Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ponderings from the General Assembly 8

Special Offerings Review

The 2008 General Assembly initiated a major review of our four, church wide special offerings: One Great Hour of Sharing, Peacemaking, Christmas Joy and Pentecost. I was invited to meet with the review team today to share my perspective and reflections.

Some of my thoughts:
The Special Offerings are on automatic pilot. Churches that gather them do so with a sense of inertia and repetition, not any real, new energy or commitment.

The causes which the Special Offerings now support are so fragmented that few people understand what they are for and what they support.

One Great Hour of Sharing, because it is old and gathered at Easter time, continues to be very strong; although there is not much new energy to grow it. We have almost universal participation in OGHS.

The Board of Pensions has a strong, good reputation in the church and thus the Christmas Joy offering receives good support; although, I suspect, there is little enthusiasm for the support of racial ethnic colleges which is also part of Christmas Joy’s purpose.

In our Presbytery the Peacemaking offering tracks with a small group of churches who are reliably committed to this program; there is not any new energy emerging for growing this cause or purpose.

There is little energy or enthusiasm for the Pentecost offering in our Presbytery. I expect that very few people know its purpose.

I believe one of the offerings needs to be redirected to World Mission, and I believe this change will be well received.

Despite my less than positive perceptions, the Presbytery of Carlisle continues to be one of the top special offering giving Presbyteries. Thank you Presbytery of Carlisle!

I am very interested in gathering your thoughts, perceptions and ideas about our four special offerings. I am especially interested in gathering ‘best practices’ about ways they are interpreted, explained and gathered in your congregations. Please email your thoughts.

Report from the General Assembly 7

Note: I like the Form of Government report. I liked it in 2008 at the San Jose General Assembly. I like it now. I like to do polity on the fly, making decisions that carefully consider the ministry context and the fullness of the relationships involved. The Form of Government Taskforce report made it out of committee; and we will have a fun debate in plenary session at the General Assembly. I hope it passes and we have the opportunity to discuss it at our Presbytery. If you have not done so, I encourage you to consider Paul Hooker's background paper on "missional polity" which is available at the Form of Government website. More to come. . .

The Form of Government Revision Committee of the 219th General Assembly (2010) voted 37-5 Tuesday to send the proposed Foundations of Presbytery Polity and revised Form of Government to the full Assembly.

If the Assembly approves the document, it will then move to the denomination’s presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes. If a majority of presbyteries vote to accept the document, it will replace the current Form of Government that has been amended more than 300 times since it came into existence in 1983.

The committee rejected an overture from the Presbytery of Central Washington that called for posting the revised Form of Government online for informational purposes and seeking amendments from presbyteries to “improve and enhance the ways in which we govern ourselves missionally.”

Speaking in favor of that overture, Joan Johnson of Santa Barbara Presbytery warned of “unintended consequences of omission,” and the Rev. Jim Tony of Chicago Presbytery said, “This is way too complex to make this better than what we already have.”

The Rev. Dan Williams, co-moderator of the task force, responded to the overture advocates, saying he wanted to see a church “so infused with the presence and power of Jesus Christ that people cannot wait to be a part of it.”

He added, “I do not doubt this is happening in places throughout our denomination today, but how much more might we accomplish if we dare to step out in faith, if we are willing to take the risk and let go of a model of being the church bound up in structures and processes.”
The committee spent most of the morning making changes to the document, specifying the requirement for committees on representation and stating that such a “committee should not be merged with another committee or made a subcommittee of another committee,” and adding deadlines for the Advisory Committee on the Constitution to make requested interpretive reports 60 days prior to a meeting of the General Assembly.

Report from the General Assembly 6

Note: For those of us who work for Presbyteries and Synods one of the big issues at this General Assembly are several overtures asking for changes in the structure and responsiblities of our Synods. I am in favor of the full de-structuring and elimination of the Synods as a governing body. But this question is complicated and difficult. I hope this General Assembly will take significant action on this question. The article here on the Committee's deliberation is copied from our News Service. . .

A willing but wary 219th General Assembly Committee on Middle Governing Body Issues has recommended creation of a Middle Governing Body Commission to act on the requests of presbyteries and synods “to divide, unite or otherwise combine” them during the next two years.

The committee debated for several hours Monday whether to create a special committee to deal with the myriad stresses facing synods and presbyteries or to establish the rarer and more powerful 21-member commission that would be “authorized to act as the General Assembly.”
The committee amended the commission proposal – brought by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) – nine times to more closely define its work and require a super-majority to take action. The final measure going to the Assembly passed 38-4 with two abstentions.

“We’re in a moment of history that is uncharted territory,” COGA member the Rev. Eileen Lindner told the committee. “We need a commission because the time is too urgent – we cannot tell some of our most hurting governing bodies to tread water for two more years.”
However, Mike Herron, stated clerk of Mississippi Presbytery, while acknowledging the sea changes going on in middle governing bodies around the country, questioned the move. His presbytery, for instance, has reduced staff rather than cut programs. “We’re just finding different ways to serve the kingdom of God,” he said. “If you need to change, appoint a committee – there’s no urgency to appoint a powerful commission.”

COGA member the Rev. John Wilkinson responded to committee members’ concerns that a 21-member commission given the full authority of the General Assembly would be too powerful.
“The commission we propose cannot act unilaterally, but only at the request of the middle governing bodies at issue,” Wilkinson insisted. “My guess is any big-ticket items are going to come to the next Assembly anyway.”

While the committee amended the proposal to require a two-thirds majority by the commission to take action, it defeated other amendments to require the affected presbyteries and synods to also approve commission decisions by a two-thirds majority and to exempt property and assets disposal from the commission’s purview.

Most, but not all, middle governing body officials who spoke to the committee during its 90-minute open hearing Monday morning supported the commission. The Rev. Betty Meadows, executive presbyter for Mid-Kentucky Presbytery and president of the Association of Executive Presbyters, urged the committee “to give the group power and flexibility because of the profound changes going on.”

Noting that three new church developments have been spawned by commissions in her presbytery, Meadows said, “We know that the Spirit is breaking out all over. We need people who are empowered to know and respond to what the Spirit is doing.”

Report from the General Assembly 5

Note: One of my favorite aspects of the General Asssembly meeting is the opportunity to meet many Christians from our partner churches around the world and our missionaries. A highpoint of the General Assembly for me is the World Mission Luncheon. Copied here is the New Report on this year's world mission luncheon.

by Pat Cole

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is writing the third chapter of a mission “love story” that began in 1837, a denominational mission leader said Sunday at the World Mission Luncheon.
Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission, said the newest chapter in the saga is the formation of “communities of mission practice.” Participants in these communities include World Mission staff and mission personnel, global partners, and grassroots Presbyterians directly involved in international mission.

The purpose of the communities is “to discern the mind of Christ as we participate in God’s mission,” Farrell explained.

The earliest PC(USA) mission efforts were focused exclusively on sending mission personnel, he said. Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, Presbyterians in the United States moved into the second chapter of its history, emphasizing working in partnership with churches overseas that were formed through the efforts of early missionaries. “Partnership was limited to the leaders of our church and the leaders of partner churches,” Farrell said. Today, however, numerous congregations and presbyteries have established partnerships with international counterparts.

This has led to World Mission’s focus on facilitating communities of mission practice, which will help coordinate efforts, Farrell said.

Farrell noted that more and more mission personnel are serving as “global connectors,” helping link congregations and presbyteries with international partners.
One of those connectors, Tracey King-Ortega, the PC(USA)’s regional liaison in Central America, invited congregations and presbyteries directly involved in international ministries to work with mission personnel. “They can help you maximize efforts with these three communities working together,” she said. Transformation, she added, is the goal for everybody involved.
Speakers from Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis stressed the importance of building relationships with partner congregations. Westminster member Trish Van Pilsum, who has visited the congregation’s partner in Cuba, said, “I was inspired by the people of Matanzas and my faith deepened.”

While the visitors from Westminster brought medicine, glasses and other resources, the Cubans would not say those were the most important items the congregation brought, she said. “The people of Matanzas would say that we brought energy, we brought compassion and we brought love.”

The luncheon also included remarks from the Rev. Noe Bernier, an archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. He said the PC(USA) has worked with the diocese since the 1960s in its ministries of health, education and economic development. The church continues its holistic mission amid the daunting challenges presented by January’s massive earthquake.
“Haiti will not be destroyed,” he said. “Haiti will not perish. Haiti will rise again because of God’s people who are called to do mission.”