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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

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.