These are the personal ponderings of a General Assembly fan and observer. Hope you'll join the conversation.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It is done. 10-03 Passes Handily

Dear ones,

The General Assembly, by a margin of 61%-39%, passed the overture with which Santa Fe concurred, now known as 10-03, which is an Authoritative Interpretation allowing pastors to use their discretion in conducting marriages, whether same sex or the more "traditional" version.

It was decided beforehand that no matter how the vote ended up, the body would stand to sing the first verse of "God of Grace and God of Glory."  We did.  There was no celebration or protest on anyone's part after the vote. There is a quiet excitement among the ranks of those sitting in the EP/SC section of the room. There is also a lot of another "word of the day" from today:  tension. One of my colleagues has left the room in tears; her Stated Clerk is very upset.

We move forward, AND we move forward together.  I want to remind those of you who are members of the Presbytery of Santa Fe that we passed a statement at our February meeting, agreeing to stand by any pastor, Session or congregation in our presbytery who did not wish to conduct same-sex marriages. There is still room for us all, and room for us all to move forward together.  Jesus is still Lord. God is still in control.  I hope and pray that we can continue to breathe and to live in mutual forbearance and love with each other.

I want you to hear it from me now, as it passes.  I predict that our Leadership Team will also be issuing a statement soon to the presbytery.  May we continue to stand together as one, the Presbytery of Santa Fe, the part of the Body of Christ in northern New Mexico.

And so the debate begins....

Around 2pm this afternoon Detroit time, the discussions began and people started to line up with pads red, green and yellow at every microphone.  Right now I would estimate that there are at least 30 people in line waiting to address the topic of marriage from every angle.

I am very proud to be from the Presbytery of Santa Fe.  One commissioner just asked the Assembly to allow more time to study the proposal because they had not taken the opportunity over the last two years to discuss the issue.  Thank you for taking the time last fall at Ghost Ranch to discuss the topic carefully and prayerfully. 

The concern at present being expressed from Hunter Farrell, who works with Global Mission, is that more partners may see fit to break relations with our denomination if we were to act on redefining marriage. Three denominations globally have already seen fit to do so.

The Twittersphere seems to be exploding with comments both snarky and wise.  If you use the hashtag #ga221, you can tune in and see what’s being said all around.


On an unrelated note, we all continue to be frustrated with the level and quality of internet capability in the room.  I have been trying to post this article for almost 30 minutes now, and because of the delays, I gave up and began writing it in a Word doc until the Internet could cough up the website.  Don't think I'm not communicating with you -- I'm trying, really! 
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Addendum - there was a minority report which sought to delay a decision for four more years.  An amendment to change that to two years was considered - but in any case, the minority report did not succeed in becoming the main motion.  The commissioners did vote to limit debate to one minute rather than two. Frankly, now that we are at the main motion, I am surprised that there have not been many speakers.  We will see. The  body did vote to disapprove naming a task force to study, 39% yes to 61% no.

Now the debate is related on whether to approve or disapprove a motion related to whether Teaching Elders could continue to conduct weddings on behalf of the state.  The motion is to disapprove. And indeed it was disapproved.

Now the overture with which the Presbytery of Santa Fe concurred is on the floor.  It has been amended.  A commissioner tried to use a Roberts Rules point of order to declare the overture out of order; it is being considered by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. The ACC declared that it was in order becuase the body would then be dealing with the tension created. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Commissioned Ruling Elders

So the Presbytery of Santa Fe met up with a dilemma last year.  One of our Commissioned Ruling Elders had been invited to perform the wedding of a member of her family who lived out of state. The Book of Order is very clear that CREs are only commissioned to a certain congregation and only to perform certain responsibilities.  We contacted our friend Joyce Lieberman in the Office of General Assembly, who basically said that we were not the only presbytery to inquire about this possibility.  Since there were others who had similar questions, she suggested that we could ask for an Constitutional Interpretation on G-2.1001 in the Book of Order.

An Authoritative Interpretation is kind of like "mishnah on the Torah" - or, commentary on the law. It answers a question that has been posed by reflecting on the matter at hand as well as on the written word.

On behalf of the Presbytery, I as Stated Clerk wrote to request a ruling on this.  It was given to the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, who gave a ruling on which the Assembly was called to vote.  They said that a CRE "is not authorized to perform any pastoral service outside the commission by the presbytery unless the presbytery gives its permission for any specific service.  If the request is for pastoral service within the bounds of another presbytery, the commissioning presbytery must also agree to the request."

This makes a lot of sense. It is similar to Teaching Elders seeking permission to labor within the bounds of another presbytery. And in the case of our presbytery, it will be easy to accommodate since we have a Commission on Ministry. If a CRE would like to serve communion or perform a marriage in another presbytery, it is possible - but permission would need to be sought (through the Stated Clerk chain) from the other presbytery as well as our own. The body passed it this evening, 87%-13%.


Theological Education and Institutions

By a wide, wide margin - 86% to 14% - the General Assembly voted this evening to send the Confession of Belhar back to the presbyteries for their vote and consideration.

I have mixed emotions about this.  The Assembly did the identical thing just two years ago, and at that time the Confession failed to reach the larger majority vote required to amend the Book of Confessions. Bringing the Confession back so soon for reconsideration feels a bit like "You didn't REALLY mean that, did you?"  I don't think that's the intent.  And I do indeed believe the Confession of Belhar will be a worthy, and necessary, addition to the Book of Confessions.  I just wish they had waited another cycle or two - and maybe, had waited until there was a clamor from the people for the Confession to be included.  I would rejoice to see the General Assembly take fewer actions that were "top down," and instead encourage more actions which initiate from the ground up. We shall see whether it goes forward and becomes part of the book.

By a voice vote, the Assembly voted to make plans to commemorate the 500th birthday of John Knox, our Scottish forebear. That vote was much easier than one earlier this afternoon, about whether and how to provide child care at future assemblies so that younger commissioners would be able to attend. The Twitterverse was indeed atwitter, and the debate in the hall raged on for at least 20 minutes about whether to mandate it right this second or to refer it to the Office of General Assembly for more careful planning. It's not exactly Pampers 1, John Knox 0 - but it's more like Pampers 3, John Knox 1.  Glad we have our priorities in the right place!

On the Consent Agenda previously passed, the Assembly approved circulating a revision of the current Directory for Worship (the "W" section of the Book of Order). This study, David Gambrell told us, proposes to reduce the number of chapters from 7 to 5, and to reduce the number of words by about 10,000 - all while retaining the Reformed emphasis on grace and gratitude, and making room for the multitude of worship forms we enjoy today.  I am thinking we will make time to study and discuss this revision at an upcoming Presbytery meeting.

Then it was time for the seminary presidents.  A new one, Craig Barnes, was recognized as he begins his call to serve Princeton Seminary. A retiring one, Bill Carl, was recognized as he completes his tenure at Pittsburgh Seminary. And two retired educators, Jack Rogers from San Francisco Theological Seminary and Cynthia Campbell from Austin and McCormick Seminaries, were given awards for their leadership and scholarship from the Committee on Theological Education.

I take a moment of personal privilege to salute my friend and mentor Cynthia, the second clergywoman I ever met. She was the model for us, in more ways than one, during a time when female role models in ministry were few and far between. We got to sing together during worship in seminary.  She introduced me to the work of Stanley Hauerwas, who I was privileged to hear in person for the first time this past Sunday. She also served on my Candidates Committee and scared me to death there - but I will save that story for another time!  Suffice it to say that I want to be Cynthia Campbell when I grow up. Thank you, dear one, for all that you have taught us in your classroom and with your life.

They closed the report with a tribute to another heroine in my life, Sara Bernice Moseley. Sarah Bernice died about a year ago at the tender age of 97.  As the wife of John D. Moseley, the visionary president of Austin College, she mentored the women students in particular and always made us laugh. She was grace personified, and was as brilliant as she was full of grace.  I'm not sure whether she or her Ph.D. husband was the brainier of the pair. Oh, and by the way, she was the first female Moderator of the former Presbyterian Church in the U.S., and also moderated the first Council of the reunited PC(USA).

Per Capita for Teaching Elders

Really?

The commissioners voted down, 42%-58%, the opportunity for Teaching Elders (pastors) to pay per capita to the General Assembly.  That's $7.02 per person. One pastor got up and complained about how strapped she was.  Isn't that about two Starbucks a year? Really?  We can't find a way to do that?

In the Presbytery of Santa Fe we invited Teaching Elders to support their "home church" with offerings during 2014. Probably 20 pastors have done so, to a tune much more generous than $7.02. If you multiply that amount by several thousand pastors, that would have made a nice dent in an ever-shrinking GA budget. Think 1001 New Churches. Think theological students.  Think the new emphasis on missional churches.  I just think that if we can't cough up $7.02 to support the mission of our denomination, we've got other fish already in the frying pan.

Paul and I are tithers. We give 10% of our income to our family's home church, and give other gifts to places like Austin Seminary. I think we could skip a couple of Starbucks a year and find some money for GA.

Doesn't it say somewhere that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also?  Not that I have any feelings about this!

And the first vote taken....

.... was in regard to whether to grant an advisory vote to "executive presbyters" or whatever they may be called locally) in session.  That would mean that we would be able to advise the body before each vote, as do Young Adults, Theological Students, Ecumenical Delegates and Mission Co-Workers.  Well, never mind. The vote was close the first time.  A division of the house was called, and by a slim margin the body voted that they did not wish to be advised by the EPs.  One of my colleagues tried to coordinate a mass walkout - just kidding!  But the will of the body has been expressed.  And so it goes!

Here we go....

It has been a fun first few days for a lot of us - at least for those of us who are not commissioners.  They have been working hard.

Jackson Gurley, our YAAD, was assigned to Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations;  Karen Hill has been serving the Church Polity and Ordered Ministry committee; and Dave Kirby the Civil Unions and Marriage committee.  Fortunately, all of them were through soon enough that we were all able to go to Comerica Field to watch the Detroit Tigers lose (BIG) to the Kansas City Royals. At least we had fun!

Many of us had lunch today with our seminary communities. I had the privilege of sitting with Dr. Reinerio Arce, President of the Reformed Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, and Moderator of the Reformed Church in Cuba.  it was wonderful to see him again after having had the opportunity to meet in 2010.

We are now in plenary on the floor of General Assembly.  We're all in our places with bright shiny faces.  The commissioners have just had a "speak out" time where they can say whatever is on their mind and hearts.  Many have given thanks for hard working committees, reunion with old friends, and for the ways that the Young Adult Advisory Delegates have served so far.  some have asked prayers for a grandchild prematurely born; for a community struck by tornadoes; and for other deep concerns on their minds and hearts. An ecumenical delegate has spoken, and now begins the work of considering what was decided in committee.

A new twist this year is the addition of a "consent agenda" for each of the committees. If items of business considered by a committee were passed by 75% or more of the votes, they were placed on a large consent agenda.  If the body agrees, those items will pass quickly and begin their journey into the life of the church. Before that, however, any commissioner has the right to remove any item of business from the consent agenda, so that it may be considered by the full body.  We are all wondering how many items the commissioners will wish to lift from the consent agenda.  Stay tuned!