Friday, April 28, 2006

Top 10 – Stop the Booze Party

Unless things have changed in the past few years, there is a HUGE drunk party that is thrown in conjunction with General Assembly. Delegates and General Assembly staff persons drink, and drink, and drink. This party is facilitated by General Assembly staff persons. The party is not held at the official hotel of the General Assembly. It is not, and I repeat, NOT an official function of the General Assembly meeting.

I use to be a chaplain at one of the colleges related to the PCUSA. We were informed that the Presbyterian College Chaplains Association, the United Ministries in High Education and another higher education group sponsored the event (I don’t remember the name of the third group). The funding of the party rotated each year. The year it was our group’s turn to fund the party I strenuously objected. The GA staff person told us that the way you got things you wanted from General Assembly was to rub elbows with the delegates and staff at the party. He also said that if we stopped funding the event he had other groups just waiting for a chance to do it. Reluctantly, the Chaplains Association voted to fund the party with the provision that our president would be there to see what actually happened at the party. She came back horrified by what she saw. She said that she had never been so embarrassed to be a Presbyterian. There were gallons and gallons and gallons of rum and vodka. There were kegs of beer. People were drunk out of their minds. At our next meeting, the Presbyterian Chaplains Association voted to NEVER fund the party ever again. The GA staff person told us that another group would take our place.

The Stated Clerk should mandate that GA staff and delegates avoid that party. Staff should be fired if they show up. Delegates should lose their vote. It is outrageous that a drunken, booze-driven party is associated (either unofficially or officially) with the General Assembly meeting

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Creating a Top 10 List for GA

I am glad that the State Clerk of the PCUSA published his “top 10” list for the upcoming meeting of the General Assembly. As mentioned earlier, it is less than inspiring. We can do better! Let’s compile a list and then I will forward it to Presbyweb in a letter to the editor.

  1. The Peace, Unity and Purity report.
  2. Starting new churches.
  3. Congregational development.
  4. The recovery efforts from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
  5. Creating priorities for the denomination that will be ratified by the presbyteries, develop budgets based on these priorities and staff accordingly.

What priorities would you add?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Stated Clerk’s Top 10 Evaluation (goes on and on)

Today we are looking at the Stated Clerk’s desire to have the constitution revised. For those non-Presbyterians out there, our constitution is composed of the Book of Order and the Book of Confession. The Book of Confessions is composed on 11 confessions. Each confession was written to help define the faith at a particular point in history. Here’s the problem… these confession are not enforceable in any way. Most Presbyterians NEVER read them. So… to revise this section of the constitution would mean that we would begin to enforce adherence to the confessions. That’s never going to happen.

The second part of the constitution is the Book of Order. This is the document that supposedly gives the rules and regulations of the denomination. This document is selectively enforced, at best. Have a church refuse to ordain women elders and the presbytery comes down on the local church like a “ton-of-bricks.” My first presbytery meet following ordination saw a session and pastors removed for refusing to ordain women elders and deacons. On the other hand, have a church and pastor participate in the ordination of a practicing, non-repentant gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person and the enforcement is spotty at best. The Book of Order requires that the committee on ministry visit each session at least every third years. I have been ordained for almost twenty years and NEVER had a representative from COM come to a session meeting. The rules of the denomination are routinely ignored.

So… when the Stated Clerk wants to see the constitution revised I am torn. Do we have too many rules and regulations? You bet we do! Should we reduce the number of rules and regulations? You bet we should! Which ones should we drop? That’s the challenge.

The ONLY way for this to happen is to have a set of essentials that are ESSENTIAL beliefs. They must be non-negotiable. They need to define our belief in God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, sin, redemption and the Bible. In this age of sexual confusion I would add that there would need to be a non-negotiable section of beliefs on sexual conduct. Such essential would eliminate the need for most of the Book of Order. But this will never happen!

Additionally, the constitution could only be revised when those who are vested in the power structure are willing to give up their power. Forbid General Assembly staff persons from having any input in setting committee policy or procedures. Have them run errands for the commissioners and nothing else. Change could then begin to happen. Fire staff persons who go against denominational beliefs and standards. The staff will never give up their positions of power. These things will never happen.

There is NO TRUST in the PCUSA so the constitution will not get revised. We have not proven that we can trust each other in small things so how can we trust each other in big things.

So why would the Stated Clerk want this to be a top ten issue for the upcoming General Assembly meeting? Is it a noble idea? I think so. Is it “do-able” in the current climate of the denomination? I think not.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Stated Clerk’s Top 10 Evaluation (cont.)

“Financial and Organizational Concerns” are listed as one of the Stated Clerk’s top ten priorities for the upcoming General Assembly. This should be an important issue for the Assembly. What can the Assembly do? What changes can they make? What kinds of system wide changes can be implemented?

My guess is that little or nothing of significance will happen in this area. Let’s begin by looking at the financial side of the problem. The projected membership losses for the denomination will ensure that there are less $$$ unless changes are made. Less people in the denomination = less people giving to the denomination. The outcomes of the PUP Task report and the G-6.0106b overtures could also significantly impact the finances of the denomination. The only way to change the financial picture of the PCUSA would be to have a complete paradigm shift on how we function as one manifestation of the Body of Christ and how we go about ministry. This leads us directly to “organizational concerns.”

The “organization” of the PCUSA has not significantly changed in ages and ages. People over 60 are very comfortable with the organizational style of the denomination. There are denominational staff persons and elected delegates that make the decisions. To be a denomination in the 21st century demands us to re-think the way we are organized. The denomination needs to be divided into two main sections: congregational development and everything else. This organizational shift needs to be in place for the next fifteen years. The vast majority of the focus needs to be on developing healthy, vital congregations. Failure in this task means that there will still be some big, vital churches but as a denomination we will be irrelevant. We need to start 1500 – 2000 new churches during that period. Most of these churches need to be geared to reach the people between the ages of 18 and 30. The new churches need to meet in coffee shops, shopping centers and other non-traditional settings. We have to embrace multiple styles of worship. All-in-all, we need to totally re-think what it means to be a denomination.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Beginning Breakdown of Stated Clerk’s Top 10 List

Kirkpatrick’s top 10 list for the upcoming General Assembly meeting can be broken down into a few categories: the PCUSA (Peace, Unity and Purity; Building bridges in the Presbyterian Family; Women’s ministry; financial and organizational concerns; Executive Director of GA Council; Constitutional Revision; Agency and Permanent Committee Reviews; G-6.0106b) and world concerns (Justice and Peace in the Middle East and Economic Justice Concerns). A significant portion of the GA meeting needs to focus of the present and future of the PCUSA. I will look at this topic on another day. What I find interesting is that there is no mention of rebuilding the Gulf Coast in light of the devastation of hurricane Katrina. The single most destructive event in the history of our country and it doesn’t even rate a mention. Church after church is sending work groups to the affected area, yet, it is not a major priority for our Stated Clerk. The battle between Palestinians, Jews and Arabs has been going on for centuries. It will not end in our lifetime. The PCUSA can make all of the policy declarations it wants—the parties are not going to listen to us. Do we need to ignore the Middle East? No way. Does it need to be one of our General Assembly’s top 10 concerns? No way.

Think for a moment… Campus Crusade for Christ has made rebuilding the Gulf Coast a major focus. They had 7000+ students working in the affected areas over Spring Break. The PCUSA is making a small difference in the area but we could be making a HUGE difference if it was one of the top 10 concerns of the General Assembly.

Example: The Assembly is having a new paper on the Trinity written and studied. Why? Is if more important to have politically correct language concerning the Trinity or to rebuild homes along the Gulf Coast? If we took the $$$ used by the group writing this report to rebuild homes we could get several home rebuilt (maybe even LOTS of homes). No, instead we will try to get more inclusive language regarding the Trinity in use by our denomination.

Example: What would happen if the GA set the goal of having 10,000 Presbyterians working along the Gulf Coast over next Christmas vacation and again over Spring Vacation and again over the following summer? We could rebuild entire neighborhoods and towns! Talk about a denomination that would be making a difference!!

How tragic that the Gulf Coast didn’t even make the top 10 list of our Stated Clerk!