For all the saints, who from their labours rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia, Alleluia!
As is my custom on All Saints Day, I pause and give thanks – both privately and here on the blog – for those that I know who passed from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant the past 12 months.
This year was not an easy one and there are so many names on this list that I deeply miss and their passing to be with the Lord leaves a spot missing on this side of eternity.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might; Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight; Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light. Alleluia, Alleluia!
This year I remember and give thanks for the lives of:
Zachary – A faithful pastor who showed care and concern for many in the midst of his own challenges – physical and otherwise.
Leon – An icon of the church in this region and a mentor to lots of pastors over many years
Ray – One of my family’s oldest and best friends, a gentle spirit and a devoted husband
Bob – a faithful and active pastor, always ready to help out
Cliff – A character – one of a kind. He was a pillar of our church and a faithful, hard working long-time volunteer and leader there, a dear friend of our family whose decline was frustrating for him and very painful for the rest of us to experience as we walked alongside him.
Vera – a Presbyterian’s Presbyterian. Faithful and active ruling elder serving many years as clerk of session. And someone who always seemed to have a smile.
Tom – a pastor in so many senses of the word
O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. Alleluia, Alleluia!
As they have joined the mighty cloud of witnesses my life has been enriched by knowing and serving with each one of them. Well done good and faithful servants.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day; The saints triumphant rise in bright array; The King of glory passes on His way. Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: Alleluia, Alleluia!
On this Reformation Day 2019, a word on Semper Reformanda, its history and the tension which the church holds it in.
In some circles, the phrase “Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est secundum verbum Dei” has taken on a bit of urban legend status. R. Scott Clark, in an article on the Ligonier website, has a nice summary of the historical background and usage of the phrase. He begins with this:
With the possible exception of sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), none of these [Reformed] slogans has been mangled more often toward greater mischief than ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming). According to historian Michael Bush, much of what we think we know about this slogan is probably wrong.
After a brief review of the 16th and 17th-century variants, he says:
The full phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei (the church reformed, always reforming according to the Word of God) is a post-World War II creature. It was given new impetus by the modernist Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968), who used variations of the phrase with some frequency. Mainline (liberal) Presbyterian denominations have sometimes used variations of this phrase in official ways.
One of the points that Dr. Clark makes is that John Calvin and other reformers of his generation did not see the Reformed faith as evolving but as something that could be achieved and set. He says:
When Calvin and the other Reformed writers used the adjective reformed, they did not think that it was a thing that could never actually be accomplished. Late in his life, Calvin remarked to the other pastors in Geneva that things were fairly well constituted, and he exhorted them not to ruin them.
Our forebears who invoked this phrase had in mind the consolidation of catholic and evangelical Christianity embodied in the Reformed confessions and catechisms. There is a reason that this wing of the Reformation called itself “Reformed.” Unlike the Anabaptists, Reformed churches understood themselves as a continuing branch of the catholic church. At the same time, the Reformed wanted to reform everything “according to the Word of God.” Not only our doctrine but our worship and life must be determined by Scripture and not by human whim or creativity.
And he makes the point that it is not the Reformed faith that necessarily needs to be reformed, but the human implementation of it:
And yet the church is not only Reformed; it is always in need of being reformed. Like our personal sanctification, our corporate faithfulness is always flawed. We don’t need to move beyond the gains of the Reformation, but we do need further reformation. But here is where the last clause kicks in: “always being reformed according to the Word of God.”
The PC(USA) website has an article by Anna Case-Winters which is widely quoted in various other articles, including Michael Horton’s article above and Leo Koffeman’s below. Near the beginning she discusses the early meaning of the phrase like this:
Our Reformed motto, rightly understood, challenges both the conservative and the liberal impulses that characterize our diverse church today. It does not bless either preservation for preservation’s sake or change for change’s sake.
In the 16th-century context the impulse it reflected was neither liberal nor conservative, but radical, in the sense of returning to the “root.” The Reformers believed the church had become corrupt, so change was needed. But it was a change in the interest of preservation and restoration of more authentic faith and life — a church reformed and always to be reformed according to the Word of God.
The cultural assumption of the Reformers’ day was that what is older is better. This is strange to our contemporary ears. We do not share this assumption; if anything, we applaud the new and “innovative.”
Finally, Leo Koffeman, in an academic article, weaves Horton’s and Case-Winter’s article into his where he looks at not only the origin of the phrase but the ecumenical implication and application. He echoes some of what I have mentioned already, but has this particular emphasis:
I repeat my question: is the slogan ecclesia reformata semper reformanda, either in its shortened or in its lengthier form, a helpful slogan when considering the pros and cons, the possibilities and the limitations, of church renewal in the Reformed tradition? It seems to me that it is not, as long as it leaves the question open as to what, in practice, secundum verbum Dei means. It provides a formal criterion. Therefore, the real issue at stake is that of biblical hermeneutics.
In his conclusion he answers with this:
As far as the motto ecclesia reformata semper reformanda points to the possibility of and need for church renewal, it represents a welcome reminder for all churches that take seriously their identity and mandate. But it can easily over-emphasise human action (‘always reforming’) at the expense of the awareness of how the church is an instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit (‘always being reformed’). Therefore, a focus on the role of the church in the missio Dei and a clear understanding of the need for ecumenical cooperation is pivotal.
So where does that leave us? Stringing this all together we have Dr. Clark’s emphasis on a developed Reformed faith expressed in the historic creeds and confessions of the church, but with the fallen and flawed nature of a church of human maintenance as pointed out by Dr. Horton. It is a radical call for the church to find identity in its roots of scripture according to Dr. Case-Winters, but as an instrument of God through the Holy Spirit as expressed by Dr. Koffeman.
So with that – Happy Reformation Day. And may we all be Reformed and always being reformed as guided by the word of God.
The next General Assembly is ramping up with the committees of commissioners hard at work, particularly the Overtures Committee which has overtures related to a couple of important issues to make recommendations on.
So here we go, the 47th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America is starting to get rolling in Dallas, Texas. (As a side note, interesting to see both the OPC and PCA General Assemblies there this year.) The Assembly convenes in plenary session this afternoon, Wednesday 26 June, at 1:30 PM CDT, and adjourns at noon on Friday. The theme of the Assembly is “Press on for God’s Glory.” The meeting will be live streamed and there is a schedule of what will be streamed live. There is also the GA app available for several platforms to follow along, and a ShareFile! app on that page for registered commissioners to download reports and other documents.
Other related Twitter accounts include Reformed University Fellowship (@RUFnational), PCA Discipleship Ministry (@PCACDM), Mission to the World (@mtwglobal), and the Mission to North America (@pcamna). I would also include in this group the denomination’s schools, Covenant College (@CovenantCollege) and Covenant Seminary (@covseminary).
As for individuals to watch – round-up the usual suspects. Some who will be at the meeting and are, or will probably be tweeting include Irwyn Ince (@Irwyn) the retiring Moderator, Fred Greco (@fredgreco), Ligon Duncan (@LigonDuncan), Sean Michael Lucas (@SeanMLucas) who has a high-profile job as chair of the Overtures Committee this year, and Melton L. Duncan (@MeltonDuncan). For organizations, I will mention Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing (@prpbooks), Greenville Seminary (@GPTseminary) and Reformed Theological Seminary (@ReformTheoSem) and their local Dallas campus (@RTS_Dallas). (And as a note, there are other Twitter accounts for the different RTS campuses.)
As usual, the overtures to this Assembly reflect where the PCA is today and what it is concerned about. This business will provide a lot of opportunity for discussion, debate and discerning God’s will for the church. The Overtures Committee is the last item of business on Thursday docketed to begin their report at 4:15 PM. If it is not concluded by the dinner recess 45 minutes later (anyone want to give odds on that?), the report will resume at 9:00 PM after worship. I do not see a single article from byFaith with a summary of all 48 overtures, but their GA News feed has a number of articles covering all the overtures grouped by theme.
The topic with the most overtures is human sexuality with eleven of them. This is a timely response to the 2018 Revoice Conference held at a PCA church in St. Louis last August. That conference, and the upcoming one this year, address the Revoice mission: “To support and encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians—as well as those who love them—so that all in the Church might be empowered to live in gospel unity while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.” The theology of this mission statement is under active debate in the PCA and will be significant at this GA. The Overtures Committee is recommending that the Assembly accept Overture 4 affirming the Nashville Statement and there will be a minority report on that. Overture 11 asked that the Assembly commend and distribute the RPCNA’s statement ‘Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis.’ The Overtures Committee did a major rewrite on the Therefore’s and instead, it now recommends the publication The Gospel & Sexual Orientation. There were also overtures to establish a study committee on Sexuality and the Overtures Committee is recommending these be answered with Overture 42 as amended. The amendments increase the size from four to six teaching and ruling elders, and include in its purview two presbytery studies of the Revoice Conference, one from Central Carolina Presbytery and the other from Missouri Presbytery. We will see how these and the other nine overtures fare as they are handled on the floor.
Another major topic is domestic abuse and sexual assault with nine overtures addressing that topic. The Overtures Committee is recommending that they are answered by Overture 7 which calls for an “Ad Interim Committee to Address Matters Related to Domestic Abuse, Domestic Oppression, and Sexual Assault.” The Committee is recommending that this be answered in the affirmative but it has been amended. In the committee there was discussion as to the makeup of the committee as only men can be ordained officers and a more diverse representation on this committee would be desirable so non-ordained members would be beneficial. I will add the link to the amended version when it becomes available.
And in a related action, and part of a continuing discussion, Overture 8, and related overtures that would allow non-ordained persons to serve on committees and boards, are recommended to be answered in the negative. Overture 29, which would have allowed local option in whether to ordain women as deacons, was withdrawn before the Assembly.
And there are lots of smaller items – like an overture to withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals and a proposal to study remote voting at General Assembly – that will also be considered.
As I mentioned earlier the Overtures Committee report begins at 4:30 PM on Thursday. One of the polity features of the PCA General Assembly is the role of the OC as a gatekeeper and manager of how the overtures reach the floor. As the GA Stated Clerk, Roy Taylor, quipped yesterday – “We have a convention surrounding a delegated assembly — the Overtures Committee”. There may be more truth in that than many want to admit.
There’s lots on the docket this week and multiple items that are sure to provide a spirited, and hopefully Spirit-filled, discussion among the commissioners. I have seen enough GA’s to know that predicting the outcome of these debates is difficult, but for a couple items of business, certain outcomes could make this a milepost year in the history of the PCA.
Our best wishes and prayers to the commissioners and leaders of the PCA General Assembly for this important meeting and prayers for your discernment the next few days. May the Spirit guide you in your work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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 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.
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.
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.”
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…
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.