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Issue Number 6
25 June 2001  -- GA Special Edition

Articles
Enchilada
Memo from Don
Being a Commissioner
Talk Softly
GA 213
3 Actions
Calendar
Contact Us
Invitation
 

The Whole Enchilada

That's how some people came to refer to overture 01-08 as amended from the Presbytery of New York City which was approved at the General Assembly just ended. [See 3 Actions for text.] It has four parts:
  1. It asks the presbyteries to:
    • remove G-6.0106b from our church's constitution. (That's the paragraph which has been understood to mean gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people may not be ordained.)
    • Add to G-6.0106a, "suitability to hold office is determined by the governing body where the examination for ordination or installation takes place, guided by scriptural and constitutional standards, under the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ."
  2. Pending the vote on 'b,' makes the definitive guidances of 1978 and 1979 and the other legal bars to glbt ordination "of no further force or effect."
  3. Instructs Moderator Jack Rogers to issue a pastoral letter to all the churches interpreting these actions.
The Assembly approved this after almost two hours of debate (including debate on proposed substitute motions) by a vote of  317 to 208 with 3 abstentions. That's 60 percent! God is good!

GA's proposal recognizes our present policy governing ordination has not been working. It does not create a new policy. It reaffirms an old practice of trust. It does not require anyone or any governing body to do anything they would not choose to do today. It is a confession that we as a denomination, we as a people loved by God, do not know what is right. It is an invitation to come together at the great table to seek God's will.

How challenging this next year will be! As I was leaving after the decisive vote, one woman, bowed in conversation with a friend asked, "How could they do this?" Many people feel threatened at the core of their faith. This discussion is beyond their present comprehension. To remain truly welcoming, hospitable, inclusive, we must reach out with patience and understanding. As a practical matter, we must also do so if these proposals are to win the vote by presbyteries.

Education is one of Presbyterian Promise's key missions. We are here, eager to help you understand and interpret the issues we face together. Won't you call on us?
 

Moderator Jack Rogers
Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

This assembly was challenged from the beginning to find a better way, a way of healing. At one point, Moderator Jack Rogers offered a metaphor. The church may be seen either as a bird cage where those inside are well cared for but are not free, or it may be a bird bath where all may choose to visit and be refreshed. This GA has invited us all to visit and be refreshed. Read on for further perspectives....

Ralph Jones

Memo from Don

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ whose grace has rooted and grounded us in love so that all barriers to acceptance are torn down and we may become God's fully inclusive church. Greetings from the 213th General Assembly (2001) from which I have just recently returned.

Our moderator Jack Rogers told us to go out from Louisville as ambassadors to tell the rest of the church the good news of what great and powerful new things God has begun to do in and through the PC (USA). We are to take to all the presbyteries the vision of a church that is truly rooted and grounded in love, that leaves no one out and considers no one to be a second class member.

Let no one convince you, as some have already begun to try to do by putting the worst possible "spin" on the GA, that we commissioners were confused in our actions. We were deliberate, steadfast, and consistent in holding fast to our new vision for the church even as we negotiated a whole mine field of parliamentary procedural roadblocks placed to divert us from our vision.

We avoided all diversion and kept our eyes fixed resolutely on the goal of our vision of a fully inclusive church. We accomplished, among other things, three very significant actions to begin to lead the PC (USA) into a new day.

  1. We resolutely affirmed our Reformed heritage as a confessional church. We commended for study and renewed use the Book of Confessions as an adequate guide for what we believe.
    1.  
    In doing so we refused several overtures that would have had us adopt for the PC (USA) subscriptionist statements about the meaning of Jesus Christ.
       
      YAD Amy Bell waiting to speak against the substitute motion
      and for the amended New York Overture
      Jack Hartwein-Sanchez
    In refusing to adopt such statements we commissioners, I believe, were making a powerful affirmation for "freedom of conscience" and the "right to a broad theological spectrum" within the church. [See 3 Actions: Theological Issues.]
       
  2. We called for the appointment of a task force to lead the PC (USA) in spiritual discernment of our Christian identity for the 21st Century and to lead us in a sustained dialogue about the important issues that divide us.
    1.  
    In taking this action we refused to create a "Table of Dialogue" based on injustice and inequity. We insisted that everyone must have a place at the table and have freedom to join in the dialogue without fear of intimidation, loss of career, or loss of place in individual faith communities. This dialogue was set up in order to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members of the church.
       
    We called for the appointment of a task force that does not have the specter of G-6.0106b looming over it, making the process of dialogue hopelessly flawed from the beginning. The matter of G-6.0106b was specifically not referred to the task force. For a free, open, just and equal dialogue to proceed, the work of the task force must be free of the strictures of G-6.0106b. [See 3 Actions: Peace, Purity and Unity]
       
  3. We Commissioners decided that the peace, unity, and purity of the church can only be preserved by ridding our Constitution of the prohibition placed on presbyteries and sessions acting, in the freedom of their conscience and due deliberation and discretion, to ordain whatsoever candidates fulfill their criteria and are judged to be called by God to lead the people. We therefore voted to send an amendment to the presbyteries deleting G-6.0106b from The Book of Order.
    1.  
    We also adopted an Authoritative Interpretation (to go into effect once a majority of presbyteries vote to delete G-6.0106b) declaring the 1978 Definitive Guidance and all judicial decisions and previous Authoritative Interpretations deriving from the 1978 Definitive Guidance to have no further force or effect. [See 3 Actions: Ordination Standards]
Commissioners in debate
Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

WE HAVE A LOT OF HARD WORK AHEAD. We must be as resolute as the 213th GA in holding up before the church this vision of a PC (USA) rooted and grounded in Christ's love that makes room for everyone. We must go out into all the presbyteries with this vision and convince the rest of the church that this is Good News that shall transform it into a beacon of light to all peoples.

So let us pray together for guidance in holding up before everyone this beautiful vision of the church. Let us work under the studied guidance of the Progressive Partners and those who join in helping us to act in wise and deliberate ways to fulfill our call to make this vision a reality. But above all let us trust in God's grace in Christ to give us faith to move the oppressive shadow of a mountain and let more light shine into our hearts and minds as a denomination.

Don Stroud, Minister Commissioner from Baltimore and
Minister of Outreach and Reconciliation,
TAMFS: Baltimore

On Being a GA Commissioner

It was a powerful week in Louisville, Kentucky.  Commissioners, Youth Advisory Delegates, Theological Student Advisory Delegates, Missionary Advisory Delegates, Ecumenical Advisory Delegates, and staff people from all over the nation and beyond came together for a week of discussing church business and discerning God's call. I was delighted to get the nod as the elder commissioner from our presbytery last February but not until I touched down in Louisville did I really sense the excitement and responsibility of my call.

The assembly started off with the election of Jack Rogers as moderator. He is a fair, compassionate, listening, moderator with a sense of humor. He conducted the plenary sessions with objectivity and caring and used excerpts from our Confessions during devotional moments.

GLBT's and supporters participated in two worship services on Sunday that were energizing and uplifting not only the sermons but also the prayers, the singing and the dancing through the open door of inclusiveness. The great number of people attending showed the solidarity and strength of those committed to a more welcoming church. Powerful.
 

More Light Presbyterians at Worship
Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

Another positive for me was seeing all our brothers and sisters in Christ from other presbyteries, people I usually hear from only through e-mail and newsletters. To gather with others who hear God's call to an open, affirming church was wonderful. Talking, eating, drinking, hugging, singing, praying and listening to each other felt so good! To be with others who believe in this cause reassured me and lifted my spirits immeasurably.

Being part of the whole body of commissioners who voted to eliminate G-6.0106b and reaffirm the commitment to all welcomed by Christ was a culminating moment, a solemn moment. The anticipation built all week, but was not unbearable debate and discourse were civil and polite when the Ordination Standards committee presented their report Friday afternoon. Yet knowing that 60% of us voted to remove 'b' was good news, very good news. That night the move to have it reconsidered failed by an even larger margin. Now it is up to the 173 presbyteries to decide, but I believe God is calling us to a "more excellent" way - to include all in the church of Christ.

I was glad to serve my church and my presbytery.  It was a positive experience all around. I really felt that the Holy Spirit was with me and carried me, energizing and empowering me through a busy schedule, loads of paper and lots of walking.  I would do it again.

Pat Wales
 

Talk Softly and Carry a Big Stick

As the Overture Advocate for Southern New England Presbytery, I return from General Assembly with a feeling of hope and joy, a resurrection of that "old love" for my church which has been tested mightily for the last several years.

We passed Overture 08 from New York City. Now comes the hard work of winning a majority of the presbyteries. I want to take this moment to give thanks and let you know a little about how this wonderful thing happened.

First, we carried a "big stick." About 28 overture advocates collaborated. Because there were so many overtures related to 'Amendment B,' we decided a united approach was best. Together we created what is now called the "PowerPoint" presentation, of which we are very proud and excited. It was shown to the Ordination Standards Committee [and repeated twice later] and it alone, I believe, was a major factor in changing three people's minds. The presentation will be available to presbyteries and anyone else who wants it during the next year. I, along with others from Presbyterian Promise, will make myself available to churches and groups to speak in more detail about the General Assembly and the proposed overture.

The presentation was balanced, faithful, pastoral and reasonable. It presented the points, that:

  1. There are differing but faithful points of view on this issue;
  2. There are faithful Biblical interpretations which differ from the traditional understandings;
  3. Where there is such a large minority in pain and anguish, a loving and diverse church should have respect for individual conscience and mutual forbearance, and
  4. The local church and presbytery is where the decisions on ordination are best made.
Overflow crowd of commissioners at a second showing of
the Advocate's Presentation, about 9:45 PM, after a full day of debate.
Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

This was the first time I was in a group project where I felt the whole was actually greater than the sum of the parts!  Those of you who know me will know this says a lot: I usually detest group projects, ever since they were the thing to do at college. However, we were so great that I did not speak to the Ordination Standards Committee or the General Assembly itself at all. I had total confidence in our folks and our work and therefore kept quiet. The Holy Spirit definitely is present when I can do that and feel fine about it!

The "talk softly" was, I believe, the fact that we truly presented a compromise. While many who are pro-gay would like a mandate of equality in our church (such as we have with people of color and women), we advocates knew the time is not right for that. Therefore we stressed that Overture 08 would not require any governing body to ordain any homosexual person if they did not believe they could and be faithful to their conscience. On the other hand, the overture allows those churches and presbyteries who so desire to go ahead. It passed the assembly by 60% to 39%, a solid affirmation that we were on the right track, in spite of many somewhat vitriolic speeches by the opposition. The vast middle the quiet, faithful Presbyterian majority voted for us on this and carried it. These are the many folks across the country who do not think they know any glbt folks, but also know their gospel well enough to suspect the way we have been going is not right. They want a choice which allows them to feel faithful to their conscience, the Bible and the Presbyterian church, and we gave them that.

Right after the vote, while I was outside jumping up and down all by myself I immediately thought of Tom Otte and knew he was watching and smiling his grin, happy and proud of us all.

Barbara Hager
 

GA 213

General Assembly is a special world, shared by some 3,000 of the most informed and committed in our denomination. It begins Saturday afternoon with an orientation period and, after dinner, the election of the Moderator. Sunday is a time of worship. Working committees commence after supper and continue through Tuesday. Plenary reconvenes after lunch on Wednesday. All the decisions are made by Friday night, except for the budget which is finalized Saturday morning. There are breakfast, lunch and dinner events throughout.

Three Worships!

 
Morning Worship
Note the stoles on the table
Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

At 9 AM the Three Sisters (More Light Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve, The Shower of Stoles), joined by a group of dissenting churches from Hudson River, held a joyous worship in a park across from the convention center. We prayed and sang, led by an inclusive choir. We danced. We listened to scripture. We shared the very special peace of Christians greeting each other after a time of absence. In parting, we commissioned each other with stoles reminders of those who have been unable to serve.

Then came the formal opening worship with great music, preaching by Syngman Rhee (the previous moderator), communion and celebration of the gifts of our missionaries including 108 year old missionary nurse Nola Pease Vander Meer who with her husband had served the church in Kentucky for 98 years. She was quoted as praying, "Lord, give me patience, and please hurry up."
 

More Light Presbyterians at Worship
Jack Hartwein-Sanchez

At 4 PM, a throng of welcoming and hospitable folk gathered at Louisville's Central Presbyterian Church for a celebration of God's inclusive love. We shared in true liturgical dance as led by Jef Sodowsky with WS Walton, Jr. as cantor. We entered through the door of God's space. Johanna Bos led us in a reflection on Psalm 118, Open the Gates of Righteousness, taking it as a response to the post exilic period a gratitude for God's goodness tempered with memory that things are not always good.

Theme

This assembly set out to find a way to remain together. That was the hope Jack Rogers expressed in his moderatorial campaign. That was the hope of the Peace, Purity and Unity committee when it proposed a task force to lead a four year period of discernment.

We came together knowing the challenge was what to do about 'b'. The Committee on Ordination Standards struggled long and hard with the numerous overtures and concurrences it received. In a remarkable display of hard work and cooperation, many of the advocates for these overtures began working together weeks ago. Led by Doug Nave, from Presbyterian Welcome, the advocates produced a careful and thorough presentation reviewing the personal, theological and scriptural considerations. A recording of this is already available on www.tamfs.org/ga  Presbyterian Promise will be happy to share this with your congregation!

On the Sidelines

 
MLP, TAMFS and Layman Booths
Jack Hartwein-Sanchez
There is the official assembly and then there's the assembly for the rest. While the commissioners are  hard at work, many others come together to greet, network, dine and even shop. Yes, shop. The exhibit hall provides a great place for people to meet, to share and to learn from one another. The MLP, TAMFS and Shower of Stoles booths were next to those for One by One and the Presbyterian Lay Committee. We shared the floor with representatives of the denominational offices   and with other efforts of love and compassion like the Peace Fellowship at whose breakfast we heard Walter Wink speak about turning the other cheek Jesus' way. While George Will's message to the Lay Committee gathering was that this is the time "to serve the soul," Jimmy Creech challenged MLPers to understand marriage as a spiritual union.

Some 21 gathered for the PSNE luncheon....

Ralph Jones
 

3 Actions GA 213 [from PC USA web site]

 

ON THEOLOGICAL ISSUES
[Approved: 369/163/4]

The General Assembly offers its thanksgiving for the concerns raised by the Presbyteries of Beaver-Butler, San Diego, and San Joaquin regarding faith in Jesus Christ, to whom all power in heaven and earth has been given. 

We recognize a widespread concern for  recovering the place of our confessions in all aspects of church life. The General Assembly answers Overtures 01-43, 01-51, and 01-52 by requesting the Office of Theology and Worship to prepare and widely publicize a list of available materials for study and  worship that will help our congregations better understand the theological richness of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in The Book of  Confessions, Book of Order, and the Scriptures; the imperfections in our daily responses to God's calling; and ways in which congregational and individual witness can be strengthened.

As a witness to what we believe, we affirm the following statement: We confess the unique authority of Jesus Christ as Lord. Every other authority is finally subject to Christ.

Jesus Christ is also uniquely Savior. It is 'his life, death, resurrection, ascension and final return that restores creation, providing salvation for all those whom God has chosen to redeem.'(1) Although we do not know the limits of God's grace and pray for the  salvation of those who may never come to know Christ, for us the assurance of salvation is found only in confessing Christ and  trusting Him alone. 

We are humbled in our witness to Christ by our realization that our understanding of him and his way is limited and distorted by our sin. Still the transforming power of Christ in our lives compels us to make Christ known to others.
      1. The Crucified One Is Lord, p. 4. 
 


ON PEACE, PURITY, AND UNITY
[Approved: 467/41/4]

Because we are baptized and profess our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, gather together at the Lord's table, share in brokenness as well as reconciliation, share a heritage of listening for the way in which Scripture speaks as we struggle with hard issues, share a common although diverse reformed history and confessional heritage, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall enter into a season of theological clarification of our Presbyterian identity by:

1. Directing the Moderators of the 213th, 212th, 211th General Assemblies (2001, 2000, 1999), in consultation with the General Assembly Nominating Committee, to appoint a theological task force as follows: 

a. The task force is to be composed of seventeen members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with membership reflecting the theological and cultural diversity of the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.).

b. The task force is directed to lead the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in spiritual discernment of our Christian identity, in and for the 21st century, using a process which includes conferring with synods presbyteries and congregations seeking the peace, unity, and purity of the church. This discernment shall include but not be limited to issues of Christology, biblical authority and interpretation, ordination standards, and power.

c. The task force is to develop a process and an instrument by which congregations and governing bodies throughout our church may reflect on and discuss the matters that unite and divide us, praying that the Holy Spirit will promote the peace, unity, and purity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

d. The task force is directed to make a progress report to each General Assembly, beginning with the 214th General Assembly (2002) and concluding its work and making a final report to presbyteries & sessions not later than the 217th General Assembly (2005).

2. Calling the church to unite in a sustained period of prayer and reflection on Scripture and our confessions, seeking to promote the peace, unity, purity, and mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
 


ORDINATION STANDARDS

The Assembly voted to amend and adopt (317/208/3) the Committee recommendation to    approve the alternate resolution as follows: 
That the overture be approved with amendment; and that this action be the response to Overtures 00-13, 00-40, 00-48, 01-3, 01-6, 01-12, 01-19, 01-22, 01-27, 01-28, 01-29, 01-32.
Amend Overture 01-8 as follows: 

"1. Direct the Stated Clerk to send the following proposed amendments to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes:

"a. Shall G-6.0106b be stricken.
"b. Shall G-6.0106a be amended by adding a new sentence to the end of the paragraph to read as follows:
"Their suitability to hold office is determined by the governing body where the examination for ordination or installation takes place,guided by scriptural and constitutional standards, under the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ.
"2. Approve the following authoritative interpretation:
"Interpretive statements concerning ordained service by homosexual persons by the 190th General Assembly (1978) of The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and the 119th General Assembly (1979) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, and all subsequent denominational affirmations thereof, shall be given no further force or effect; and Section G-6.0106a of the Form of Government, together with the other prerequisites for ordination expressly stated in our Book of Order, hereby are affirmed as the sole and exclusive standards for ordination by ordaining bodies acting in prayerful discernment of the leading of Almighty God, pending the approval of the related proposed amendment."
[Note: The text of G-6.0106b that the assembly committee is asking to be deleted reads as follows:
"b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament."]
3. Direct the moderator of the 213th General Assembly to send a pastoral letter to the presbyteries and sessions interpreting the Assembly's action.

 

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Letty Russell
Moderators
Jack Hartwein-Sanchez
MLP liaison
Pat Wales
Secretary
Ralph Jones
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Affiliations
That All May Freely Serve
More Light Presbyterian

    Calendar of Events

    July 1
    3 PM - ?
    Annual "4th of July" Pres Prom Picnic at Pat Wales
      patwales@att.net or 203 230 8303 for details.
    September 15
    PSNE Meeting
    October 24 28
        (corrected dates)
    Janie Spahr visits Presbyterian Promise
    November 1 - 3
    Covenant Network Conference
    Christ Transforming Culture with Letty Russell, Peter Gomes, Cynthia Campbell and Jack Stotts
    Pasadena CA     www.covenantnetwork.org
    November 9 - 10
    PSNE Meeting -- Holy Family Retreat Center
OUR MISSION STATEMENT 
-- 
To proclaim God's promise of justice and love in Jesus Christ by organizing inclusive and inquiring churches in the Presbytery of Southern New England into a community of mutual support for the empowerment of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered persons, and for outreach, education, and Christian evangelism.

Invitation

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