Pastor Bob's GA Blog #1: June 20, 2016
Kathleen and I arrived in Portland yesterday (Sunday) morning, and slipped quietly into the life of the city and the Assembly. The Assembly had already elected its Co-Moderators, teaching elders (ministers) Jan Edmiston (Chicago) and Denise Anderson (Temple Hills, Maryland). This is the first time an Assembly has elected two persons as co-moderators, rather than electing a moderator who then names a vice-moderator. That happened Saturday evening; on Sunday evening there was a reception for them. Sorry, friends: Kathleen and I arrived, checked into our hotel, got our registration and tickets for Assembly events… and stayed away from everything until this morning, Monday.
Yesterday the Assembly met the two candidates for Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. J. Herbert Nelson is currently director of the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C.; he is the nominee from the Assembly's own Nominating Committee. Nominated from the floor was David Baker, stated clerk and communications director of the Presbytery of Tampa Bay. He had been an applicant for the position, but was not selected. The election of the Stated Clerk will be on Friday morning.
Today I spent the day observing (on behalf of the Association of Stated Clerks) Assembly Committee #6, Church Polity and Ordered Ministry. Committees had their organizing meeting last evening - just for Committee members, an opportunity to build their community. If you want to know about that experience, ask Sandie Hanna, who is serving on Committee 8, Middle East Issues. My job today was to take good notes on the testimony and discussion around proposed amendments to the Church's Constitution. The Association of Stated Clerks always prepares information about these proposals - pro and con - to inform presbyteries when we vote on them. So, my notes and those of Jerry Utt, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Transylvania (Lexington, Kentucky) will be used to form the Association's thoughts on any proposed amendments that actually get approved by the Assembly and sent to presbyteries for a vote. Got that?
The Committee acted on several proposals that would amend the Constitution. I decided not to list them all here (but will be happy to tell you if you ask me!). Most of them the Committee decided to recommend to the Assembly that they be disapproved, not because they're a bad idea, but because the Constitution already permits them. What happens is someone wants to do something, and since the Book of Order doesn't say "You may do that," someone thinks it cannot be done. But the way the Book of Order reads, councils (such as the Session) can do all sorts of things unless they are prohibited. Here's one example: Robert's Rules of Order says that councils can hold meetings and invite members who are elsewhere to attend "virtually" (using, for example, Gotomeeting). The Book of Order does not say that we can't do that. But someone thought the Book should say that it's okay. The Committee said: our parliamentary authority says we can, the Constitution doesn't say we can't, so it's unnecessary to add a sentence to say it's okay. Anyway, there was quite a list of these.
Sandie and I both attended a special lunch today, the Israel-Palestine Mission Network. The speaker was Susan Abulhawa; she spoke movingly of the laws the State of Israel has enacted against Palestinians and of the history of Palestine. Among the many things she said, I was particularly moved by learning that Israel protects antiquities related to Jewish history, but destroys those related to Byzantine, Roman, Ottoman, Palestinian, and Canaanite history. The State is trying to rewrite history to make it appear that Christians and Muslims have never had a stake in the land.
Sandie has some beautiful stories already about her experience here; we'll have opportunity to hear from her this summer. I'm enjoying seeing old friends again. Although the General Assembly is primarily a legislative body, its meeting also has something of the nature of a convention about it. Sometimes it's called the Presbyterian Family Reunion, and that is very much how it feels.
You can read the daily news from the Assembly at pcusa.org/ganews. Or check back here tomorrow for my thoughts!