Pastor Bob's GA Blog #2 - June 21, 2016
The Committee I have been observing (Church Polity and Ordered Ministry) struggled today with three related proposals. Background: two years ago our Book of Order was amended to include a statement that any teaching elder (minister) who "renounces jurisdiction" (says, "I'm out of here; I'm no longer a Presbyterian") while she or he is the accused in a disciplinary procedure may never again serve any Presbyterian church in a paid or voluntary position. We learned that this action was sparked by a particular situation: a pastor was being investigated for charges of sexual abuse and he renounced jurisdiction, and the church he had been serving invited him to work as a volunteer in their children's ministry. Well, in my humble opinion, the Constitution should not be amended because of one bad situation. Anyway, when we considered it, our Presbytery voted against this, since it allows no opportunity for repentance and restoration.
Now, three different presbyteries have asked this Assembly to do something about that sentence in the Book of Order, including the presbytery that started all this. One proposal is simply to delete the statement. Another proposal is to amend it by including a long process for restoration; the third is to add a short statement that would also allow for restoration but is not quite so rigid in its process. The Committee struggled hard over what to do with these proposals, and decided to approve the longer process statement, but after severe amendment to make the process less rigid. Then a lot of "Let's reconsider" happened, and much more discussion, and then they changed their minds about their recommendation and went with the shorter statement. My observation: multiple proposals to deal with a single issue create thorny situations. Better to have a single recommendation.
The quality of the leadership of this Committee and the dedication of its members have been impressive. There were moments of parliamentary confusion (of course; any group of 60 members will have confusion) and the Moderator and Vice-Moderator of the Committee stayed calm and patiently helped the Committee through them. As a parliamentarian myself, I often get frustrated with all the amateur parliamentarians in a room, who try to tell the leadership what to do. But this Committee's leadership was patient with everyone, and their parliamentarian was also so competent that they trusted him. And there was a lot of laughter as they worked their way through things and took themselves lightly - while taking their tasks very seriously.
When the Committee finished its work, they had communion. It was a very moving ending to their hard hours of struggling through difficult material. Being Presbyterians, they included everyone present, not just members of the Committee. I felt blessed that, after having watched them work and written about them for the Association of Stated Clerks, I was able to participate in the holy mystery of the Body and Blood with them.
Sandie Hanna has told me that her Committee also had moments of grace; I look forward to hearing her talk more about it with all of us.
Tomorrow the Assembly reconvenes in plenary; I won't be there for everything they do, but will have some thoughts for you about it. But first, one more thing. After lunch today, while heading back to the meeting, I stopped at a coffee shop to get some java to go. The barista asked if I was part of the convention in town, and I said I was, that we are the Presbyterian Church. She remembered that the United Methodists had been in town a few weeks ago, and wondered what decisions were before us. The rest of the crew eagerly gathered around, wanting to be in on the conversation. I said that probably the most difficult decisions would have to do with Israel and Palestine, and our Church's relationships there. The Methodists had been struggling over the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons, she reminded me, and I said that we had made our decision on that a couple of years ago. We are fully inclusive and, even though many of our folks got angry about it and some even left, we had already decided that gay and lesbian persons could be married in our churches. All three of them got big smiles, as she said that she was glad that we could say, "Oh, we took care of that years ago!"
I went back to the Convention Center feeling very grateful that I'm a Presbyterian.