223rd General Assembly–Day Two

The morning began with a trip to Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church, PC(USA) on a bus with some other commissioners. Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted by several members, told about things without having to ask, and introduced to the table with homemade cookies and coffee. I talked with several people and sat in the back of the church (the back for a change!). The service was very good with wonderful music and a beautiful sanctuary. They have a new (about three years old) Schoenstein organ than had a great sound. The membership of the church is about 1,500 and is in a very nice village. The people and ministerial staff are very much aware how fortunate they are. As the minister said after church, they are fortunate in that they do not have to worry too much about money to do what they do.

Here is what I noticed about the church and its members. They were welcoming. Yes, they knew they were going to have commissioners from the 223rdGeneral Assembly attend church but the way in which we were greeted indicated that it was not something that was practiced but rather something they do every Sunday. As I walked around I looked in the rooms and on the bulletin boards. I noticed a few things that I think are indicative of the character of the church. First, they are very interested in mission work. I believe they process around 80 tons of food for the food pantry through their church each year. Their old cottage is being renovated to be used by the oldest interfaith organization in the nation starting next month. I also noticed books everywhere. This is a church that reads and values reading. And they value children as evidenced by the children’s sermon, the classrooms, and the playground.

We were then treated to a very tasty lunch in the fellowship hall complete with great conversation, introductory remarks by their minister, and a viewing of their very-well done welcome video. Without a doubt, if I lived closer, this would be my church home.

Following lunch, we rode the bus back to the convention center and then moved into the afternoon plenary session. The main items of business were the receipt of the 2020 Team and the Way Forward Commission. We also commissioned Young Adult Volunteers and Mission Co-Workers. The session opened with comments by stated clerk J. Herbert Nelson.

Nelson had some interesting comments. He said “none of us were right, left, or middle; we are all free thinkers created by God. Labels cannot define what God has created.” The point he was making, at least the point I took, was that we need to think more like Christians and Presbyterians rather than political parties. He then got tough. He said many of us were “in churches with stained glass windows paid for by our grandmothers and grandfathers with their names on them, and they are keeping us from merging with the church down the street.” In terms of the future of the denomination, he said “it is our collective faithfulness that will be the grounding for the transformation of this denomination.”  And he went on to say that “we are called to reform at every level”, we must give up creating the church of yesterday to create the church of tomorrow. To do this, “we must move from change to transformation.”

The 2020 team gave their proposed guiding statement of “God calls the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be: Prayerful, Courageous, United, Serving, Alive.” It is nice the way it spells PCUSA but some of the comments and tweets I have read make me wonder if this will be adopted. It seems to be lacking in some theological grounding and does not really provide any direction on how to move forward. But, we’ll see.

The Way Forward Commission presented its high-level goals of:

  1. Strengthen congregations and mid-councils to do the work they’ve been called to do, making our national church more nimble and responsive.
  2. Affirm greater denominational equity and inclusion, living into the centrality of our diversity that is at the core of shower are and what we believe.
  3. To offer long-desired and desperately needed changes that will also give the critical ministries of our agencies the freedom to dream and create.
  4. Nurture collaborative, cooperative interagency work, while rounding us all in our Presbyterian identity—so we can demonstrate that we are indeed one body in Christ.

The Special Committee to Study the Reformed Perspective of Christian Education in the 21st Century also made some recommendations but I sense there is. More work they want to do. They did stress the importance of the Christian Educator. Their recommendations were:

  1. Ask the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) to adjust to a shift in Christian Education paradigms
  2. Ask the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) to develop material
  3. Change statistical reporting to capture more than attendance and offerings
  4. Expand and promote Christian Education Associate
  5. Ask the seminaries to develop and offer courses on intergeneration education
  6. Extend study to GA 224 to include other congregations including racially/ethnically diverse and small congregations and that will require the addition of some new different committee members.

They noted that intergenerational education is built around relationships and not necessarily story telling. One issue they identified was that Certified Christian Educators tend to be in large, white congregations. They had a hard time finding any in congregations of fewer than 100 members which just happens to be most of our congregations.

Dinner was courtesy of the Board of Pensions. The food was great but so was the presentation. First, I feel much better about the future of the denomination. The BoP is doing well so our ministers and church are in good hands with pensions funded at 131%. The concern they have is that we are ordaining new ministers but they are not staying very long and this is tied to churches not being able to provide the minister with a full BoP package (life, health, and disability insurance, and a pension) so they have made some creative changes to make that possible. They have also restructured their plans, given more options, and instead of seeing a continuing decline in members, they saw a 19% increase. As the president Frank Spencer said, there is good news but we have to make sure it is getting out.

The Board of Pension also commissioned past stated clerk Gradye Parsons to write a book that is titled Our Connectional Church: The Hopeful Future for the PC(USA) . This is a collection of stories Gradye gathered over the last few years. We were all given a copy of the book and I hope to have it signed tomorrow.

The evening concluded with a meeting of my committee, the committee on Middle East Issues. The meeting was pleasant and was in executive session so it was only the committee members themselves present. We spent the time getting to know each other, reviewing Robert’s Rules of Order, and discussing how business would be conducted in general. Before it was over, four commissioners’ resolutions had been added to our agenda. The business on the agenda now is:

  • [12-01] On Opposition to Congressional and State Anti-BDS Legislation—From the Synod of the Covenant.
  • [12-02] On Advocating for the Human Rights of All Citizens of Israel—From the Synod of the Covenant.
  • [12-03] On Creating a Task Force to Examine NCCOP’s Call to Ecumenical Solidarity for Justice for Palestinians—From the Presbytery of Grace.
  • [12-04] On Responding to the Open Letter from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) to the World Council of Churches and the Ecumenical Movement—From the Presbytery of San Francisco.
  • [12-05] On Jewish-Christian Dialogue and the Israeli Occupation of Palestine—From the Presbytery of San Francisco.
  • [12-06] For the Protection of the Children of Israel and Palestine—From the Presbytery of Philadelphia
  • [12-07] On Urging RE/MAX to Stop Facilitating the Sale of Property in Israeli Settlement Colonies—From the Presbytery of Redwoods.
  • [12-08] A Resolution on the Status of Jerusalem—From the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns
  • [12-09] On Responding to the Current Syrian Crisis—From the Presbytery of the Cascades.
  • [12-10] Commissioners’ Resolution On Gaza Violence
  • [12-11] Commissioners’ Resolution: Resolution on Reconciliation Ministries in Israel and Palestine
  • [12-12] Commissioners’ Resolution: On Ending the Classification of Israel as a “Colonial Project”
  • [12-13] Commissioners’ Resolution: On Opposing and Disengagement from Iran

We will pick up with those in the morning.

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