Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Recap of General Assembly

Last Saturday, July 10, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) completed its work at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

A big congratulations to the Committee on Local Arrangements for their work in hosting the General Assembly. I know that some folks had worked on the General Assembly for years. Part of their work was recruiting hundreds of volunteers to help at General Assembly. As a pastor I know how recruitment can be a nerve-wracking experience. From my outside perspective it seemed that the General Assembly operated very smoothly.

Tonight I will give a short report to the Steering Committee at Chain of Lakes Church about what happened at General Assembly. On Sunday, July 25 Gordon Dosher, a commissioner to General Assembly will come to Chain of Lakes Church and give us a report.

An excellent pastoral letter summarizing the actions of General Assembly can be found here:

The letter highlighted five significant issues on which the General Assembly took action. According to the letter and the links on the letter this is what the General Assembly did. The explanations are from the links in the letter.

Civil Union and Marriage Issues
The General Assembly approved both the Final Report and the Minority Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage and ordered they be sent out for study by the wider church. The vote was 439 in favor, 208 against, with 6 abstentions. By this action (sending both reports for study) the Assembly maintained the definition of marriage as "a man and a woman.” With the action to send the reports for study, no change has occurred, or is pending.

Form of Government
The General Assembly voted to recommend a revised Form of Government to the presbyteries with a vote of 468 in favor, 204 against, and 6 abstentions – a 70%‐30% margin. The new Form of Government includes:
• Foundations of Presbyterian Polity ‐‐ the principles that are foundational to government, worship, and discipline for the PC(USA). Preserves the vast majority of the material in the first four chapters of the current Form of Government.
• Form of Government ‐‐ in six chapters, which spells out the constitutional framework for government of the PC(USA) as it seeks to respond to God’s call to life in mission.
• Advisory Handbook for Councils for the Development of Policies and Procedures Required by the Form of Government ‐‐ an aid to councils (governing bodies) of the church for developing the policies and procedures to carry out their mission.

Nothing has changed until a majority of presbyteries vote to approve this new Form of Government. Voting must be completed by July 10, 2011, and if affirmative, the new Book of Order would take effect the next day.

Middle East
The General Assembly approved a comprehensive report on the Middle East – its first since 1997. The paper calls for:
• An immediate cessation of all violence, whether perpetrated by Israelis or Palestinians;
• The reaffirmation of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders;
• The end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories;
• An immediate freeze on the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and on the Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land and buildings in East Jerusalem;
• And many other steps toward peace in the region.

Middle Governing Body Commission
The 219th General Assembly (2010) has created a Middle Governing Body Commission with the power to act as the General Assembly, upon request of presbyteries and synods. The commission has the power “to organize new synods and to divide, unite, or otherwise combine synods or portions of synods previously existing” (G‐13.0103m) and “to approve the organization, division, uniting or combining of presbyteries or portions of presbyteries by synods” (G‐13.0103n) — upon the request, by a majority vote, of the affected presbyteries and/or synod.

Ordination Standards
The 219th General Assembly (2010) proposed a change to the PC(USA) Constitution regarding ordination standards by a vote of 373‐323‐4. This action does not change the Constitution. It is a first step in the process. A majority of the 173 presbyteries would have to vote in the affirmative to approve the replacement by July 10, 2011.

The first statement would replace the second statement in the Book of Order
1. “Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G‐1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G‐14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation
(W‐4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

2. “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W‐4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self‐acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or
installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”

The bottom line for me is how these actions will enhance the ministry of a local congregation. Last night I read an outstanding article written by Barbara Wheeler in the most recent issue of the Christian Century. She shared a detailed description about the challenges of providing pastoral leadership in a small, rural congregation. She shared the pros and cons of hiring a Commissioned Lay Pastor.

After reading the article I wondered about how the actions of the General Assembly will help this congregation. How will the above five issues enhance the ministry of that congregation?

Even though the General Assembly spent enormous energy on these five issues and debated them with passion, I would say that most of them won’t affect the ministry of that church. And that is one reason we Presbyterians are struggling.

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