Pastor Bob's GA Blog #3: June 22
This afternoon the Assembly met in plenary again, starting with an opportunity for conversation among themselves and then to consider some proposed actions. They adopted an agenda for the rest of their meeting; Sandie's committee (Middle East Issues) is to report on Friday afternoon and that is, alas, after I leave. You can find news at pcusa.org, or even watch the Assembly live there.
The first piece of business was a "consent agenda," which was a list of 64 things that received a super-majority in their committees, assuming they would receive little dissent at the Assembly. People could ask for things to be removed and acted upon individually, and many individuals had things they thought needed to be discussed on their own. So eight items were removed and will be considered when the relevant committees report.
The biggest piece of business this afternoon was consideration of a revised Directory for Worship. Your Session has been studying the proposed Directory this year, and has seen that it is more concise, better organized, and more easily understood. There were a number of controversial points, most of which would seem obscure to most of you but may be significant to us minister-types. After considering those points, the Assembly overwhelmingly approved it. It has stuff in it I may not care for, but my role as a minister is to be instructed by the Directory, not to decide what it ought to say.
There was one proposed change that energized some folks (it was one of the things on the consent agenda). The Presbytery of Kiskiminetas in Pennsylvania had asked that we reverse our change to the marriage standards, so that our churches could no longer perform same-sex marriages. The Committee overwhelmingly voted not to change it, but there was an effort this afternoon to go against that recommendation. The Assembly didn't bite; by a very large majority, they affirmed the decision the Committee recommended: so we continue to be open to same-sex marriage. Note: If the Assembly had approved a change, it would have had to go to the presbyteries for a vote anyway.
This evening, the Assembly approved two proposals that make me, as a science-and-faith geek, happy. They approved participating in the Clergy Letter Project, which affirms the compatibility of Christianity and evolutionary theory (I have been a signatory of the Letter for many years), and they approved an "Affirmation of Creation" which makes the Presbyterian Church (USA) clearly and unambiguously in sync with modern biological science. By the way, my friend Sara Joan Miles was the advocate for this action, and I'm told she was brilliant (I was monitoring a different committee so didn't get to hear her).
Earlier I mentioned the "family reunion" nature of the Assembly's gathering. Traditionally, on Wednesday the various theological schools have lunches and so today I went to the Princeton lunch. I sat with two classmates whom I had not seen for some time, and was glad to catch up with them and with other fellow alumni and alumnae at the event. The President of the Seminary, M. Craig Barnes, talked about the state of the seminary and initiatives that the faculty and staff are pursuing. It was the most inspiring and informative presidential address I have heard in the 34 years since my graduation.
At the Ecumenical Worship Service this morning, we heard Reginald Jackson, an AME Bishop from New Jersey. His message from I Kings 22:1-14 was challenging and stimulating. Okay, some of it was downright provocative and potentially even offensive. But, goodness; preaching is supposed to provoke. One of his lines: Instead of being prophetic, we are pathetic. Anyway, during the service we said the Confession of Belhar as our Affirmation of Faith, and so it was particularly appropriate that the Assembly this evening approved adding that statement to our Book of Confessions. It was approved by the 221st GA (2014), by a supermajority of our presbyteries, and now by this Assembly (by a vote of 540-33), and so it is now one of our confessional standards. It was a moving moment. We cheered, we sang "Oh, Freedom!" and we heard from ministers from the Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa in celebration. One of them, Godfrey Betha, said that they have been trying since 1997 to get Reformed churches around the world to adopt the Belhar Confession to make a global Reformed witness to racial unity in Jesus Christ. He said, "You have made history today." Then the world-respected South African Reformed leader Alan Boesak spoke to us and led us in singing, "We Shall Overcome."
I wrote it yesterday, and I write it again: I am grateful to be a Presbyterian.