Below is a very broad summary of the major decisions made last week at the 221st General Assembly of the PCUSA in Detroit.
By now you have undoubtedly heard news of the “big” issues at GA this summer. At the Monmouth presbytery meeting on Tuesday, our commissioners and YAAD shared how faithfully our assembly worked around all of the decisions. For me the general “feel” of the assembly was one of respect and decision. It was an assembly that was intent on moving forward, not merely looking back. Here are some of the highlights:
After some frustrations with the electronic voting system, Ruling Elder Heath Rada was elected as moderator of the 221st General Assembly by paper ballot on the first vote. Heath is a member of Grace Covenant Presbyterian in Asheville, NC. Our Vice-Moderator is the Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia. Larissa, as you may recall, was working with First Presbyterian Church, Manasquan, last year and directed our Sandy Youth Mission Week last summer. She is now pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Forest Hills, NY.
The assembly took action on two confessions this year. They approved the changes in translation to the Heidelberg confession that was approved in 2012 and by more than two thirds of our presbyteries. Therefore, the new translation is now finalized and will be included in the next printing of the Book of Confessions. The assembly also approved the Belhar Confession be sent to the presbyteries to be included in our Book of Confessions. If approved by 2/3 of the presbyteries and the 222nd assembly in Portland, it will be added to the Book of Confessions.
By a margin of 7 votes, the assembly voted to divest from Motorola, Caterpillar, and Hewlett Packard because they are allegedly involved in “non-peaceful pursuits” in Israel and Palestine. At the same time, the assembly noted that we have a long term investment in peace in the middle east. We value our relationship with our Jewish sisters and brothers, and we remain, as we have been, in favor of a two state solution in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The fossil fuel divestment overture has been referred to MRTI (Mission Responsibility Through Investment) committee.
Three decisions were made regarding same gender marriage. First, the assembly approved (by 61%) an Authorative Interpretation allowing pastors and congregations to use pastoral discretion in doing same sex weddings in states where it is legal (such as New Jersey). Secondly, they approved a change to the directory for worship that will be sent to the presbyteries for ratification that changes the definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” This will need to be affirmed by a majority of presbyteries over the next year to take affect. And thirdly, the assembly overwhelming approved an action that the national staff devise a way to visit each presbytery in order to help reconciliation in the church.
The Mid Council Report was approved which calls for a consolidation of synods over the next few years to between 10 and 12 synods.
Many other decisions were made; 132 were made on a consent agenda presented early on Wednesday. Included in the consent agenda was the report of the nominating committee. Among many others, I was elected to the class of 2018 of the Board of Directors of the Board of Pensions.
There are good news reports from the Presbyterian News Service here (http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga221/).
There are many of us who are willing to meet with your congregation or your session to help interpret the actions of the assembly and talk about the implications for us and ministry in our congregations here in central New Jersey. Our commissioners, Stated Clerks and I are willing to serve you in whatever ways we can.