Tag Archives: PCANZ

Presbyteries Begin Voting On Same-Sex Marriage Actions

With General Assembly season now behind us we move into the portion of the year where the actions of the General Assemblies that require presbytery concurrence are now being considered by the lower governing bodies.

Coming from three of the Assemblies we have proposed actions that have implications for same-sex marriage/partnerships within the church and the progress is being closely watched within each branch. Here is a brief summary of what to watch and where each is at this time.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a proposed constitutional amendment that now needs to be approved by the presbyteries. This change in the language of Book of Order section W-4.9000 has been bundled into the Amendment booklet and is now referred to as Amendment 14-F.

Presbytery voting has begun and the Office of the General Assembly is, as always, the official tracker of the votes. They have created a page specific to the marriage amendment that has not only resources about the GA action and that amendment, but a nifty map of the presbyteries that have reported their vote and which way it went. I have to admit that with only a few recorded so far it is a bit tough distinguishing between the shades of purple they use for yes and no, but once it begins to fill in the difference should be more obvious. And interesting to see that the Dakota nongeographic presbytery was geographically placed in southern Saskatchewan.

If you want the official tally of the voting on all amendments that is still there and shows that to date three presbyteries have officially recorded their votes ( 1 yes and 2 no on both 14-F and Blehar at this time ). Also interesting to note that the official page for the Belhar Confession does not have nifty map.

And for the polity wonks it is helpful to remember that the PC(USA) now has two less presbyteries for a total of 171 meaning that it takes 86 to approve a Book of Order Amendment and 114 to approve a change to the Book of Confessions.

For up-to-the-minute unofficial reporting I see that the Covenant Network is keeping an on-line tally with the presbytery voting results including the number of yes and no votes, something the OGA does not include. As of two weeks ago their tally was two presbyteries on each side.

While I will be doing a much more detailed analysis as more data are available, here is a quick comparison of the first four data point in comparison to 10-A. I will leave it for another time to discuss whether the comparison of two amendment that deal with significantly different equality questions is appropriate. Abstentions are included in the totals and the percentage after the total is the change in the number of total votes from 10-A.

Presbytery 14-F Yes 14-F No 14-F Total 10-A Yes 10-A No 10-A Total
New Castle 73 (74%) 24 (24%) 99 (-14%) 79 (69%) 34 (30%) 115
Palo Duro 25 (45%) 30 (55%) 55 (-35%) 35 (41%) 50 (59%) 85
San Diego 22 (22%) 76 (77%) 99 (+14%) 21 (24%) 66 (76%) 87
Yukon 27 (59%) 19 (41%) 46 (-22%) 21 (36%) 38 (64%) 59

So far we have two presbyteries with no on both, one yes on both and one switch from no to yes. In three out of four cases we see a significant decrease in the number of total votes cast. With 167 presbyteries left to go there is still a lot of data yet to be collected so I won’t go any further with this analysis now.


Church of Scotland

This past May the General Assembly 2014 of the Church of Scotland approved an act related to ministers in civil partnerships that affirms traditional language but includes proposed language (all found as an Appendix to the Legal Questions Committee report) for churches to request to depart from the traditional standards and it is now being voted on by the presbyteries as special legislation under the Barrier Act. There are 46 presbyteries and a majority of 24 are required for concurrence leading to the General Assembly giving it final considering in 2015.

The Principal Clerk’s office does not keep the official tally of the votes online but a group of evangelicals in the Kirk, Forward Together, has been monitoring voting. In a statement from last week (30 October) they indicate that they know of three presbyteries who have already voted no on the overture. That statement also contains a list of known dates of presbytery votes with the largest single day on the list this past Tuesday (4 November). The deadline to vote is in December.

In particular, the vote against by the Presbytery of Lewis received some publicity probably enhanced by the issuance of a statement following the vote. The story was picked up by the Stornoway Gazette and the KaleidoScot web site, among others.

Holding an alternate viewpoint on the question is Affirmation Scotland which says that they are disappointed the legislation does not go farther but supports it as an intermediate step. One of their affiliated churches, Greyfriers Church in Edinburgh, has recently made it clear that they are an inclusive congregation and that should the act be confirmed they will be an affirming congregation and request a departure from the act should the circumstances arise.


Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

In their General Assembly about a month ago they reaffirmed their support for marriage between one man and one woman and the Assembly sent to the presbyteries special legislation under the Barrier Act that would confirm that language in their Book of Order.

The act must be approved by a majority of the eleven presbyteries, two synods and two church councils.

It is relatively early in their process so we will see what announcements are made as it moves forward.



At this point the process is moving forward in each of the branches. While the Church of Scotland voting will be wrapping up in the next couple of months the other two branches will take a bit longer. As I indicated above, I will be taking the PC(USA) voting data and adding that to my database to see what observations we can make about that branch. For the other two there is a paucity of previous votes for statistical comparisons so we can only keep an eye on them as current snapshots of their denomination. We will see what happens.

PCANZ GA Says Ministers May Only Solemnize Marriage Between A Man And A Woman

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand concluded yesterday and in their final day of business the Assembly approved wording to be added to the Book of Order clarifying that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

At the present time the only reference I have found with details of this action is from the GA14 News for October 7 which links to a PDF copy of the press release.

Currently there is a Book of Order requirement for ordained leaders for faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman. There were proposals presented to the Assembly to change this as well as a proposal for congregations to fall out (their technical terminology) of this requirement if 2/3 of the congregation approves. None of these changes were approved by the Assembly.

From a polity wonk perspective the release gives the bare outlines of what happened so let’s drill down into the polity documents a bit.

The press release does mention the PCANZ Book of Order section discussing the standards for ordained office which says

(1A) Sexual relations outside marriage
In accordance with the supreme and subordinate standards of the Church, sessions, parish councils, presbyteries and united district councils shall not accept for training, license, ordain or induct anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of a faithful marriage between a man and a woman. In relation to homosexuality, and the interests of natural justice, this ruling shall not prejudice anyone who, as at 29 September 2006, had been accepted for training, licensed, ordained or inducted.

Regarding the new rule pertaining to conducting marriage ceremonies It seems that this sections on personal standards would not be the place to include such a rule. Reading over the Book of Order a bit it would seem that the first half of Chapter 6 where it talks about the nature, functions and responsibility of a minister would be a more suitable place to put it. Alternately, in the context of Church Councils in Chapter 7 there is some discussion of providing for worship and maybe it could be placed there.

But in light of this wild speculation on my part, as of now the only section of the Book of Order that specifically mentions marriage is section 9.1(1A) that is quoted above. Adding it to another section would be adding a specific requirement or responsibility in a section that currently is more general.

Now, the PCANZ does have a Directory for Worship as well. In their documents the Book of Order is similar to what several other branches refer to as the Form of Government section and the Directory for Worship stands as its own document. Under the Book of Order the Directory is authoritative in its own right and does have a section on marriage (section 4.11) that reflects the traditional Reformed four-fold nature of marriage and that marriage is between one man and one woman. (For the PC(USA) types it is very close to the wording in G-4.9001 that is currently being considered for replacement.)

So, another possible explanation is that the new wording on conducting marriages will be added to the Directory for Worship and the wording in the press release was simplified wording since most people are not polity wonks.

I do have a request into the PCANZ for clarification and amplification and if I receive a response I will update it here.

UPDATE: With thanks to Mr. Martin Baker, the Assembly Executive Secretary, for responding to my questions, a couple of interesting and unique points were brought out. The primary one is that while the special legislation will probably be added to Chapter 6, the exact placement is not handled by the Assembly directly but will be determined at a future date by the Book of Order Advisory Committee.  He also confirmed that the act was passed ad interim so it goes into effect immediately, and that there will be no changes to 9.1(1A) from this Assembly. Thanks for the response and now we see about the concurrence from the wider church.

In addition, the changes to the Book of Order follow the opposite model from what American Presbyterians are used to as the rule goes into effect right away and is later removed if the presbyteries do not agree.

The press release also adds that the Assembly “decided against establishing a special commission on diversity to facilitate a programme of informed study on matters relating to sexuality in leadership and the conduct of marriage including liberty of conscience.”

It is worth noting in closing that one church, St. Andrew’s on the Terrace in Wellington very quickly issued a press release declaring that they would defy the ban. As the article says:

“This decision is deeply disturbing and we strongly dissent from it” says St Andrew’s Parish Convenor, Sonia Groes-Petrie. “The Presbyterian tradition is for ministers to have freedom to make decisions about whom they will marry. There is a range of opinions on same-sex marriage within the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and today’s decision does not reflect that diversity.”

This has a ways to go so we will see how it develops.

UPDATE: A great piece on the General Assembly in general by Bruce Hamill is now available. He does focus on the process around the issues related to sexuality and talks a bit about the 200 commissioners who left the floor for the balance of the debate at one point in the proceedings, something I did not include above.

Presbyterian Church Of Aotearoa New Zealand 2014 Assembly Week

10398703_126651710107_3734627_nAs we find ourselves in October we have the opportunity for one last General Assembly this year as the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand gathers at Saint Kentigern College in Auckland.

But this gathering is different than years past as it puts more emphasis on community and less on business, having been rebranded as Assembly Week. (Actually, five days from 3 October to 7 October.)

F_6303_PRE_Assembly_Week_logo_Colour-01_MedThe Moderator-designate, Andrew Norton, describes the week on the web page:

This year for the first time the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is having an Assembly Week. One part of the Assembly Week will be what we have known as the General Assembly, this is where the discerning and decision making is done (by commissioners) – but that’s just the beginning!

Assembly Week will also have a full conference known as Inspiring Mission that is open to everyone within our Church family.

When General Assembly 2012 voted to have an Assembly Week and invited me to lead as moderator I started listening! I heard the cries of pain of how we have hurt one another through our debates, I heard expressions of hope that we could be a Church recaptured again by the mission of God and I heard the hunger for belonging and the thirst for inspiration and resourcing. It is my prayer that Assembly Week 2014 will touch and heal our hurts, will inspire us in God’s mission and nourish our souls in a community of prayer and belonging.

In addition to the usual business meetings of the Assembly there is another full program of Assembly week events, some of which run concurrently with the business. In addition, there are four speakers presenting keynote talks, headlined by the Rev. Dr. Steve Taylor, Principal of the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology in South Australia. The theme of his three studies, all drawn from the Gospel of Luke, will be “Hospitality – your place or mine?”

But wait, there is more… For the first time a National Youth Gathering will also be part of Assembly Week.

A lot going on, and in the midst of it all a General Assembly. Here is what you need to know:

  • Reports are for commissioners only and they can download them from the White Book page
  • Does not look like there will be live streaming or posted updates, but from one of the Assembly pages you can sign up for emailed updates. Keep an eye also on the News Archive page for meeting items that may be posted there. And there is a news feed on the Assembly Week site.
  • UPDATE: Daily news pages are being created like this one for Saturday (and did someone get mixed up on the date?)
  • However, if you want their polity documents the Statements of Faith and the Book of Order are available for download. The For Parishes page has a number of other resources that a GA Junkie might find interesting.

To follow along on social media probably the first place to start is the PCANZ Facebook Page. In addition, the new Moderator, Rev. Norton, has an official web site and blog that could make for interesting reading.

For Twitter, I am not aware of an official Twitter feed for the PCANZ and so far I have found little conversation about the meeting. I would point you to Jason Goroncy (@jasongoroncy) who is typically actively tweeting and who is using the hashtag #GA14 for the meeting. As usual, I will update if I see additional conversations of interest.

I look forward with interest to see how this larger gathering works out. It is an attractive idea and if the proper balance can be struck between the business meeting and the learning and inspirational workshops and events it will be a model worth repeating and exporting elsewhere.

Best wishes and our prayers are with you for the next few days.