The Apostle John's Top Ten List Of What To Look For At General Assembly
A lot of non-Presbyterians read this blog, so let me explain a little bit about our church. Every two years the national level of our church gathers together to do the work of the national and international ministries. We call the gathering General Assembly.
OK, that is an over simplification, but it's good enough for now.
I'm going to General Assembly -- not as a voting commissioner but to observe and report -- and hopefully interpret in a correct and understandable way. I've done this for five previous General Assemblies. This year's General Assembly meets in Birmingham Alabama in mid-June.
One of the leaders of our denomination, Cliff Kirkpatrick, gives an annual top ten list of important up-coming events of the General Assembly.
He does a good job, but I always pout my own together -- in part because my congregation and I are interested in special and unique interests.
Every Presbyterian pastor and elder should take a look at the business before the General Assembly and come up with their own top ten.
Here is mine...
1. The Election of a New Moderator for General Assembly
This happens every year, but I believe this year will be the most crucial. We have 4 who have been nominated and they are all excellent -- but my personal favorite is Joan Gray. Why Joan? First, I know her. Second, she is a peacemaker who works well amidst conflict. Our denomination is often in conflict.
2. Peace, unity, and purity of the church
Our denomination will either come through the General Assembly more divided or more united because of the report being presented by the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. The report seeks to lead us into “peace, unity and purity” (as our ordination vows require of ministers, deacons and elders), but many on both the very liberal and very conservative sides of our church are rejecting this report.
3. The creation of the office of Minister of Education
There are extensive changes being proposed in the Book of Order that would call for a 4th ordained office – in addition to the Minister of the Word and Sacrament, Deacon and Elder, the new office would be the Minister of Education. There is also a proposal for an office of Educating Elder.
4. Divestment -- Are we working for peace? Do we hate Israel? Yikes - what a controversy.
The General Assembly of 2004 called for the church to "initiate the process of selective, phased divestment" from corporations the PC(USA) believes are impeding peace in the Middle East by profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the construction of the security barrier in Israel/Palestine, which many likened to the Berlin Wall. Many Jewish leaders called the church’s action anti-semitic and there was a great deal of misinformation in the secular press about this divestment. Over 20 overtures follow up on this action, most calling for an end to this divestment.
General Assembly is full of things that some are passionate about, while others could not care less about. This is one such issue. Many will pay little attention to an overture being presented by the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, but our congregation has a vibrant interest in Haiti. We have regular mission trips to Haiti and several of our members are Haitian. The overture calls on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to “express to the president and the Congress of the United States of America the church’s concern for the people of Haiti, to request the president and the Congress to address the political and social situation in Haiti with the resources available to our nation, to provide for welcome and relief for Haitian refugees, and to cease the current practice of immediate deportation of those who are attempting to escape the horror that exists in that troubled country.”
6. A New Provision for Immigrant Ministers.
Because of our congregation’s interest in immigrant ministry, we know from first hand experience some of the unique difficulties this ministry presents. Here in Tropical Florida we are always working with immigrant ministries, and a little bit of permissive elbow room would help. One of the overtures for a change in the Book of Order makes such transitions easier. The overture would amend G-11.0404 by adding a new section G-11.0404g: “In the case of immigrant ministries, presbyteries shall have broad latitude to recognize the ordination of ministers coming from developing countries with different practices of ordination and to recognize the ‘good standing’ of such ministers when it is attested to by members of their own communion or by members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The presbytery may, by three-fourths vote of those present, enroll such a minister as a member of the presbytery."
7. Financial and organizational concerns
The growing financial crisis at all levels of the church will be addressed with proposed budget reductions and new structures to carry out the work of the church at the General Assembly level.
8. What to do with G-6.0106b
What the heck is a G-whatever? It is a reference to a part of our church's rule book -- the Book of Order, which says deacons, elders and ministers have to be faithful in marriage or celebate in singleness. It is viewed as a restriction against ordaining active and self-proclaiming homosexuals. A substantial number of overtures are calling for the removal of this constitutional provision.
9. Building Relationships With Two Other Presbyterian Denominations
For the first time, the General Assembly of our Presbyterian Church (USA) will be meeting concurrently with assemblies of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America. There is no move toward organic union with these two smaller groups, but we often work well together in mission and publications or resources. While the business meetings will be held separately, there will be many worship and fellowship events held in common.
10. Anniversaries of Women in Ministry
This year is the 75th anniversary of the ordination of women as elders and the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women as ministers of the Word and Sacrament. This will be a significant focus at the assembly.