39th General Assembly Of The Evangelical Presbyterian Church

The 39th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has just begun gathering at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church, near Denver. Today, and most of tomorrow, there are workshops and classes as part of the annual Leadership Institute. Business sessions convene tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday 19 June, and will continue through Friday afternoon, as needed.

The Assembly meeting will be live streamed on the web and through the General Assembly app.

There is a lot of information online, most linked through the Documents page and the GA 2019 page. Here are some of the links for information about Assembly business and operation:

As for social media, there is a bit of that out there. There is a Facebook page for the EPC that is currently being updated regularly with Leadership Institute and Assembly items. The official EPC Twitter feed is @EPChurch and the active official hashtag (#epc2019ga) has sprung to life. There is also a feed for EPC Student Ministries (@EPCStudentMin), EPC World Outreach (@EPCWO) and the Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah (@Jeff_Jeremiah ) -but none have been active for a while. However, the Moderator-elect, Case Thorp (@casethorp), has been actively tweeting leading up to the meeting.

As for individuals, strong live tweeting going from Matthew Everhard (@matt_everhard) and Zach Hopkins (@Zhop59). There are initial, promising tweets from Brandon M. Queen (@BQPHOTOS) and Andrew J. Winter (@TheAndrewWinter). And maybe we will see a bit more color and correction from Decent & In Order (@Decent_Orderly).

The theme of the Assembly is “Unstoppable: Keep on Asking, Keep on Seeking, Keep on Knocking,” based on Mathew 7:7.

One of the highlights of the Assembly will be the Wednesday morning and Thursday evening [corrected – regret the error] speaker, EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson, who was released from detainment in Turkey last October after being held there for two years on charges of support of terrorism and espionage. According to the website, they expect an overflow crowd for worship that evening.

Another item of interest is the search for a new Stated Clerk to fill that position when Dr. Jeremiah steps down after his current term ends in 2021. The National Leadership Team is asking for authorization to form a search committee made up of one member from each of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries and to have it begin its work.

There is a good summary of all the action items coming to the Assembly this year. A couple of items of business stand out. One that caught my eye was an overture from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest that requests adding language to the Book of Order that clarifies that candidates being examined for ordination are being examined to be ordained by an EPC presbytery. The Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) recommends approving this change. Another overture from the Presbytery of the East would add as voting members of a presbytery those ruling elders who were elected to leadership positions other than the officers of the presbytery. The PJC recommends it be disapproved as it does not meet “the requirements for clarity, consistency of language, and compatibility.”

Looking to the future the NLT is recommending the Moderator appoint an ad interim committee “composed of five REs or TEs from diverse, strongly-supporting churches across multiple presbyteries to address how to improve our churches’ long-term culture of giving to the EPC” and to evaluate the Per-Member Asking formula. On another front, the Next Generation Ministries Council is asking that presbyteries be encouraged “in creation of Next Generation Networks for children, youth, and college workers in collaboration with the Next Generation Ministries Council.”

For the polity wonks, there is a proposed amendment to the Book of Government section of the Book of Order brought forward by the National Leadership Team (NLT) that would make explicit in the constitution a policy that has been voiced for many years that the EPC does not have the called position of co-pastor. The paragraph from the NLT report captures this well:

Since 1985, when the Fifth General Assembly approved the Permanent Judicial Commission’s ruling that the office of “Co-Pastor” is “non-existent,” it has been the official position of the EPC that this office is prohibited. However, this position is not explicitly declared in the Book of Government. A number of EPC churches that came from another denomination in the past ten years were familiar with or had used the “co-pastor” model in their past. Some of these churches have questioned the “constitutionality” of the prohibition of co-pastor. The NLT recommended amendment to the Book of Government makes explicit constitutionally the position of the EPC since 1985.

A lot going on this week. I wish the EPC commissioners well and we will be lifting them up in our prayers as they meet.

215th Stated Meeting Of The General Synod Of The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

arpc_2846216

Having introduced the Synod meeting of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, it would be appropriate to turn our attention to the 215th Stated Meeting of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. As mentioned previously, these are concurrent meetings with joint worship, workshops and some plenary meetings that began this morning at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

The basic documents for the meeting are posted. First, there is a schedule for the meeting with a general business agenda. The ARP News is posting many of the other items associated with the meeting, including the pages of the metrical psalms to be sung during the joint worship services. Commissioner-specific material was distributed to registered commissioners ahead of the meeting and unlike some previous years is not publically available online.

For the doctrinal and polity standards of the ARPC you can check out their Governing Documents page which has all of those, plus links to some other interesting information.

While there is no live stream, the ARP’s official media outlet takes up the challenge nicely. ARP Magazine will be extensively covering the meeting on their news feed, Facebook page and on Instagram. The news feed will also be the place to look for daily updates every evening. They are also the official Twitter feed for the meeting as well (@arpmagazine) and the usual hashtag is #arpsynod2019 although this year #arpsynod is clearly in the mix. While there is the official main @ARPChurch feed it has been quiet for a while. World Witness (@theworldwitness), and Erskine Seminary (@ErskineSeminary) are active, however.

Looking at the initial Twitter action I would recommend Benjamin Glaser (@WVPitt), and Mark James (@GeraldMarkJames). And since these are concurrent meetings, you might want to keep an eye in the other hashtag, #RPSynod.

Without the reports, it is tough to preview the business of this meeting, but one of the reports that caught my attention is tomorrow morning related to Homosexual Orientation. While I don’t know the content of the report, or if any recommendations are being presented, I have a degree of curiosity if it is at all related to a significant discussion that has developed in the PCA over orientation, above and beyond homosexual practice. We will see what the reports on the Synod let us know after this business.

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

188th Synod Of The Reformed Presbyterian Church In North America

This is an interesting week in GA Junkie Land as there are two sets of concurrent meetings happening at this moment. While I may get a chance to look in on the joint meetings of the Cumberland Presbyterians and the Cumberland Presbyterians in America, I first want to look in on the other set of meetings.

This morning the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America convened their 188th Synod while the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church began their Synod as well, both on the campus of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. This is college associated with the RPCNA and this joint synod is the reciprocal gathering to the concurrent meeting of these two branches four years ago at Bonclarken, the ARPC conference center in North Carolina.

And if I may take a minute, this is your regular reminder that while the RPCNA and the ARPC have their own sets of unions and divisions over the years, ultimately they are their own streams – the Covenanters and the Seceders respectively – that came over from Scotland and Ireland independent of the branch we now consider the American Presbyterian mainline and the many branches off of that.

OK, on to what is happening this week.

This is not a meeting with a live stream so we are out of luck there, but regular updates are appearing on the RPCNA Synod Facebook page and that appears to be the best point to follow along. The main RPCNA web page also points us to updates at the site of their denominational magazine, RP Witness, where there are daily updates, so we will keep an eye on that as well. For completeness, I would mention that they also have a general RPCNA Facebook page, but that points you to the Synod page for updates. Photos are being posted on a gallery site that appears to require an email address to access.

So far there is a bit of Twitter chatter, but more saying that it is happening than updates from the floor. We will see if that changes as the meeting progresses. The hastag is #RPSynod but worth keeping an eye on #RPCNA and #ARPSynod as well. Three Twitter accounts with official connections are RP Witness Magazine (@RPWitnessMag), the publishing arm Crown & Covenant (@crowncovenant), and their seminary @RPTSeminary. For individuals, I would mention Nathan Eshelman (@pastoreshelman), Allan Edwards (@edwardsae1), and Jules’ Diner (@julesdiner). I plan to have the ARPC preview up later today with a list of a few more from that side who will be commenting on the combined sessions as well.

Dockets, schedules or reports are usually not posted. The Constitution is available for download to see their confessional and polity standards.

I looked but could not find the usual Synod preview article from RP Witness magazine so I can’t point you to a good source of the business coming up. Yesterday there was a pre-Synod workship on Psalmody with an article from PR Witness. A number of years ago the Home Mission Board began a 20/20 Vision initiative with goals for new church plants and mission churches leading up to having 100 bodies – congregations and mission churches – in the RPCNA but the year 2020. The church has exceeded every goal and now has 104 worshipping groups or churches, exceeding the goal a year early. There is also an indication that a Study Committee on Divorce will be making their report.

Finally, a little levity is in order. Allan Edwards, who I mentioned above, has provided us not one, but two Bingo cards for these meetings, depending on what you want to track. As hinted above by the Psalmody workshop, while the ARP has leanings in that direction, the RPCNA is an RPW denomination that worships with exclusive unaccompanied Psalm singing. So, card 1 is the sung Psalms bingo card. And for the polity wonks, card 2 is the business session bingo card.

In closing, our best wishes to Andy McCracken who was chosen as the Moderator this morning. Our prayers are with him, and both synods, as the meet over the next four days. May your deliberations be guided by the Holy Spirit.

86th General Assembly Of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church

210px-OrthodoxPresbyterianChurchlogo

The 86th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church will convene this evening, Wednesday, 5 June, at 7 PM Central Time on the campus of the University of Texas in Richardson (Dallas), Texas. The meeting will conclude by noon on Tuesday, 11 June.

[UPDATE 2: The running daily updates are there now!] This GA does not have live streaming but we usually have the next best thing: There is a tradition of very well done running daily reports for the OPC GA and in expecting the tradition to continue watch this page when the assembly gets underway.

The agenda and reports are not posted online but you can access the Book of Church Order and the Standing Rules and Instruments of GA if you need background material. There is also a collection of reports from previous GA’s that have become guidance for the church.

The OPC has elected to keep a perpetual hashtag for their meeting (no sticking a year or GA number in there) so it should once again be #OPCGA. In terms of who to follow, I can start with the brand new OPC Twitter account (@OrthodoxPC) with all of two tweets, both from yesterday. You can also follow them on their official Facebook page. In addition, the OPC Home Missions (@opchomemissions) has an active feed. From here, I’ll just list the usual suspects and update once things get rolling.  The list would include Christopher Drew (@ChristopherDrew), and it is probably worth keeping an eye on the Reformed Forum (@ReformedForum) crew including Camden Bucey (@CamdenBucey) and Jim Cassidy (@jjcassidy). Early Twitter action suggests Forest Braden (@fbraden8) and Chris Dickason (@Cad_lib) will be tweeting. In addition, we might see comments on D. G. Hart’s feed (@oldlife), maybe The Daily Genevan (@TheDailyGenevan), and an autoretweeter tied to one of their denominational associations, NAPARC. UPDATE: After a day of business, I would add Jim Stevenson (@RevJimOPC) and Sean G. Morris (@mrseangmorris) to the follow list.

Since reports and detailed agendas are not available to anyone but the commissioners, it is difficult to highlight any particular business items that will be coming to the Assembly in advance of it being considered on the floor. Keep an eye on the running report and maybe Twitter for info on what is being discussed.

And in light of recent developments, it should be mentioned that one topic that will be on many people’s minds is the April shooting at the Chabad Synagogue outside San Diego. If you are not aware, the shooter was a member of the nearby Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The OPC released a statement on the shooting. A response piece by OPC pastor and college professor Carl Trueman, “Who’s to blame when the shooter is one of our own?” got some wide distribution, and there are other related pieces from D. G. Hart, and Shane Anderson on the Daily Genevan.

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

Today’s Presbyterian Church In Canada General Assembly Business – Choosing A Path Towards Inclusion

With all due respects to my friends in Ireland, for me, today was about the Presbyterian Church in Canada General Assembly.

As I mentioned in my preview piece, one of the big items on the agenda today was for the GA to discern a path forward in the on-going discussion regarding same-sex marriage and partnered LGBTQI individuals’ involvement in the denomination.

So spoiler alert: Through the process today the GA chose a pathway towards an inclusive stand for the church. Caveats: It was acknowledged that it was not “full inclusion” as there are still unanswered details – like expecting active LGBTQI individuals to be in relationship within marriage; It is not a done-deal as aspects of this need to be approved by presbyteries under the Barrier Act; and details of churches wanting to leave the denomination with resources and property are to be addressed later.

To briefly review, a blue-ribbon panel of 14 former moderators made up a Special Committee that returned with a process and four pathways forward to be considered in the process. The process was to have the Assembly descend into a committee of the whole to first ask questions, then have large-group time when people could speak to their preferred pathway, and sometimes a second choice they could live with. This was followed by small group discussion and finally preferential (ranked) voting on the four pathways. The four pathways are quickly described as Current Practice, Inclusive, One Denomination – Three Streams, and Pastoral Accommodation.

As the business began there were a series of parliamentary/polity motions, most of which were defeated or ruled out of order. The first was to count the Young Adult Representatives’ (YARs) votes with the commissioners. That was ruled out of order because they are not commissioned by their presbyteries and don’t have the standing to speak for them. It was granted to the YARs to have their voting preference recorded. Another motion was to have the live stream turned off. I was ready for this as this does sometimes happen with sensitive topics. It turns out the stated objective was not privacy but to keep commissioners from being coached by observers from afar. While defeated the request was made for those in the room to turn off their phones and put needed devices on airplane mode. While a bit heated at times, and at some points confused by the parliamentary differences between committee of the whole and assembly, the GA did not descend very far into the first “polity circle of Hell.”

From there on out the discussion was similar to what long-term observers of these discussions have heard before. One of the big differences was hearing speakers say “I favour A but could live with C” or “I really want B, but will speak in favour of D because I think it has a better chance of passing.” The debate was civil and I was impressed with the high number of commissioners that stuck to the rule and spoke only positively about their preference(s). But, the full-group time did drag out and had to be continued after lunch, with the length of speeches cut to 90 seconds.

At the end of the committee of the whole time both YARs and commissioners voted for Pathway B and rising from the committee of the whole back to the full Assembly there were immediately a number of amendments including change B to C (three streams) which was defeated, and adding language about departing churches – which was ruled out of order as that will be considered in a later report.

As for the vote, it was not originally going to be announced but pressed by the Assembly I thought I heard that 121 votes were for Pathway B and 91 dissents were filed after the vote. Will update when the minutes are posted.

One of the interesting points in the discussion related to churches leaving is that many commissioners were using the phrase used in the PC(USA) – “gracious dismissal.” In one of those “you keep using that word…” moments, in the PC(USA) the dismissals are being viewed as less gracious where the denomination – be it the presbytery or the national church – has obtained a legal judgement. Here, I sensed that the speakers were looking for a fairly cost-free dismissal. Stay tuned for more on this later in the week.

So what the PCC has is a pathway forward. The Special Committee was clear that they were providing frameworks to chose from and not planned out scripts for moving forward. The details will be in the hands of an Implementation Committee, a committee which will not include one of the former moderators. (This would be much like the PC(USA)’s Way Forward Commission passed the work off to the Moving Forward Implementation Commission.) The members of the Committee on Pathway Implications were elected in the evening sederunt with the need for a re-do in the sederunt with concerns about the diversity of the members of the committee.

And one of the interesting points about the Inclusive Pathway was discussed and acknowledged in the Assembly – while there will be liberty of conscience for teaching elders already ordained, and any ruling elder, teaching elders ordained in the future will not have that liberty and would be “expected to affirm same-sex marriage and to participate in the ordinations and inductions of LGBTQI clergy who are in same-sex marriages.” This seemed to leave at least one student in the room thinking “I better finish up, find a call, and get ordained soon.”

The full report with English, French, and Korean versions is available. I have extracted the one page with the Pathway B: Inclusion info if you want the bare minimum. And there is the official update on this business from the PCC.

So that is what happened today at the Presbyterian Church in Canada GA. And yes, that was about all the business that was handled today – a bit of other business was squeezed into the evening session. There is much to be worked out so we will see what happens in the days, weeks and months ahead with all the details that need to be worked out and approvals that need to happen. Stay tuned…

And if you want a commissioner’s perspective on today’s process check out Scott McAndless’ piece on his blog.

2019 General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Ireland

bush

So with one live stream going in the background as I write, we turn to get ready for the next one of this busy week and month.

Shortly before I post this, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will convene their 2019 General Assembly in Belfast with a worship service and the installation of the new Moderator, the Right Rev William Henry. The Assembly runs through Friday 7 June. Here is some info to help follow along:

  • The live stream is embedded in the 2019 Assembly Overview page along with links to other resources.
  • The 2019 General Assembly Page has a summary docket of report dates and times. And one of these two pages will probably have video clips of highlights of the Assembly.
  • The special Wednesday evening program is themed “Enjoying God” – the new Moderator’s theme for the year – and will be live streamed. The special speaker for the evening is the Rev Glen Scrivener, the Director of the charity Speak Life.
  • Wednesday evening before the worship service, the PCI Youth Assembly will be holding a Fringe Event around the theme of “Developing and building unity, within congregations and beyond.” In addition, following the Assembly’s adjournment there will be the traditional Youth Night on Saturday evening, which will probably be live streamed. The theme is “CALLED – Hearing God’s Voice. Bearing God’s Name.”
  • Most of the resources for the Assembly be found on, or linked from, the Assembly Overview page. The Blue Book reports and Supplementary reports will be posted there on Tuesday morning. The Daily Minutes will also be posted there along with daily previews. There is a detailed list of business that is posted on its own page.
  • The polity documents include the main document, The Code, as well as the helpful A Guide to Assembly Procedure.
  • The News page will carry official press releases and news items including the pre-Assembly press release which contains a rundown of the major moments and business at the Assembly this year.

There are plenty of social media contact points for the Assembly, beginning with the official Twitter account @PCIAssembly which always provides a detailed and comprehensive report of the Assembly. Please note the comprehensive part, because the level of detail can make the feed very busy. This is generally a good thing but you have been warned that the number of tweets will be very high. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) The official moderator’s feed at @PCIModerator has become a great source as well, but don’t count on a lot during the Assembly itself. We will see if Mr. Henry tweets during GA and how much he shares in his moderatorial year. The official hashtag for the Assembly is #pciga19. And it is worth keeping an eye on the PCI Facebook page as well. I would add at this point the church’s divinity school, Union Theological College (@UnionTCollege).

Other ministries of the church that have Twitter accounts are Presbyterian Women (@PWinIreland), Mission Ireland (@MissionIreland) and PCI Global Missions (@PCIOverseas). I include these for the sake of completeness, but they all have been pretty quiet for a while.

The other set of social media contacts to keep an eye on are those related to the Youth Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Following them on their Facebook page is probably the best, although they do have the Youth and Children’s Ministry account @PCIYAC. on Twitter, but that has not been active for a while.

My list of others to watch for interesting and useful updates always starts with outside reporter and insightful commentator Alan in Belfast (@alaninbelfast). He has already published on his blog an interesting piece on his blog “Browsing a Bygone Blue Book – a look back at the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 1927” which is a great snapshot of where the church was then, and how some things don’t seem to change. For following some of the active leadership of the church, I would point to former Moderator Rob Craig (@RobCraig54) and Cheryl Meban (@cherylmeban) who is a university chaplain and has been active on church committees. Others have been a bit quiet up to this point and will be updating over the next day as things get rolling.

The business of the Assembly this year is extensive and for a better review, I would point you to the GA preview news article and the comments there by Clerk of the General Assembly, the Rev Trevor Gribben. I will highlight a few items that I have been following in the past year and the lead-up to the Assembly.

The first of these is the doctrinal stand that the Assembly has been reaffirming the past few years and which was stated very strongly last year: A divided Assembly affirmed the traditional view of marriage between a man and a woman and carried that over not just to the standards for ordination but to some rights of membership as well. This led to breaking ties with other churches who were moving away from this position, notably the Church of Scotland. The relationship with the Church of Scotland will be reviewed this year and it will be interesting to hear how the body’s thought has aged in the past year. This stand was also widely publicized in the public media and led to some significant protest so this Assembly is being widely watched for that. This position has also resulted in the dismissal of the Rev. Prof. Laurence Kirkpatrick from the faculty of Union Theological College, another action which hit the mainstream media. (BBC, Belfast Telegraph, Irish Times).

Speaking of Union Theological College, over the last year Queens University, Belfast, the institution that hosted Union and three other smaller religious schools in its Institute of Theology, decided to close the Institute and break the ties with the churches. The estimate of the shortfall for the PCI from lost fees is £250,000 by 2022. As Mr. Gribben says in the preview article, “The Assembly will be taking time to reflect on that change, but will also be looking forward to hearing of the emerging plans for a new and potentially exciting future for the College.”

One of the major moments in the Assembly will be an Alternative Presentation on Thursday titled Life Always Matters. As the preview article says:

[I]t seeks to speak into the professional world and public square on the dignity of human life. Through specially commissioned video, a presentation and an informal panel discussion involving three Presbyterian elected representatives, the General Assembly will be looking at dementia care, end of life care and child and adolescent mental health services.

And one more item of the many – The report by the Dealing with the Past Task Group. This group, which has been working for three years, is looking at how Presbyterians responded to the Troubles. From the preview article:

The aim of this significant undertaking is to tell a wider story than has been available to date. The stories of ordinary Presbyterians that have emerged from the 100-plus interviews will be published in a book towards the end of the year, and the Church will be seeking to learn from this significant project.

In the article, Mr. Gribben says of this report, “There are, however, occasions when substantial pieces of work, like that of the Dealing with the Past Task Group, can have positive impact beyond the doors of the denomination itself.” One reason it caught my attention is that in conversations I have had about the PCI and its actions, I have been advised that the Troubles are one of the lenses that must be considered when analyzing even current actions.

So much I could mention, but time is limited. I am looking forward to the significant discussions ahead of the PCI in this Assembly. As always, our prayers are with the Assembly and the Moderator for the work ahead and their discernment and guidance by the Holy Spirit. We look forward to following their work.

145th General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church In Canada

I hope you are ready because it is now the month of June and the General Assembly Season is about to get VERY busy. First up, this evening the 145th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada opened with worship and they have installed their new Moderator.

The first sederunt this evening, including opening worship, was held in the sanctuary of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, of Kitchener, Ontario. The meeting will continue through Thursday 6 June 2019 and the remaining business sessions will be held at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario

A few things to know to help follow along:

  • There will live streaming of the Assembly meetings and they are typically archived afterwards
  • From the GA 2019 page you can download the full and final Book of Reports. The daily schedule is found on page 4 of the packet and a more detailed docket begins on page 6. The Supplementary Reports is available from the GA 2019 page as well. The Book of Reports contains both a synopsis of each report, frequently one page in length, as well as the full report from each body reporting. The synopsis of reports begins on page 32.
  • Official news updates are available on the news feed. 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 available on the GA 2019 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 “Receive the Holy Spirit”.

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 #pccga2019. And we can expect pictures on the PC Connect Flickr feed.

As we go into this GA, let me first point to one of my Twitter stalwarts, Jeff Loach (@passionatelyhis) although I have not seen a GA tweet from him yet. I have seen GA activity from another GA go-to commentator, Scott McAndless (@A_Nobel_Theme) who once again will be blogging about the GA. And one more who has had a few GA-related tweets is Matthew Brough (@mbrough). UPDATE: Pleased to see that another GA veteran is tweeting, that being John Borthwick (@jborthwik).

Over the last few years, the continuing discussion has been on human sexuality and what path the church is going to take. At last year’s Assembly they decided they were at an impasse and decided to form a Special Committee of Past Moderators – fourteen in total – to help them through it. (And I would note that one of the Moderators’ first recommendations is “we are concerned that this not become a practice of the church.”) This Special Committee will be the first report on Tuesday morning and their proposal can be found in the final edition of the Book of Reports starting on page 472. Procedurally, they are proposing that the Assembly descend to a Committee of the Whole to discuss, both as a large group and at tables of smaller groups, four possible paths forward.

The first pathway is the Current Practice option. This would hold things are they are: marriage is between one man and one woman, homosexual orientation would not be considered a sin but the church would not conduct same-sex marriages and only celibate LGBTQI individuals would be eligible for ordination as teaching and ruling elders.

The Inclusion Pathway would open the church to conducting same-sex marriages and those in same-sex marriages would be eligible for ordination as teaching and ruling elders. Significantly, while this option would have the liberty of conscience for sessions, individual ruling elders and congregations, there would be none for new teaching elders going forward and those ordained in the future ” would be expected to affirm same-sex marriage and to participate in the ordinations and inductions of LGBTQI clergy who are in same-sex marriages.”

The third Pathway is One Denomination – Three Streams. If adopted, this would set up a Traditional, an Accommodating, and an Affirming stream in the church. Sessions would recommend to their congregations and congregations would approve their membership in a particular stream. Congregations and teaching elders would be free to change their stream at any time. All presbyteries would be dissolved and new presbyteries within each stream would be created. Because of this structural change, the plan would require that it be sent down to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act for their concurrence before the plan could be implemented. (And to be clear, the second and fourth pathways also have elements that would require the presbyteries to approve under the Barrier Act.)

Finally, the fourth Pathway is Pastoral Accommodation. Under this option, the doctrine of the church would remain as it is now, as discussed above in the first pathway. However, there would be a suspension of discipline so that congregations that felt called to could host same-sex marriages and could ordain, call and install married LGBTQI individuals in their congregations without concern for being disciplined.

Will this break the impasse? Tune in on Tuesday morning for the start of this discussion which will have additional reports and discussions on Wednesday. In addition, the Special Committee Re Listening (LGBTQI People) has a recommendation that “any form of conversion or reparative therapy is not a helpful or appropriate pastoral response.” Also, as a response to this whole process, the Assembly Council is asking that a group be formed to bring a report to the next GA regarding churches that which to leave the denomination.

There are a number of other topics up for discussion and a few jumped out at me. The International Affairs Committee has a recommendation “That the Moderator write to the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan expressing prayerful support for its country and its people that they will continue to live and serve one another in a peaceful democracy.” The Clerks of Assembly have a recommendation that options for flexibility in ruling elder terms on sessions be sent down to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act. And the Committee on Church doctrine is recommending that the report on recreational marijuana be brought to next year’s GA.

So prayers and best wishes for the members of the 145th General Assembly and as they address issues so difficult, but so important to the future witness of the church. May you indeed be guided by the Holy Spirit in these substantive matters of witness and ministry.

2019 General Assembly Of The Free Church Of Scotland (Continuing)

Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) General Assembly

So, let’s round out this weeks assembly activity in Edinburgh…

While the other two Assemblies are meeting up near the top of the Royal Mile, a bit to the south of them, in the Liberton area, the smallest of the three will be in session.

The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) convened at 6 PM this evening at Liberton Kirk, Kirkgate, Liberton, Edinburgh, and will conclude this coming Thursday, probably before noon. The church’s press release has more details on the meeting arrangements as well as a summary schedule.

The book of reports is available for download online. For governing documents and church order, the Acts of Assembly are available online and the basic polity document is the Westminster Form of Presbyterial Church-Government. In addition, the church is guided by the Westminster Standards. And finally, there are a few documents related to this branch’s formation back in 2000.

Compared to other meetings the social media footprint will be fairly small. Expecting some news on their Facebook page, and the church’s Twitter feed is @fccscot. The hashtags for the meeting are #freechurchcontinuing and #ga2019. Probably best to focus on the former as the latter is in use by the Church of Scotland as well. Typically, there is not a lot of tweeting from this Assembly. Will update if I find a good follow.

Looking through the Reports there is a lot of the usual business that you find with General Assemblies that makes the church operate. But two items stand out because of their more public nature.

The first is in the report of the Committee on Public Questions, Religion and Morals. Among the multiple topics they discuss, the highlighted issue is a bill in the Scottish Parliament regarding a smacking ban. This is a continuing point of concern and last year the church issued a press release regarding their proposed comment to the Scottish Parliament. This is still an active matter and the church’s press office has sent me a copy of this year’s press release on the same subject. (I have not seen it online yet.) The release reads:

Holyrood shows skewed processes and closed minds on smacking ban, says Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)

The Public Questions, Religion & Morals Committee of the Free Church of Scotland, in a report to their General Assembly due to meet in Edinburgh from 20th May 2019, state that Holyrood has demonstrated skewed processes, in that the Holyrood Committee tasked with scrutinising the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill is comprised of seven members of whom five had indicated their support for the proposals before any scrutiny took place. When the representative of the Free Church (Continuing) presented the views of the denomination generally at a meeting of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament, held recently in Portree, along with numerous other witnesses presenting their concerns, the Committee demonstrated closed minds on the subject.

This information and additional details are also contained in the committee’s report, beginning on page 44 of the Book of Reports.

Another topic of focus this year will be Christian Education, part of the report of the Welfare of Youth and Education Committee. (Beginning on page 26) The committee will present the recommendations of a working group that is encouraging the availability of Christian Education resources on the denomination’s website, possible funding for Christian Education, and approving in principle the establishment of an annual conference on Christian Education. That report also recommends that the All-Age Holiday event be discontinued after this year due to costs unless a less expensive venue can be found. And finally, jumping back to Christian Education, a special program will be presented in Glasgow the day following the adjournment of the Assembly with Dr James Wanliss addressing the meeting on the theme “The Profit of Christian Education”.

I enjoyed my time with this GA last year and while I will be waiting for the post-GA reports from them this year, my prayers are with them for their deliberations and work. May it all be guided by the Holy Spirit.

2019 General Assembly Of The Free Church Of Scotland

abb92709-4c93-44fe-8b75-2ef076924200

General Assembly week in Edinburgh gets into full swing today as two addition GA’s convene this evening. One of these is the Free Church of Scotland 2019 General Assembly meeting at St. Columba’s Free Church in Edinburgh. The meeting will run until about noon on Thursday.

St. Columba’s Free Church

One of the features of this meeting is that it meets for business in the evenings so when the Church of Scotland meeting adjourns you can walk across the street to St. Columba’s Free Church and sit in on their meeting. You think I exaggerate? Here is St. Columba’s, and I took the picture from the public gallery entrance to the Kirk’s Assembly Hall. [One of my favourite lines from Doug Gay’s book Reforming the Kirk says “The Secession Church planted strategically while the Free Church planted competitively.” In my wanderings around Scotland last year it was not unusual to find a Church of Scotland building across the street from a Free Church building.]

So, to follow along here are some helpful starting points:

To follow along in social media you should be checking the official Free Church Facebook page as well as their Twitter feed @freechurchscot. The host church can be followed at @stcsfreechurch and the hashtag will be #fcga19, although sometimes tweets slip by with #fcga or #fcga2019. In addition, I would suggest also keeping an eye on the Twitter account for the official bookstore, Free Church Books (@freechurchbooks) who will have a pop-up bookstore at the Assembly. Also, the seminary, Edinburgh Theological Seminary (@ETS_Edinburgh) and the principal Iver Martin (@IverMartin), although he has not been active on Twitter recently. And I can add the new Mission Initiative “Generation” which tweets at @GenerationM18.

Regarding other individuals and churches tweeting the GA I am at a bit of a loss at the moment as the hashtag has been very quiet. One account who has mentioned that they will be present is Rosskeen Free Chuch at @RosskeenFC. I will stick my neck out and mention “Neil DM” who is an Elder at St. Columba’s and has the handle @neilbriogaisean.

Much of the business before the Assembly seems like the routine but necessary work of a connectional denomination. The reports include updates on two initiatives approved at the 2018 Assembly, the Generation Vision launch for mission work, and a recognition of the need for rural church planting and development. In another response from last year, the Board of Ministry reports on their consultation with the presbyteries about the Ordination Promises or Vows. While a variety of views were found, they noted a consensus that the current wording could be clarified or shortened and asks the GA to pass this along to another group currently revising the church’s Practice. There is also an item to send to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act an overture to dissolve the provincial synods. The 2009 GA suspended the meetings of synods and with presbytery reorganization, the synods are now seen as a redundant layer of judicatory. And I had to smile a bit at the deliverance from the Psalmody and Praise Committee that included the item:


6. The General Assembly remind congregations that where praise items are projected on screen or printed on orders of service, copyright acknowledgement must be made for each item, for all Sing Psalms, Sing Scripture and for all hymns. Scottish Psalter items do not require this, being out of copyright. Further guidance is available on the Free Church website, including links to PowerPoint slides.

I know a few churches, including my own, who need to be reminded of this.

Having been the recipient of their generous hospitality last year, I will be watching from afar this year to see how several of the items I saw debated last year are moved along by the body this year.

So our best wishes to the Free Church on their Assembly and we pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your discernment throughout.

Church of Scotland General Assembly 2019

It is General Assembly week in Edinburgh. It was a great experience being there last year and visiting all three of the Assemblies going on that week. Once again, my thanks to all of them for their official and unofficial hospitality. This year we are back to normal and tracking them from the other side of the world.

A few hours from now, on Saturday morning 18 May the 2019 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will convene in Edinburgh – with all the traditional pageantry – for their annual week-long meeting. And it is looking to be an interesting meeting with major implications for the Kirk in the years to come.

Church_of_Scotland_Logo

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

  • There will be live streaming of the proceedings and you can connect to the stream appropriate for your device from the media page.
  • Most of the Documents pertaining to the Assembly are linked from the General Assembly Publications page. This includes the Assembly 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. For eReaders, the Blue Book is available combined with the Order of Proceedings included. There is also a separate Order of Proceedings. The Daily Papers will contain late-breaking changes and are available on the Assembly Papers page. There is an option at the bottom of the page to subscribe to notifications of new documents being posted.
  • If you only want the action items, there is a Proposed Deliverances Page with a link to a PDF with all the Deliverances together.
  • If you need to refer to the documents about how they do this decently and in order most of those are linked from the Church Law page. This web page also used to have the useful “An Introduction to Practice and Procedure of the Church of Scotland” but it was being revised and seems to have disappeared. While dated, I have a copy of the 2009 Third Edition available from my Resources Site.
  • A detailed Programme page tabbed by day provides a schedule of docketed reports and events for easy look up.
  • And from the Daily Updates page there will be regular daily updates in print, audio and video.
  • There is usually an official photo gallery of the Assembly. Will add that here when it goes live.

What we all want to know of course is how to follow along on social media and there will be no lack of that. You can begin with the Church of Scotland’s official Facebook page as well as the Facebook page for the National Youth Assembly. There is also the Kirk’s Instagram feed and YouTube channel.

On Twitter, the starting point is the Kirk’s main feed at @churchscotland and the official hashtag #ga2019. (And be alert – there is an event called Gamers Assembly that is using the same hashtag so don’t be surprised at the first person shooter video(s)) There is an official account for the Moderator of the General Assembly, @churchmoderator, but during the Assembly, we will have to see how many opportunities there will be to tweet. And while the incoming Moderator, the Rev. Colin Sinclair, does not appear to be on Twitter, you can follow his church – Palmerston Place Church – @ppc_edinburgh. The retiring Moderator, the Rev. Susan Brown, can be followed at her personal account, @VicarofDornoch. Similarly, the Church of Scotland Youth may be tweeting at @cosy_nya, although the account has been inactive. The official account for the NYA Moderator, currently Tamsin Dingwall, is at @NYAModerator, and that is probably a better starting point. 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, who usually does the most comprehensive live tweeting of the Assembly.

I add to this list a semi-official account with a good potential for close live tweeting of the meeting: The curated account Church Scotland Voices with weekly rotating contributors at @churchscovoices says they will have someone covering GA. And worth mentioning the Kirk innovative ministry incubator, Go For It (@GoForItCofS)

In suggesting personal accounts to follow, let me start with three past Moderators of the General Assembly, besides Susan Brown who I mention above. The first is the Very Reverend Lorna Hood who is always an interesting read at @revlornascot and has been very active the past few years with projects related to Srebrenica justice and remembrance and also serves with YouthLink Scotland. The second is the Very Reverend Derek Browning at @DerekBrowning2. Add to the list the Very Reverend Albert Bogle at @italker who has been getting some recent traction with the Sanctuary First ministry (@sanctuaryfirst) and whose charge is now related to online church. Finally, I will include the Very Reverend Angus Morrison (@angusmorrison6) has been an interesting and entertaining read and frequently tweets in Gaelic, but he has not been active for a while.

In suggesting other personal accounts let me begin with the Rev. Peter Nimmo of Inverness who is a member of the Church and Society Council (@ChurchSociety01) and always a good source of information at @peternimmo1. And his choir from St. Stephen’s Church ( @invernesschurch) will be performing at Heart and Soul. Also from the Inverness area will be the Rev. Susan Cord at @sue_cord. Others I regularly follow from the Kirk include Darren Philip (@darphilip), Alistair May (@AlistairMay), Neil Glover (@NeilMGlover) who chairs the church’s Ministry Council, Liz Crumlish (@eacbug), RevShuna (@shunad) and Angus Mathieson (@angusmathieson). As reform and renewal will be a major topic again this year, following Douglas Gay (@DougGay) should be helpful. He has helped drive this discussion with his three-part 2017 Chalmers Lectures, and his book, Reforming the Kirk, released a couple years ago. Life and Work published a piece by him about this year’s Radical Action Plan initiative. More on that in a minute.

And stay tuned – as usual once GA gets rolling I will update the list.

UPDATE: Should have added this sooner, but through the tweets found Scott Paget has a blog called Reading the Blue Book, 2019 Edition, where he breaks down reports from the Blue Book individually with his comments. You can follow him on Twitter at @smpaget.

Once again the Assembly will have its annual Heart and Soul festival on the Sunday afternoon of the Assembly week that will again be happening in Princes Street Gardens near the Assembly Hall. The theme of both the Assembly and the Heart and Soul event this year is “Jesus Said: ‘Follow Me'”. It is reflected on the cover of the Blue Book. There is a Programme of events, including the multiple stages and venues, and the website suggests a broadcast, but I don’t see an active link for that yet.

Concerning the business before the Assembly there is a nice summary of each report on the Life and Work site. In addition, each of the conveners has recorded a short video introducing their report.

The challenge of how to reform the church to remain viable for the future is front and center this year. Last year the Assembly made a bold move when it rejected the Council of Assembly’s proposed ten-year strategic plan in favour of a countermotion calling for “a radical action plan.” The group working on this radical action plan is reporting and as I mentioned above, Doug Gay gives a nice summary of the plan in that Life and Work article. For the full details, check out the Council of Assembly report. It also headlines the Kirk’s GA preview news article.

The proposal makes major changes in the structure and work of the church. The proposal is to cut at the top to provide greater focus and resources for the churches and the communities. For example, one detail is to cut the number of presbyteries from 45 to 12. It would establish a Growth Fund between £20 million to £25 million for church planting and community outreach work. Administrative costs at the top level would be cut, maybe as much as 40%, and the number of councils would be reduced from four to two. In addition, the church’s social care arm, Crossreach, could be given greater autonomy. The debate on the Radical Action Plan is scheduled for first thing Wednesday morning (which means I will have to set an alarm).

So here we go as we kick off a packed week for GA. The other two Assemblies begin Monday evening and I will have more on those Sunday evening or Monday morning.

Stay tuned…