Steve’s Blog -
The dangers of blogging until the early morning hours are infinite. It was not until this morning, when I read the morning’s General Assembly News (the daily newspaper that the Presbyterian News Service puts out) that I realized I hadn’t mentioned that the two vote margin was on whether or not to divest. A huge issue for many in the church, determined by two votes.
I’ve mentioned to many that I think we ought to consider changing our decision-making from accepting a simple majority to requiring 60%, perhaps 75%, of the voting body, especially (but not only) when it comes to constitutional changes. Would God not make God’s will known through the body with a little more clarity than a 50%-50% split separated by two votes?
Judges 6:36 – Then Gideon said to God, “In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.
That is the kind of clarity we need. There will always be issues on which we disagree — where two or more are gathered there are five more points of view — but when there is a clear majority, an overwhelming majority, I hear far less upset, if any, even on some controversial issues.
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At least my zipper wasn’t down. During the worship service yesterday, people suddenly started laughing loudly. I had no idea why, but remembered one advantage of a robe (which I was not wearing) is that you don’t have to worry about your zipper. Especially on a huge TV screen. It turns out that among the doves floating on the surface of the water, a dollar bill sank rather visibly on the screen.
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As expected, a motion was made to reconsider the divestment vote taken last night. Some didn’t understand, others feel more voices, more time and discussion are needed. In the end, a simple and clear majority (over 60%) denied the motion to reconsider. Which led to more parliamentary gymnastics as the committee on Middle East and Peacemaking Issues sought to answer five other related overtures with the one passed last night, while some wanted to vote on the five related issues separately. 85% of the Assembly agreed with having one substitute.
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Okay, a moment of personal privilege: I was incredibly proud to see Rachel leading the Assembly in prayer. She and a fellow YAAD opened us in prayer as we reconvened after lunch. They asked for God to bless us, and we will need it: it is time for Civil Unions and Marriage Issues.
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I guessed wrong. It was 5:10pm and I thought there was no way they would get to vote on the definition of marriage. I could quickly take care of something for the commissioners, eat, and be back for the vote. You can imagine my surprise 25 minutes later to discover that that question had been resolved, with no change whatsoever. I’m told the decision, 52%-48%, was met with silence. Often a good decision is marked by everyone being a little unhappy, no one having gotten what they wanted. That close a vote (again) is, in my opinion, better on the side of no change than any change, regardless of the issue. Too often, one “side” winning by a hair can feel like a loss for the whole.
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New business introduced was accepted, and it means we all have work ahead of us. The action is that presbyteries and congregations are tasked to engage in “a season of serious study and discernment concerning the meaning of Christian marriage” upon receiving study materials from the Office of Theology and Worship. I will be talking with the Presbytery Lead Team (or PLT, formerly known as Council as of approval of the new bylaws) on ways we might both facilitate presbytery-wide discussion and encourage congregational discussion.
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10:20PM. Speaker refers to concessions stand for providing free coffee and tea for commissioners:
Many thanks for the Jehovah Java that will help stave off El Shut-Eye”
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A decisive vote to not change the titles of ordered ministries back to the former Book of Order’s, which is to say “Ruling Elder” and “Teaching Elder” will remain the predominant titles in the Book of Order. Although the majority was ultimately clear, the discussion pointed to the confusion often caused when a “pastor” tries to communicate to the world beyond the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who s/he is and what s/he is called to do. “Teaching Elder” does not mean much even to ecumenical partners, let alone others beyond the church. (We were told that “Ruling Elders” seem quite happy with the change, as it points to the parity between offices that we proclaim.)
BUT the Advisory Committee on the Constitution helpfully reminded us that terms such as “Pastor” and “Minister of Word and Sacrament” remain in the Book of Order. So while our official documents, such as bylaws, standing rules, and presbytery meeting minutes will retain “Teaching Elder” (unless the Presbytery decides otherwise), those of you who are called to that office should feel free to self-identify as one of these other titles.
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As someone who tends to get giddy with fatigue — and we’re way past that right now — I don’t quite know what to make of what just happened, but it just happened. An unnamed pastor in the Presbytery became known to some in his congregation as “Mr. Awesome” after a memorable children’s sermon. Tonight the moderator went one him one better. To the tune of “2001: A Space Odyssey” Neal Presa removed his dress shirt (he started off the day with a jacket and bow tie) to reveal a green t-shirt reading “Mr. Freakin’ Awesome” on the front and “Mr. Moderator” on the back, a gift of the Young Adult Advisory Delegates.
There have been some bumps in the road this week, but Neal has impressed me, and I think he has grown over the course of the week. He weathered some rough moments with humility.
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Okay, it’s 12:03am, and I was not elected to be here for the duration. You’ve got commissioners and a delegate for that. Off to the hotel to watch the rest — or at least watch for awhile — online.
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Okay, I lied. It is now 2am on the button, the Assembly having adjourned at about 1:30 just a hair’s breadth from completing the day’s docket. I don’t think I missed anything too dramatic, and we can all read about it if I did. I kept planning to leave, but waited to hear the reports from Immigration (Rachel) and Health (Dave), as well as the Review of the Biennial Assembly, which is chaired by a friend. I say “is” because that committee will resume its business tomorrow…er…later today, before hearing one last time from Sue and Maureen’s committees (Bills and Overtures and Procedures, respectively). Moufid’s committee (Board of Pensions) was able to present its work earlier in the day. At this point, I couldn’t begin to tell you when.
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There has been a sense that commissioners were somewhat tentative, fearful of what could happen to the denomination if certain overtures passed. But folks have not shied away from speaking what they believe to be the truth, in love. They have acted with fear and trembling appropriate for any who seek to discern and speak God’s will. This has been a hard Assembly, and my sense is that somehow these folks were up to the task. Perhaps they were called for just such a time as this.
To paraphrase the legendary Edward R. Murrow, “Good Morning, and Good News.”
Truly, God is all in all!