Thursday, October 26, 2006

No Post Today

I am sorry that there will not be a post for FullCourtPresby today. I will be at the hospital with the family of a person who is having brain surgery.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Looking at the Amendments – Part 3

Presbyteries will be voting on the “Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” in the coming months. We need to look at the issues that our General Assembly had to deal with. These amendments, along with the PUP report and worship services are what our several million dollars of GA meeting expenditures got us. Let’s continue to look at the “bang-for-the-buck” that we received from this past General Assembly.

Monday I looked at amendments 06-B.1, 06-B.2 and 06-B.3. Yesterday I looked at 06-C.

Amendment 06-D

Commissioned Lay Pastors (CLP) are going to play an increasingly important role in the PCUSA for years to come. There are MANY smaller congregations that cannot afford to call a fulltime ordained pastor as Minister of the Word and Sacrament. These churches will be turning to Stated Supply pastors and commissioned lay pastors. This amendment “officially” gives CLPs access to the Committee on Ministry (COM) of the presbytery. Presbyteries have already been doing this for years! Eleven years ago I was the moderator of the Presbytery of Alaska’s COM. The COM dealt with our CLPs in the manner described in this amendment. Leadership with an ounce of common sense has already made this change. Yet, there are some within our denomination who will not make the change until it is in the Book of Order (BOO). Should we adopt this amendment? Yes. Is it a shame that this type of change has to be put in the BOO? Yes. We cannot legislate every single action with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). My vote: a qualified YES.

Amendment 06-E

This amendment gives each synod the authority to add additional delegates beyond those sent by the member presbyteries. I must tell a quick story before speaking directly about this amendment. When I arrive at Evergreen there was a certain member of the church that was VERY active at presbytery and synod. But get this, he never attended our church—well almost never (he attended one Christmas Eve service). After about four years of non-attendance our session began the process of moving him to the inactive roll of the church. He immediately transferred his members to a very small Presbyterian church on the Washington coast. He had some friends at that church. That church was more than a two hour drive from his residence. Once again, he would be a member of a church that he didn’t attend. Why would he do this? He did it because to be elected to presbytery and synod committees he had to be an “active member” of a Presbyterian church! I informed our presbytery’s state clerk and she said that her hands were tied as long as that little church called him an “active member.” This brings me back to the amendment at hand. It is too easy for special interest groups or individuals to become commissioners to synod even though they have not been elected to that position by their presbytery. A synod assembly can give a non-commissioner the privilege of the floor if it deems there is compelling reason. Our elected commissioners should be the only ones who can have voice and vote at a synod meeting. My vote: NO.

Amendment 06-F

This is an amendment that should be unnecessary. Does a church’s pastor have to report suspected child abuse? Yes. Does an elder have to report suspected child abuse? Yes. Does a deacon have to report suspected child abuse? Yes. So, now let’s use some common sense. Would you think that a church’s youth director would have to report suspected child abuse if the church’s pastor, elders and deacons would have to report that suspected child abuse? Yes. Would you think that a church’s nursery worker would have to report suspected child abuse if that church’s pastor, elders and deacons would have to report that suspected child abuse? Yes. Would you think that the church’s children’s choir director would have to report suspected child abuse if that church’s pastor, elders and deacons would have to report that suspected child abuse? Yes. Common sense says that any church officer, staff or volunteer would report suspected child abuse. The same would apply to the abuse of an adult who lacks the mental capacity to protect themselves. I would see to it that a staff person was disciplined or fired if they suspected that a child had been abused and not report it to ecclesiastical and civil authorities. Maybe the next General Assembly will vote to apply a similar amendment to church janitors. The correct amendment would be that any church officer, staff person, or volunteer, paid or volunteer that suspects that a child has been abused shall report that suspicion to church and civil authorities. Period! My vote: a qualified YES.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Looking at the Amendments – Part 2

Presbyteries will be voting on the “Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” in the coming months. Every two years the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meets for business. One would hope that the Assembly would be dealing with the most pressing issues facing the denomination. When the “board” of Ford Motor Company meets they look at the most important issues facing the company. When the “board” of The Boeing Company meets they look at the most important issues facing the company. I believe that when the “board” of Google meets they talk about how they can rule the world. Well, maybe not. They probably look at the most important issues facing their company. These amendments must be the most important issues facing our denomination. After all, we sent our representatives from across the country to meet for approximately ten days to lead our denomination. Let’s see if the issues they dealt with are the most important issues facing the PCUSA.

Yesterday I looked at amendments 06-B.1, 06-B.2 and 06-B.3.

Amendments 06-C

There is a desire to make the General Assembly Council (GAC) smaller in terms of membership and more responsive to the changing needs of the denomination. This amendment will be loved by some, despised by others and many will be frustrated by its all-or-nothing approach.

There are good parts of this amendment. Some special interest groups will no long have a seat on the GAC. The moderator of Presbyterian Women will no long be a GAC member. The GAC can no longer designate whom-ever-it-pleases to be corresponding members with voice with no vote. This will remove special interest groups from direct council access.

Areas of the amendment that are not so good are numerous. In dealing with the structure of the GAC one would think that the size of the GAC would be mentioned. There is no mention of “size” in this amendment. Every synod will have one seat on the GAC—this move is suppose to keep the GAC in touch with the people. Since when have our synods been in touch with the needs of our congregations or presbyteries? These seats should be given to presbyteries so that more presbyteries will have direct representation on the GAC. There is no length of term listed for GAC membership--this use to be specifically listed in this section of the Book or Order (BOO). Who is going to coordinate the work of General Assembly agencies? The GAC use to do this. We are now going to be LESS coordinated than we have been—scary! Who is going to review the work of the General Assembly agencies? The GA that meets every two years will never be able to do this. Now, there will be no one to hold those agencies accountable between GA meetings—scary! This amendment place the composition of the GAC into the GAC manual of operations, not in the BOO. This means that the GAC would be able to change its membership at any time with any input or oversight. When the composition of the GAC is in the BOO it can only be changed by the amendment process. This move would make it very easy to change the Council’s makeup—could be good, could be very bad.

The intentions behind this amendment are good; yet, the amendment is essentially flawed. This amendment would be workable if there was wide-spread trust in the PCUSA. Currently there is wide-spread distrust in the PCUSA. Who will provide the necessary oversight of General Assembly agencies and staff? A climate of trust needs to be built before the PCUSA is ready for this amendment. Additionally, if we truly want to be in touch with the average Presbyterian then there would be more presbytery representation and little or no synod representation. My vote: NO.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Looking at the Amendments – The PCUSA must be insane!

I received the booklet “Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” at our last presbytery meeting. One would hope that our General Assembly meetings would be tackling the most pressing needs of our denomination. This week I am going to look at these most important amendments. After all, other than the PUP report these MUST be the most important issue faced by the PCUSA. These are the things that were covered in committee, debated on the floor of the General Assembly and were eventually pass to be sent out to the presbyteries for our approval. I am not looking at these in any particular order. So here goes…

Amendments B (06-B.1, 06-B.2 and 06-B3)

06-B.1: There has been a desire to shorten Chapter 14 of the Form of Government and to give it “more flexibility in favor of governing bodies and of presbyteries in particular.” One way to shorten Chapter 14 is to move the section on ordination, installation and commissioning questions to the Directory of Worship. Let’s make sure we grasp this revolutionary concept—we want to make it shorter so we just move it to another part of the Book of Order? But wait, we can rationalize the move by saying that it is something that happens within the context of worship. I would hope that most of what we do as a church happens in worship! With all of the challenges facing our denomination our General Assembly is talking about moving one section of the Book of Order to another section of the Book of Order. It is overtures like this that drive me nuts (some would argue that I am nuts all on my own!). This amendment is an absolute waste of time, effort and $$$. My vote: NO.

06-B.2: This amendment will allow the licensure of candidates. If a candidate has completed all of the requirements for ordination except the ORDINATION EXAMS the presbytery can license the candidate to serve an internship, preach, and when necessary, administer the sacraments. Seminaries already require internships! Why do we need a section in the Book of Order to deal with this? The Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) can approve or disapprove internships. Maybe the Book of Order should spell out how many hours each week the internship should be? How about the color of shoes that the intern must wear? This is insane micromanagement. Another problem that I have with this amendment is that the candidate hasn’t passed the ordination exams and now we are assuming that their theology of the sacraments in correct. What if they have a “Mormon” view of baptism? If they are this far along in seminary and haven’t passed the ordination exams there is something wrong! Special circumstances can always be dealt with by the presbytery. My vote: NO.

06-B.3: Removing synod approval of extraordinary exam process. Synod has no business being involved in this process. This is a waste of time for our presbyteries. It is good enough for me if the CPM and the presbytery have worked with a candidate through an alternate pattern of examination. Some people just do not test well. The CPM and presbytery can deal with this. Keep the synod out of the process! My vote: YES.

Now, in all seriousness, are these the most pressing problems in the PCUSA? Are these amendments dealing with issues that are so pressing that they had to be dealt with at this past GA? I think NOT. Check back tomorrow to see if some of the other amendments are critical for the future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).