this was included as part of a sermon and the headline writer latched on to this for the article. Here is the full context of what the Stated Clerk said when he preached:

I cannot apologize for the government of the United States. However, we who are here today from the United States can pledge to not let the silence of this massacre continue. Just as the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse has called on the denomination to both acknowledge and repent of our silence as a denomination, we [the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)] must call upon the United States government to publicly repent of its actions at No Gun Ri.

He is clearly recounting the actions of the General Assembly, with an overture originating from the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse. The problem is that the 222nd General Assembly did not actually call for repentance on the part of any body or government, as the Stated Clerk implies. The final alternate resolution 1) Acknowledged the actions of the US military in the massacre, 2) Directs the Stated Clerk to ask the United States Government to acknowledge the actions, issue an apology and statement of regret as well as considering compensation, and include training for future military members.  And 3) work with the ecumenical partners for resources and additional statements of regret.

In the whole action the word repentance is used only once in the original rational from the Presbytery, which carries the weight of action only to the extent that the final resolution asks for its inclusion in communication about the action of the General Assembly.

So the polity question is: Based on the actions of the 222nd General Assembly, did the Stated Clerk faithfully represent it when he spoke for their action?

So I will leave it at that. I have a lot of other articles in the works so it may be a while before I return to this topic. And to a large degree, this is a topic of debate for us polity wonks and presbygeeks, but does appear to be an issue for the Way Forward Commission.

Your mileage may vary.

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.

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!

142nd General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Canada

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)And the action is beginning again and we are in for an extended stretch of Assemblies and Synods the next few weeks. So to start us off…

In just a couple of hours the 142nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada will be getting under way. The Assembly will run from today ( 3 June ) through Monday 6 June, 2016. It is being hosted by the Presbytery of East Toronto at the Tait McKenzie Centre of York University.

A few things to know to help follow along:

  • There will live streaming of the Assembly meetings
  • From the GA 2016 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). There is also a good Summary of Reports piece that gives a good overview of the meeting.
  • Official news updates are available on the news feed. There may be additional news items from the Presbyterian Record.
  • I anticipate there will be daily GA Briefings and probably video recordings of the sederunts posted regularly. The Briefings will probably be are available on the GA 2016 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.
  • And watch for pictures of the Assembly to be posted on the Presbyterian Record Flickr feed.

The theme for the meeting is “stewards of the mysteries of God”, taken from the phrase in 1 Corinthians 4:1.

GA2016-Web-Banner-serifThe 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 #pccga2016. The official publication, the Presbyterian Record, will probably be posting updates on their Facebook page.

I am still sort of scanning to see if any of my regulars look like they will be active on Twitter for this meeting. Not sure yet, but at this point let me suggest keeping an eye on John Borthwick (@jborthwik), Jeff Loach (@passionatelyhis) (but who may be too busy at the front table) and Ross Lockhart (@rossalockhart). Coming in early with good Presbyterian cynicism are Blair Bertrand (@Bertrand_Blair) and Roland De Vries (@Roland_DeVries). Will update here as things get rolling later today.

For the Presbynerds and polity wonks, one of the items coming to this Assembly from the Committee on Church Doctrine is the paper Presbyterian Polity: Its Distinctives and Directions for the 21st Century. This is a starting point that invites reflection and feedback over the next two years on how the church does its business in a changing world. And I am encouraged that it is tied to doctrine and not a pure polity working group. The committee report begins on the 165th page of the Business packet. The committee will be the first briefing on Saturday morning and the business will come the Assembly on Monday morning.

A closely watched item on both the Church Doctrine docket as well as the Life and Mission report is the ongoing study related to human sexuality. While there are numerous overtures submitted to the Assembly this year reflecting a range of new actions and theological positions, both committees will recommend that any action be deferred until the 143rd General Assembly next year when the human sexuality report, reflecting the denomination’s two-year conversation, will be presented to the Assembly.

One other item I will highlight, among several interesting ones, is that the previous Assembly approved legislation that would permit a synod to dissolve. This year the Clerks of Assembly will be bringing a recommended process to be added as an Appendix to the Book of Forms to make that happen. It can be found starting on the 204th page of the Business packet.

So prayers and best wishes for the members of the 142nd General Assembly and as you address issues so important to the future witness of the church my you indeed by guided by the Holy Spirit.

General Assembly Season 2016

May 1st – The date on my calendar that marks the beginning of the General Assembly Season. This is our binge year, or we max out on GA’s, as we can include the two biennial assemblies and the triennial one.

So buckle up and here we go.

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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61st General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Taiwan
29 March-1 April 2016

 

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Synod
The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
3-5 May 2016
Mt. Druitt, N.S.W.

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Tasmania
10 May 2016 (begins)

 

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General Assembly
Church of Scotland
21-27 May 2016
Edinburgh

 

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
23-26 May, 2016
Edinburgh

 

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General Assembly
Free Church of Scotland
23-26 May 2016
Edinburgh

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of South Australia
22 May 2016 (anticipated) No Assembly this year – see comment below

 

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)142nd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Canada
3-6 June 2016
York University
Toronto, Ontario

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
6-10 June 2016
Belfast

 

arpc_2846216
212th Stated Meeting of the General Synod
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
7-9 June 2016
Bonclarken
Flat Rock, North Carolina

 

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General Assembly
United Free Church of Scotland
8-10 June 2016
Perth

 

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83rd General Assembly
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
8-14 June 2016
Sandy Cove Conference Center
North East, Maryland

 

logo+pcusa222nd General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
18-25 June 2016
Portland, Oregon

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Queensland
19-23 June 2016
Brisbane Boys College
Brisbane

 

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141st General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America

19-22 June 2016
Nashville, Tennessee
Concurrent with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church

 

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186th General Assembly
Cumberland Presbyterian Church
20-24 June 2016
Nashville, Tennessee
Concurrent with Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America

 

01645A81-A5D8-4EB1-9E4C30D14028D30744th General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in America
20-24 June 2016
Mobile, Alabama

 

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36th General Assembly
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
21-25 June 2016
Ward Church
Northville, Michigan

 

Reformed_Presbyterian_Church_of_North_America_(banner)

Synod
Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
27-29 June 2016
Indiana Wesleyan University
Marion, Indiana

 

 

pca-logo-4f-small
N.S.W. State Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Australia
in the State of New South Wales

4 July 2016 (begins)
Croydon, N.S.W.

 

bpclogo
80th General Synod
Bible Presbyterian Church
4-9 August 2016
Sharonville, Ohio

NYA_0National Youth Assembly
Church of Scotland
19-22 August 2016
Stirlingshire
(Technically not a governing
body, but still an Assembly I track)

pca-logo-4b-small
General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Australia
12 September 2016 (begins)

 

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Victoria
3 October 2016

 

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church in Western Australia
28 October 2016
Peppermint Grove, WA

 

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General Assembly
Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
15-19 November
University of Otago
Dunedin

 

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 to use or modify for your particular polity. Please play responsibly. 😉

So, for all the GA Junkies out there I wish you the best of GA seasons. May you enjoy the next few months of watching us do things decently and in order!

Nominee For The Moderator Of The 142nd General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Canada

It is the first day of April and one of the more serious items we can look forward to on this day each year is the counting of the votes for the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Well the votes are in and this morning the Principal Clerk announced that the sole nominee to be placed before the 142nd General Assembly to serve as Moderator will be the Rev. Douglas H. Rollwage.

Douglas-Rollwage-300x349Rev. Rollwage currently serves as the pastor of Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown, P.E.I., where he as been for 11 years. His ministry began at Strathcona Park Presbyterian Church in Kingston, Ont,. where he had grown up. Between there and Charlottetown he was the pastor at Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church in Scarborough in the Toronto Metro Area.

He holds a B.Th. from Queen’s Theological College (now Queen’s School of Religion) and an M.Div. from Knox College.

In his interview in the Presbyterian Record he shares some interesting glimpses into his faith journey. While coming to faith in a Pentecostal church and beginning his pastoral training in that direction he says “it soon became evident that the Pentecostals and I were not a great match for each other and to our mutual relief we parted ways.”

He goes on to talk about why:

“I’d say what brought me out [of the Pentecostal Church and into the Presbyterian Church] was as much a matter of my growing interest and awareness of church history, which within the Pentecostal church kinda ends with the end of the book of Acts and begins again in 1910. But for me the history of the church and our place within that history is deeply important in our identification as Christians. And so a tradition which was rooted in that history and respected that history was for me very important and that ultimately lead me to the Reformed faith, both in the teachings of Luther and the writings of Calvin.”

Since then Church History has been one of his passions and it is one he shares with others, particularly as he leads trips to Greece, Israel and Turkey, which is highlighted on his Facebook page.

These study tours have a significant synergy with another of his passions – Bible study. In the interview he talks about the importance of scripture and studying it.

“Presbyterians used to be famous for being rooted in the scriptures.” But, he says, “I think that we have moved away from what we once took for granted.”

“How many people in churches go to Bible study anymore?” he asks. “For me Bible study is more important than Sunday morning. Because on Sunday morning we’ve got, what, 20 minutes to give a sermon, to try and inspire and teach and comfort and lead and direct. In Bible study you’ve got an hour and half. You’ve got so much more time to do that plus you’ve got a level of interaction that you just can’t have on a Sunday morning.

“When I look at the leadership of my congregation, session members, board members, committee leaders—these are all people who have had their faith energized and strengthened through their participation in Bible study. That’s where the leadership is drawn from.”

And in what looks like foreshadowing his work as Moderator he continues:

“For us to move forward with credibility and with true spiritual relevance, I think we need to recapture our love for the Bible. It sounds very old fashioned. But I also think that the Bible is more relevant now than it was a generation ago.”

He has served the church locally as a presbytery moderator and nationally as a member of multiple committees including his current service on the Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee. He also serves as a resource person for the Assembly Office. He and his church are active with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank that provides food to those in need around the globe.

He and his wife Dana, a public school teacher, have two children, one a recent college graduate and the other still in college.

He will be formally elected and installed on June 3 as the Assembly convenes at York University in Toronto.

So our congratulations and prayers for Rev. Rollwage for the work ahead. May you have the time to prepare for the Assembly, wisdom and discernment at you lead it and blessings and strength so that your moderatorial year may be a true extension of your ministry.

Top Ten Presbyterian News Topics Of 2015

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

Racial Reconciliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mass Shootings and Gun Violence

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

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

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

 

Presbyterian denominations and same-gender relationships

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

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

 

Reaction within the Presbyterian family to same-sex marriage decisions

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

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

 

Shifting between Reformed branches

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

 

Property

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

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

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

 

Presbyterian branches working together

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

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

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

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

 

Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

 

Membership trends continue

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

 

Publications and Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year and a Joyful Hogmanay

Ballot For The Moderator Of The 142nd General Assembly (2016) Of The Presbyterian Church In Canada

Back at the beginning of the month the Principal Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in Canada announced the ballot for nominating the Moderator of the 142nd General Assembly. There are two names are on the ballot, a noticeably smaller number than the six on the ballot last year. Both gentlemen are pastors in parish ministry in the eastern part of the country. The information below is primarily drawn from the biographical sketches provided by the Principal Clerk’s office. The Presbyterian Record magazine will publish profiles of each in their January issue and I will update here as appropriate.

The Rev. J. Wesley Denyer is the pastor of the Rosedale Presbyterian Church in central Toronto. He has been there four and a half years and served previously in Brampton, Ont., Unionville, Ont., and Kirkland Lake, Ont. The Unionville position was a new church development and he helped grow the church and guide the construction of their first building.

His education includes a B.A. from the University of Toronto in psychology and an M.Div. from Knox College.

He has provided significant service to higher governing bodies including serving as a presbytery clerk and moderator and as convener of the Ministry Committee. At the national level he has served on a number of teams and committees including the New Church Development Committee and Assembly Council. He has also served as a member of the Knox College Board of Governors.

The bio also mentions that he considers his ministry style to be collaborative with congregational participation and transparency in decision making.

He and his wife, the Rev. Canon Dr. Judy Rois – who serves as Executive Director of the Anglican Foundation of Canada – have two adult children and two grandchildren.

The Rev. Douglas H. Rollwage has served as the pastor of Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown, P.E.I., for almost 11 years. He holds a B.Th. from Queen’s Theological College (now Queen’s School of Religion) and an M.Div. from Knox College. (The bio is not specific about at which of the schools he earned an M.T.S.) He began his pastoral service at Strathcona Park Presbyterian Church in Kingston, Ont. Between there and Charlottetown he was the pastor at Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church in Scarborough in the Toronto Metro Area.

He has served the church locally as a presbytery moderator and nationally as a member of multiple committees including his current service on the Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee. He also serves as a resource person for the Assembly Office. He and his church are active with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank that provides food to those in need around the globe.

His bio talks about his leading pilgrimages to Israel, Turkey and Greece, an activity that has parallels in his current national committee service and which is highlighted on his Facebook page.

He and his wife Dana, a public school teacher, have two children, one a recent college graduate and the other still in college.

So our congratulations to Rev. Denyer and Rev. Rollwage for this recognition of their ecclesiastical skills and service and we look forward to revisiting this topic as additional events and information warrant.

141st General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Canada

Presbyterian_Church_in_Canada_(logo)In the midst of other GA’s going on the 141st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is getting under way. The Assembly will run from today ( 4 June ) through Monday 8 June, 2015 on the west coast of The Dominion in Vancouver. The meeting is being held at the University of British Columbia.

A few things to know to help follow along:

The theme for the meeting is “Imagining the Kingdom. …the Kingdom of God is like…”GA2015_web_banner-600x350

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 #ga141. UPDATE: Friday morning it was announced that the hashtag would be #pccga2015. The official publication, the Presbyterian Record, will probably be posting updates on their Facebook page.

Looking at who is active on Twitter as the meeting approaches I would suggest following John Borthwick (@jborthwik), Fred Stewart (@PastorFred) and Ross Lockhart (@rossalockhart). Always, I will update as I am able once things get into full swing.

UPDATE: I would add at this point that Scott McAndless (@A_noble_theme) is actively blogging about his time at the Assembly.

Regarding the business of the Assembly, I have already highlighted the flood of overtures (24 of 37) that have been received related to human sexuality and ordination standards. The amount of interest and business was so high that a special process is being proposed for this work. In short, the process proposes that this Assembly begin a process of listening, discussion and prayer throughout the wider church and any definitive action on changing the Report on Human Sexuality or the ordination standards would be brought to a future Assembly. However, an Assembly does not have to take the advice and is free to act as it, in its wisdom, may deem best. So we will see if they make a decision, decide a trajectory or start a discussion.

Another item that will be of interest are changes to the Policy for Dissolution of Pastoral Relationships.  This is coming in the Life and Mission Agency report in the Ministry and Church Vocations area beginning on the 279th page of the reports. It is important enough that a supplemental background document is also being distributed. Specifically, there are revisions for accepted practice and clarity regarding the transition payments when a pastor leaves a call. Another item from the Life and Mission Agency from their Justice area includes working to help people with fair lending practices and working against payday loans. This has been a common theme across several Assemblies this year and one I hope to summarize later in the summer.

So there is a brief introduction to this meeting. I would note that the first appearance of the human sexuality business items is set for Friday afternoon and at that point I would expect discussion and possible adoption of the process for dealing with this business.

So prayers and best wishes for the members of the 141st General Assembly and we look forward to looking over your shoulder as you discuss and discern the church’s future on many important issues.

[Programming note: The busiest week in the GA season is next week and I have some family business coming up this weekend so I will undoubtedly fall behind on writing. I will do my best and will probably favour more shorter notes than a few selected long one.]

Overtures To The 141st General Assembly About Changing Ordination Standards In The Presbyterian Church In Canada

Coming up later this week the 141st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada will convene in Vancouver. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that this Assembly meeting will be dominated by overtures and discussion directly focusing on ordination standards related to those in active same-sex relationships. While I will do a broader preview of the meeting in a couple days, here is a more detailed look at the background and business before the Assembly on this particular issue.

It is useful to realize that while ordination standards, and specifically those standards related to individuals in same-sex relationships, have been a hot topic for a while in a couple of Presbyterian branches, for the last couple decades it has been much more of a background issue for the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC). That has been changing quickly over the last few months.

The current discussion has its roots in the 1984 General Assembly when the Assembly asked for a Statement on Homosexuality which was presented to, and adopted by, the 1985 General Assembly. But to go along with that a study was requested and approved by the 1985 Assembly. It was presented to the 1992 Assembly which approved it and sent it down to the presbyteries. The final version was accepted by the 1994 General Assembly (page 251). The first two parts are available within a study guide prepared later.

The report deals with a number of issues regarding human sexuality but as regards homosexual relationships it follows the church’s doctrine and comes out against them:

6.20 Is homosexual practice a Christian option? Our brief, exegetical review of biblical texts set within the broader biblical perspective on our vocation as sexual beings leads us to say `No’. Committed heterosexual union is so connected with creation in both its unitive and procreative dimensions that we must consider this as central to God’s intention for human sexuality. Accordingly, Scripture treats all other contexts for sexual intercourse, as departures from God’s created order.

One individual resigned from the committee that drafted the study and four more recorded their dissent.

At the same Assembly where this study was accepted the Assembly was already dealing with a specific case. Mr. Darryl MacDonald was serving as a supply minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Lachine, Quebec. The church applied to the presbytery to ordain him and the presbytery approved and he was ordained. The decision was appealed to the General Assembly by 13 members of the presbytery and a nine-member investigating committee formed. With a slim five-member majority the committee recommended to the 1996 General Assembly that his ordination call be nullified. By a wide margin the Assembly approved the committee recommendations including that his certification for interim work be revoked as well. Presented with the request to come into compliance with the order of the General Assembly the church chose instead to sever ties with the denomination. There was another appeal to the 1998 General Assembly to at least allow Mr. MacDonald to preach in Presbyterian Churches. The Assembly reaffirmed the 1996 decision and stated that the revocation of the certificate was complete and he could not lead worship in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Ultimatly, St. Andrew’s joined the United Church and Mr. MacDonald was accepted as a minister in that denomination which had not barriers to ordination. In 2012 a petition was sent to the General Assembly pointing out that other United Church ministers could freely preach in Presbyterian pulpits and the force of the earlier Assembly decision meant one United Church minister in good standing in that denomination was singled out for exclusion. A special committee was formed and the Assembly concurred with that committee’s recommendation that the restriction should be lifted. The article in the Presbyterian Record quotes the committee convener:

“Accepting the petition removes an anomaly that only one ordained minister in a sister denomination is prohibited from preaching as a guest in one of our congregation’s pulpits,” said David Kilgour, a commissioner from the Presbytery of Ottawa and convener of the special committee.

  (Three other web sites that have information on this history include a page from Religious Tolerance, an AP news story and the successor church’s history web page.)

So that brings us to the recent developments. Since the 140th General Assembly a number of overtures from presbyteries and church sessions around Canada have been submitted for consideration by this year’s Assembly. The lead overture is #4 from the Presbytery of East Toronto titled “Full inclusion in the church of persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.” By my count there are six additional overtures that are concurring or similar in wording and intent. In response there was a flood of overtures that began with #6 from the Session Of Kortright, Guelph, Ontario titled “Affirming the Statement on Human Sexuality (1994).” There are a total of 13 of these or similar overtures. Beyond that there is an overture (#15) to encourage listening within the church on this subject, another (#16) to set up a process for dialogue about the issue and another (#29) to have the Church Doctrine Committee “review how The Presbyterian Church in Canada has formerly addressed the issue of homosexual relationships, and in particular to study the traditional exegesis of the biblical texts that speak to this issue, alongside the various revisionist readings of those texts that have been suggested in recent decades.”

In total, there are 24 overtures out of all 37 submitted to this Assembly that deal with human sexuality. You can find all the overtures at the end of the reports volume beginning on the 471st page of the volume.

One detail that might be a point of major discussion in this work, and which is the point of the one memorial submitted to the Assembly, is whether the act is a declaratory act and takes effect immediately or if it will need to be sent down to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act. The memorial and the overtures affirming the 1994 report request that any changes be sent to the presbyteries. The overtures requesting full inclusion ask for a declaratory act. In a parallel discussion the Church of Scotland just spent some time in a similar discussion and decided to send it to the presbyteries. On the one hand that is always a safe call, and from my sense of polity, if the PCC approves more inclusive language I would argue that it should go down to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act just as the Church of Scotland action did last year. However, I do disagree with the Kirk’s action this year as the action it took was more in the line of an adjustment to last year’s act to bring it in line with the new civil environment and not a brand new action so presbytery concurrence is not necessary.

One more interesting overture in here is the very last one, #37. It asks for a gracious dismissal policy for churches to leave the denomination, implicitly suggesting that particular churches might want to break with the PCC if the Assembly decides to change the ordination standards. As a polity note, and since the PC(USA) action is specifically mentioned, I would point out that the PC(USA) General Assembly action was to encourage presbyteries to have gracious dismissal policies resulting in a large number of various local policies and not a uniform national policy.

Now here comes the “hold onto your hat moment.” None of the actions respectfully requested of the Venerable the 141st General Assembly may happen, at least this year. Faced with this groundswell on both sides of the issue a special process is being proposed. Here are a few excepts from a Presbyterian Record article about the background:

Eighteen sessions and six presbyteries have filed overtures for discussion at this year’s General Assembly on the issue of human sexuality. This volume of response is without precedence in the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

“I went through the Acts and Proceedings from 1960 to 1966, the years before the ordination of women was approved,” Rev. Stephen Kendall [Principal Clerk of the General Assembly] told the Record. “There were three overtures on that issue.”..

The overwhelming response has prompted Kendall and his team at the Clerk’s office to proceed a little differently from previous years. All of the referred overtures have been sent to Committee on Church Doctrine and to Justice Ministries for review, so they can prepare themselves for the inevitable debate…

Three Presbyterian educators—Dale Woods, Principal of Presbyterian College, Montreal; Patricia Dutcher-Walls, Professor of the Hebrew Bible, Vancouver School of Theology; and, Kevin Livingston, Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto—have been asked to prepare a facilitation process on human sexuality. Time on the assembly agenda has been designated for these discussions. “Assembly should be a safe place for conversation,” said Kendall. Several blocks of time have been allotted to ensure voices are heard and ideas are shared.

“Assemblies are places of discernment and when we’re actually there together we will have the opportunity to do just that.”

In summary, the special facilitation process being proposed would defer decisions on the overtures until the whole church has had a chance to talk about them.  It would begin with discussions among the Assembly commissioners and spread to the wider church in the coming year. The recommendations also come with a reading list. (It will be interesting to see if Kevin DeYoung’s brand new book gets added to that list.) Here are the specific steps (slightly edited) being proposed which the commissioners would have to accept (the Recommendations begin on the 158th page of the Reports Volume):

  1. That the General Assembly move into a committee of the whole for up to two sessions of a facilitated process to discuss the issues addressed in the overtures concerning human sexuality and our church’s response to them. The Saturday session would be “Listening Circles” around the tables and the Sunday session would be “Praying Circles.”
  2. That notes of the conversations during the facilitated process be submitted to the Committee on Church Doctrine and the Life and Mission Agency Committee (Justice Ministries) to assist those committees as they prepare their responses to these overtures for a future General Assembly.
  3. That the Committee on Church Doctrine and the Life and Mission Agency (Justice Ministries) confer throughout the coming year as each continues the work of responding to the overtures referred to them.
  4. That the church (congregations, sessions, presbyteries, synods and standing committees) be encouraged to engage in a year of conversation and discernment on the topics of human sexuality, sexual orientation and other related matters raised in the overtures.
  5. That the Committee on Church Doctrine and the Life and Mission Agency (Justice Ministries) prepare a joint study guide on sexual orientation to be posted on the church’s website by the end of October, 2015.
  6. That the above be received as the interim response from the Committee on Church Doctrine and from the Life and Mission Agency (Justice Ministries) regarding our church’s response to sexual orientation today.

So if the recommendations are accepted there would be the start of significant discussion but limited debate about these issues at this General Assembly and recommendations would be returned from the Committee and the Agency to the 142nd General Assembly.

We will see what the will of the Assembly is regarding the overtures and the proposed process. As this develops you will probably find discussions on Facebook on the Presbyterian Record page as well as page of Canadian Presbyterians for the Ordination of Gay and Lesbian People.

So there is the background, the overtures and the recommendations for the Assembly to consider later this week. As I said, I will have the broader preview in a couple of days, but right now, Belfast is calling