September 13, 2007: What Would You Do If You Got It?

The phone keeps ringing about Stated Clerk issues. It is not surprising.

Fortunately the calls have been soliciting opinions about other possible candidates.

In those conversations I have begun to ask the question, "What would you (or he or she) do if elected?" The answers have been something along the lines of insuring constitutional integrity or making sure the Book of Order is not ignored.

Although those are admirable goals, I think we are beyond the stage of looking to the Book of Order as a basis for mutual trust and connection. As I mentioned yesterday, I believe that the denomination's financial situation is the most immediate crisis to be addressed. Unless something changes dramatically, the next Stated Clerk may be presiding over the financial implosion and dis-integration of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

As a completely unresearched, unsubstantiated aside; I cannot help but wonder if the financial trends were a factor in the decisions of Elenor Giddings Ivory and Cliff Kirkpatrick to move on. If I were in their positions, it would have been for me.

If synods and presbyteries begin to close offices for lack of funding, the survival of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be dependent upon the willingness of those remaining to commit to being connected in a new way: missionally.

The next Stated Clerk will need to be a communicator of a missional vision for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She/he must be willing to say, "The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is called to the good news of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord. I believe this to be true; and I believe that it is good news for you, too." This is the Church's calling and needs to be repeated often and boldly.

Trust will not be restored by simply enforcing the current Book of Order. However, it also is true that trust will not be restored without requiring compliance with the Book of Order. For example, at this point, performing a ceremony celebrating a same-sex marriage must be declared to be a "renunciation of jurisdiction." It requires more than a rebuke because it is an intentional disregard and violation trust -- it says, "the Presbyterian Church has no authority over me, I can do what I want." OK, if that is accurate, the Presbyterian Church has the responsibility (on behalf of those who do recognize the church's authority) to say, "You do not speak for us, you have declared you are not a part of us."

It is a "both/and" proposition. Communicate personal and institutional commitment to the mission call of the church AND take steps to establish trust that a yes means yes and a no means no.

That's a tall order.

 

 

September 12, 2007: Further Reflections

I currently serve on San Diego Presbytery's "Way Forward Work Group" (pronounced "woof-wag" for those of you who work in acronyms. I urged the presbytery moderator at the time to come up with a different name to avoid the inevitable "tail wagging the dog" speech when a final report is presented; alas, I was not persuasive).

Anyway, there are two portions of this work group's effort for which I am responsible: "contingency" and "vigilance." Vigiliance means watching the PJC process for remedial and disciplinary cases that might impact our covenant life together -- ordination being the most obvious example.

"Contingency" is a little less defined but, for me, is the more important part of my tasking. This assignment involves identifying trends, movements, and events that would impact the direction and ability of San Diego Presbytery to move forward. The reason that this is more important than simply vigilance is because I do not believe that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will split over ordination issues.

Although it is not difficult to produce indicators of decline within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the one that has caught my attention is the denomination's finances. For years, there have been budget and staff cuts in Louisville; the General Assembly Council regularly has had percentage-point slashes. That does not mean much to someone like me; I do not have enough contact with national staff to feel the impact, nor do I have a comprehensive appreciation for all the things done at the national level to know how programs have been changed.

What stands out is the giving side of things. In the March, 2007, General Assembly Council Meeting, the 2007 Revised Budget (Projected Receipts) [Appendix 28, page 3 of 5] says

  • PC(USA) has a mission budget of $103,264,569.

  • Of that $103 million, $72,688,019 is restricted giving -- special offerings or designated by the giver.

  • Of the $30,576,550 that is undesignated, $12,900,000 is expected from congregations.

Now, I am sure there is some nuance in understanding these numbers. However, my untrained eye suggests that the denomination is projecting roughly 13% of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s mission budget will be from undesignated giving from congregations. When I mentioned this to the WFWG group, one pastor commented that he would be very hesitant to serve a congregation where the members' undesignated giving amounted to less than 50%, never mind 15%.

Why is this important? Well, in short, as the unrestricted giving decreases, it is more and more difficult for the denomination to provide financial support for economically strapped presbyteries and middle governing bodies. There has already been one conference held to discuss the viability of middle governing bodies.

If the middle governing bodies do not remain economically viable -- that is, if they run out of money and cease to exist -- what is going to be the connecting force among congregations and among presbyteries?

That's a pretty big contingency.

And, going back around to the question of standing for election as Stated Clerk, I would rather deal with these contingencies as a pastor of a congregation in San Diego Presbytery than as a denominational official in Louisville.

Vigilance

Just for purposes of completeness, I might as well share the "vigilance" part of my interim report to the WFWG. There have been two PJC cases related to ordination issues: the Stewart case and the Spahr case.

In Stewart, a remedial case, a woman under care of Mission Presbytery who had made known her unrepentant participation in a lesbian relationship was approved by presbytery to be moved from Inquirer to Candidacy -- the next step in the process towards seeking ordination as a minister of Word and Sacrament. The decision of the presbytery to approve her transition was appealed. By the time the case arrived at the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, the woman had removed her name from being enrolled in the process. In dicta (that is, language which does not embody the decision or resolution of the case), the GA PJC clarified the Sheldon case from a few years ago. From the decision:

Stewart further argues that there is a “need for guidance” because the statements to the Presbytery and the SPJC cast doubt on the Book of Order requirements for candidates. This Commission is not an advisory body for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) regarding matters relating to the Constitution, but is charged with deciding cases or controversies. However, this Commission notes with concern that the record shows that both the Presbytery and the SPJC appear to have relied on the Book of Order: Annotated Edition entry for the Sheldon, et al. v. Presbytery of West Jersey, Minutes, 2000, p. 589, case, rather than the language of the case itself. Such reliance was misplaced. The erroneous explanation given under G-14.0305d of the Book of Order: Annotated Edition to the Sheldon case provides “An inquirer may be received as a candidate even if not currently eligible for ordination because of G-6.0106b, but could not be ordained if found at the time for certification of readiness for ordination not to be in compliance.”
The annotation is a misstatement of the cited case. Sheldon concerned an inquirer being considered for candidacy who was a celibate gay man, and therefore eligible to become a candidate. Furthermore, the GAPJC specifically found in Sheldon that “…the evidence supports a determination that the candidate has not violated the standard of G-6.0106b.” Sheldon concludes by stating, “However, if the [Presbytery] should determine the Candidate to be ineligible for candidacy at some point in the future, the [Presbytery] should remove the Candidate’s name from the roll of candidates, as provided by G-14.0312.”

In Spahr, a disciplinary case, the Redwoods Presbytery PJC found Jane Spahr had not committed an offense by performing a same-sex marriage. Under recently amended provisions in the Rules of Discipline (specifically, D-13.0102, D-13.0106b), the prosecuting committee exercised their right to appeal. The Synod of the Pacific reversed the decision of the Redwoods Presbytery PJC and imposed the minimum censure of rebuke. The case is pending appeal to the GA PJC.

The only other case of interest is not a case yet. Scott Anderson, a member of the General Assembly's Theological Task Force on Peace Unity and Purity has been enrolled by John Knox Presbytery as an Inquirer. Anderson intends to "scruple" ordination standards (G-6.0106b) -- that is, seek an exception to compliance with standards because of his disagreement -- as he pursues ordination as Minister of Word and Sacrament.

 

September 11, 2007: Expounding A Little Bit

To expound a little bit on yesterday's post, after a few calls and e-mails, I thought it would be wise to make it clear -- quickly -- that Stated Clerk Kirkpatrick's decision to not seek a fourth term does not inspire me to pursue election a second time.

The first reason for the quick public statement is for the benefit of the members of Chula Vista Presbyterian Church I am blessed to serve as pastor. I would like them not to harbor any doubts about my call or intentions.

The second reason for the quick public statement is to encourage those looking to find a candidate to search elsewhere. There is enough interest in these things to lead me to suspect people will be (as they already have) looking to contact me.

I believe God called me to stand for election in 2004. I did my best to stand faithfully and bear witness with clarity and vision. It was both a blessing and a very difficult time. The General Assembly voted for Stated Clerk Kirkpatrick. After that time, as the sporadic and lack of posting on this site for three years has revealed, I believe God moved me into a different direction than denominational politics.

It is time for a new leader. If the connection among Presbyterians is based on trust, this new leader needs to be someone who inspires trust. This person must be someone whose yes means yes and whose no means no. Right now, the lack of trust is effectively causing the PC(USA) to dis-integrate.

As for me, I can only share what a blessing I have received by being called to serve in Chula Vista, California. I am overwhelmed by seeing how the grace and love of Christ is transforming lives through the ministries of this congregation.

If you're in the neighborhood, stop by!

 

September 10, 2007: Not standing for election.

No, I am not going to stand for election for Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).