For a GA Junkie, two years is a long time to wait. While the webcast of the Church of Scotland GA goes a long way to helping me get my fix of polity and politics, there is nothing like your own General Assembly to really satisfy the cravings. So, with a little over seven month to go until the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) kicks off in San José, California, what can we look forward to?
The first item is that the web site is up and running and beginning to be populated. Now, it takes some real detective work to find the web site because I did not see any links on the major front pages for it. In fact, in looking for it I found that the Office of the General Assembly General Assembly page still lists the 216th in 2004 as the last one there is information for and the 217th in 2006 in Birmingham is still “upcoming.” The best way to find the 218th page that I have found is to look for the coverage of the Stated Clerk search.
Speaking of which, that is the major news that I have seen to date. I don’t think anything has changed there since my “ Want to be a Stated Clerk?” post. Nominations/Applications are due December 23. I have not caught wind of any “announced candidates” yet.
A major item, probably the one that will mark this GA, is the report of the Form of Government Task Force (FOG) and the proposed re-write of the Book of Order. Here there is plenty of action and that web page is loaded. So loaded that I am still trying to find time to digest it all and figure out what the proposed changes really mean. This makes me wonder if the commissioners will have time to reflect upon it or will depend on the interpretations from various groups and individuals. The presentation by FOG will probably be very important in the commissioners decision. Again, I have not heard much buzz about whether people like or dislike the rewrite and I’ll probably be spending some down time in December digesting it myself.
An always closely watched item are the overtures to GA. At the present time there are 13 overtures posted.
Of these, three overtures (001, 003, and 013) that deal with the status of churches: Two form union churches and one transfers a congregation into a Korean non-geographic presbytery. The union churches seem to be good news/bad news as I read them. For 001, this appears to be a joint church-plant in Wyoming by the PC(USA) and the ELCA. The other, 013, in central New York could be interpreted as a PC(USA) and UMC church joining forces to continue ministry in the face of declining membership. Finally, 003, the transfer of a church to a Korean presbytery, and there are continuing rumors of a push for a Korean synod, even though at one point language presbyteries were to be phased out.
Overture 004 appears to be a bit of housekeeping to clarify a point in the Rules of Discipline about pronouncing censure. This may have resulted from some questions that arose in a PJC case I was peripherally involved in and that I had offered to overture from my presbytery.
And overture 002 asks to reinstate the annual mission season offering.
There are the usual overtures about speaking out on national and world situations: 006 on Peace and Justice in Palestine and Israel, 012 on Calling for Tolerance and Peaceful relations between Christian and Muslim Communities, and 008 on the Church Addressing Intergenerational Injustice in America.
Finally, the balance of the overtures address the PC(USA) internal issues, principally ordination standards. With the success of last year’s Authoritative Interpretation (AI) in the PUP Report that provided a polity statement without Presbytery approval, many of these contain new authoritative interpretations. One interesting approach is overture 010 from Beaver-Butler that would broaden the definitions of presbyteries and permit presbyteries based on theology. (The web page notes that they are awaiting a clarification about something from the presbytery.) There is overture 005 which would completely rescind the action of the 217th GA regarding the PUP report. And then there is 011 which would strike G-6.0106b and issue an Authoritative Interpretation canceling all previous Interpretations and Guidance on ordination standards. And in more moderate actions 009 proposes an AI that would apply to G-6.0108 indicating that Freedom of Conscience does not apply to the ordination standards of G-6.0106b.
An in an interesting move, the Presbytery of East Tennessee submits overture 007 that would have the Moderator announce each vote with the words:
common faith in, and allegiance to, Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,
let us proceed to vote on the question before us.
As commissioner voting is just beginning it is a little bit early to start tracking Moderator candidates. The one that I know of is the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow who, in modern style, announced in his blog on Friday that he would be asking his presbytery, San Francisco, to endorse him as a candidate for Moderator if they elected him as one of their commissioners. I’m sure we’ll be hearing about more moderator candidates soon. But in a similar vain, my son will be going before our session this month to ask to be endorsed as a candidate for Youth Advisory Delegate (YAD) from our presbytery.
Finally, I need to mention that the Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA) has their web site up and running at this time as well.