Wednesday, June 11, 2014
An Amendment to the Book of Confessions:
Coming to the General Assembly this year is a recommendation to add the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions. Since the Book of Confessions is part of our church's constitution this question is a constitutional issue. This means that if the question is approved by the General Assembly, it will then also be considered by the presbyteries. Thus if this question is approved, we will be considering and voting on this question at our presbytery. There is a good website prepared where the text of the Confession of Belhar may be reviewed along with a supportive and background information: www.pcusa.org/belhar.
This litany is suggested for the opening session of each General Assembly Standing Committee:
Eternal and gracious God, as we gather for the 221st
General Assembly of the Presbyterian
Church (USA), we offer you thanks and praise.
We give you thanks for
our faith in your sovereign love,
guiding and grounding our prayers and deliberations,
and this opportunity for new and renewed friendships,
confessing that we are the body of Christ together.
our out your Holy Spirit anew we pray, that
our common life this week reflects the mind of Christ,
seeking God’s guidance through our worship, prayer, discernment and action,
and our engagement with each other demonstrates the transforming love of God,
enabling us to discern God’s will together.
Lead us beyond our private concerns and petty perspectives,
that our experience together centers on
learning from Presbyterians and many others across the United States and around the world,
discovering God’s presence through worship, devotions, hallway prayers and Christ-centered conversations,
witnessing with joy and thanksgiving the emergence of new leaders for the church,
making decisions through contemplation, prayer and heartfelt sharing,
centered on the call of Christ,
and growing in our personal and church wide understanding of God’s will and ways.
In our life together during the days ahead, give us the courage
to participate in discussion, deliberation and discernment
in ways that are fair and honest and open,
to be quick to listen and not so quick to speak,
to engage with one another in love, humility and grace,
and to proclaim with clarity and determination
the great good news of the Gospel.
Through our time together this week, grant anew that
this meeting may represent the bond of union, community and mission
among all the congregations and councils of our church
to the end that the whole church becomes
a community of faith, hope, love and witness, to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.
In this week before the meeting of General Assembly convenes, (the Assembly meets from June 14 to 21; I leave for Detroit this Friday), I am reviewing the action items that are coming forward:
Marriage: Of course, anyone paying attention to this conversation is aware of the proposals concerning the definition of marriage. This issue will be the focus of the secular media’s reporting from the Assembly. If you are following this debate, it is important that you understand the difference between a Constitutional Amendment and an Authoritative Interpretation. These are very different types of action. There are proposals coming forward in both forms.
Middle East: There are contentious action items coming forward concerning the church’s response to the Middle East and specifically the ongoing tension and conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This debate is confounded by the larger question about the role and purpose of social justice ministry in the church today.
Synods: At the 2012 General Assembly a bold and innovative proposal, (which I appreciated and supported), came forward concerning the restructuring of our middle governing bodies. That proposal was defeated but the question itself was moved forward. Now a much smaller and less innovative proposal is coming forward to reduce, in two years, our current synods into eight new synods. But this proposal faces strong opposition from the Synod executives themselves who have a written response. This will be a contentious, internal issue for the church.
Gun Violence: There a social witness policy paper coming forward on gun violence. This is a topic I wish our presbytery would debate. This is a difficult and divisive national issue. Our presbytery, from urban Harrisburg to rural Juniata and Fulton Counties, includes the whole spectrum of convictions on this question. Should we not be discussing this?
In my mind, two important issues which may not be highlighted in the news media should also be discussed and considered in our presbytery:
1001 Worshipping Communities: There continues to be strong and growing support for this movement to create new worshipping communities. This is becoming a strategic focus of our church. Every presbytery is challenged to engage this conversation. I am seeking a congregation that will host this conversation in our presbytery.
The Mission Agency fundraisers: You should know the meeting of the General Assembly and all our constitutional concerns are the responsibility of the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). Nonetheless the other side of the General Assembly structure, the Mission Agency, reports to this meeting. In the report of the Mission Agency’s Special Offerings Taskforce there is a recommendation to continue the special fundraising efforts which have been initiated. This includes the hiring and expansion of the professional fundraising staff within the Mission Agency. A goal has been set to stop the decline in the One Great Hour of Sharing special offering and grow it to $20 million by 2020. For a Presbytery like ours, which has a strong commitment to Shared Mission Giving, this new emphasis on professional fundraising undermines our whole financial system and changes our traditional understanding of connectionalism. Our presbytery should be aware of and pondering a robust response to this new day of church finances.