General Assembly 222 — Portland OR — June 18–25 — 2016

Minute for Mission

Were I to describe all the important work before the General Assembly which begins June 18th in Portland most of us would not regret having a late lunch.

But I’m not going to do that! Here’s my arbitrary selection of highlights.

This year, for the first time,  the Assembly will be electing co-moderators. In the past, they’ve elected a moderator and then nominates a vice-moderator.

They also will be electing a new Stated Clerk. That’s the highest continuing office in the denomination. J. Herbert Nelson, who has been doing powerful justice work as the head of our Washington Office of Public Witness, is the official nominee, but the Assembly will have a choice to make.

Last December our Session asked our Presbytery to ask the GA to act to divest from the major fossil fuel extraction companies. [09-01] Twenty-nine other presbyteries have joined us in this request, intended to help humanity avoid with the worst consequences of climate change. Despite this remarkable level of support, alternatives have been offered — not so much from climate change deniers as from folks who just don’t like divestment as a tactic. The Fossil Free group, that are behind this effort, have a both and response — their take is we need to be doing everything we possibly can if we’re to stand a chance of staying within the 2 degrees Celsius target.

New York City Presbytery, along with three others, are asking GA to “Admit, and Apologize for, the Harms Done to the LGBTQ/Q Members of the PC(USA), Family and Friends” [11-05] This overture circulated too late for those of us in Southern New England to give it the careful consideration it needs, so we did not vote on it. It has generated a great variety of reactions among LGBTQ Presbyterians and their allies. For some, it’s compellingly urgent. For others, it’s opening wounds that are just beginning to heal. Others see it as breaking a promise made to conservatives to respect their understanding and practice. Ray Bagnuolo, of That All May Freely Serve and the mover and shaker behind this, is hoping that it creates conversations and reflections that will move us forward. That is already happening, and it’s likely that things will become even more intense in Portland.

GA will receive several really significant documents:

  • The fruits of a six year process asking us to become a “Peace Church.” [12-02]
  • A 56 page re-evaluation of our approach to the problems of Israel-Palestine. [08-06]
  • A new revision of the Directory for Worship portion of our Constitution.
  • GA is expected to finally incorporate the Confession of Belhar in our Book of Confessions.
  • A recent church-wide conversation on our identity and purpose has been developed.
  • Presbyterian generosity increased almost $8 million last year even though the number of congregations and of members decreased.

  • The Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Justice committee is bringing a policy, “Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community” for approval. [11-22] Shannon Craigo-Snell, well known to many of us, is one of the team that developed this. (I hope that we can use it as a church-wide study sometime in the near future!)

On a contrary note, and GAs are never cake walks, there are eight overtures intended to steer us back to the Gospel and prevent GA from ever again making social policy statements. Another overture would return us to the prior understanding of marriage. This will either be a very justice focused Assembly, or it won’t. Stay tuned ….

You can find out much more about GA, and even watch much of it live over the internet. You probably knew that. You may not know that some of our minutes for mission are up on our church website. If I’ve gone too fast, or covered too much too briefly, or left out your particular concern, you’ll soon be able to find this one, and also a longer version, in the Mission section.

So in this season with so much to discern, do keep our denomination and our commissioners in your prayers. May this GA be a model for our culture of good dialogue .

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Here’s a longer version with some additional information:

You can find the working documents for that gathering at www.pc-biz.org. Additional information, mixed with other material, is at http://www.pcusa.org/news/ The plenary meetings and the opening worship can be viewed through the PC USA website.

 

In no particular order, here are some of the significant issues coming before this June’s General Assembly.

 

  • The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board approved at its April board meeting the Justice Committee’s recommendation that this summer’s 222nd General Assembly (2016) vote to approve the revised Churchwide Antiracism Policy—Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community—and associated recommendations.

    The Churchwide Antiracism Policy Team includes the Rev. Shannon Craigo-Snell, the Rev. Curtis A. Kerns, Jr.; the Rev. Victor Aloyo, Jr.; the Rev. Laura Cheifetz; Dr. Christine Darden and the Rev. Samson Tso. The team began its work by reviewing the 1999 antiracism policy. Recognizing some of the references in the original policy were dated, the team acknowledged the content and analysis of the realities of racism in the United States have not improved significantly since 1999.

    “This is not a time for timidity,” said team member Craigo-Snell. “The current struggles over racial justice in the United States mark a kairos moment. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has long held strong convictions regarding the sinfulness of racism and the need to struggle against it. Speaking our own convictions now, with clarity and power, could make a tangible difference in the current struggle. Furthermore, it is required of us, as the church is called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Neglecting to speak powerfully in this moment would also be regrettable.”
  • Among the business being considered by the Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meeting June 18-25, 2016 in Portland, Oregon, is the final adoption of the Confession of Belhar.
  • Local mission giving in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations went up by almost $7.7 million in 2015, according to annual statistics of the denomination released today. And that increase in giving was despite the fact that the number of congregations decreased by 187 between 2014 and 2015 and the number of active members went down by 95,107. The denomination has 9,642 churches, compared to 9,829 in 2014. It also has 1,572,660 members, compared to 1,667,767 in 2014.
  • Election of Moderator
  • Election of Stated Clerk
  • This year marks the 60th anniversary of women teaching elders in the PC(USA). On October 24, 1956, the Rev. Margaret Towner was ordained as the first woman minister in the Presbyterian Church. Despite the attention and recognition she received—her photo was featured in Life magazine and other publications—Towner said she “chose to avoid the limelight and continue my work in the local congregation.” Towner recently celebrated her 91st birthday, and though honorably retired, she is still an active member of her presbytery.
  • Foothills Presbytery has offered eight overtures with the combined intent of severely limiting or blocking GA from adopting social justice policies.
  • A vibrant family portrait of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has emerged from the recent church-wide conversation on the identity and purpose of the denomination, and God, Christ, love, and the world are among the most prominent subjects.
  • The future of the 16 synods in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will once again be on the docket.
  • Competing overtures—one seeking Presbyterian divestment from fossil fuel companies, the other placing that action on hold
  • In item 09-01, the Presbytery of San Francisco overtures the General Assembly to call upon the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation to stop any new direct investment in fossil fuel companies and to work over the next three years not to own such assets. Instead, those entities are charged with “actively seeking out and investing in renewable and energy efficiency related securities.”

    Item 09-02, brought by the Presbytery of the New Covenant, seeks postpone complete divestment “because it does not meet the denomination’s long-standing process for consideration of divestment.” Instead, according to the recommendation, the General Assembly should request that the two affected agencies and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program “study ways that investments can best be leveraged to help care for God’s creation and mitigate the negative effects of climate change.” Further alternative strategies are recommended.
  • The Presbytery of New York City [09-06] seeks to respond to people who are refugees or are internally displaced. It would direct appropriate agencies, office and staff to advocate for and seek to improve “matters related to United States government refugee resettlement policies and related issues.”
  • The General Assembly Committee on Middle East Issues will review progress on the denomination’s divestment from three companies engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in Israel/Palestine.
  • Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) is sending to this year’s Assembly a 56-page report 08-06 re-evaluating the denomination’s long-time support for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine. The document, “Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace,” was prepared by the Study Team on Prospects for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, as directed by the 2014 Assembly.
  • Twelve years in the making, the 222nd General Assembly is poised this June to adopt a new Directory for Worship for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) First, the document (item 14-04) will be thoroughly reviewed by the Assembly Committee on Theological Issues and Institutions.
  • Kiskiminetas Presbytery (item 14-01) that seeks to restore the definition of marriage.
  • the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee   Overture 12-02, submitted by the Presbytery of Mission, on the completion of the six-year discernment process initiated by the 219th General Assembly to “seek clarity as to God’s call to the church to embrace nonviolence as its fundamental response to the challenges of violence, terror, and war.” It calls for Presbyterians at all levels of the church to employ the understandings and insights to respond to and prevent violence on the local level, the national level, and the international level through prayer, direct action, and advocacy.
  • Overture 12-08, submitted by the Presbytery of the Nation’s Capital, which urges all members of the PC (U.S.A.) to promote nonviolent resolution of disagreements, be they of a personal or a national level, to undertake actions consistent with breaking down the barriers between ourselves and persons who might be wrongly considered “the other.”
  • Also new relations with Cuba, and a more democratic DR Congo.
  • Restructuring or OGA-PMA and other national office changes.