What happens at General Assembly all too often stays at General Assembly…
Every two years, Presbyterians from around the country, along with representatives and advisory delegates from around the globe, gather to worship, learn, and serve at General Assembly. Committees meet, votes are counted, and decisions - major and minor - are made on behalf of the denomination. Some of these decisions require approval by Presbyteries, such as changes to the Book of Order or the Book of Confessions.
At the last GA in 2022, there were a number of amendments to the Book of Order proposed by the GA and sent to presbyteries to be voted up or down. In February, Shenandoah Presbytery offered commissioners the opportunity to pull any of the proposed amendments for discussion and vote in May, and passed the rest in an omnibus motion. There were five amendments pulled for discussion.
By the time Shenandoah met again in May, all of the proposed amendments to the Book of Order had received the necessary number of votes to pass. Our vote wasn’t going to change the outcome. I’m grateful that the five amendments still passed in our presbytery, even if not unanimously.
I’ve probably already lost some of you with all of the scintillating polity talk, but each of these five contested amendments illustrates how we care for each other as a church. They’re important.
Amendment 22-E - Categories of Membership - for years, ministers who retire have been called “Honorably Retired.” While so many servants of the church have retired quite honorably and admirably, not all have done so. Some have done great harm to individuals and congregations through professional or personal misconduct. Rather than going through any process of accountability, they have claimed the “honorable” retirement route, despite the harm and hurt caused. This change takes seriously the pain that has been amplified for the victims of ministerial misconduct when those responsible for it are given “honorable” retirement rather than facing accountability for their actions.
Amendment 22-P - Administration of Mission - this change adds to a list of policies required for all councils of the church - Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods, and the GA itself - an antiracism policy. For those who have been reading or following along with the discussion of William Yoo’s book, “What Kind of Christianity?” we know that we cannot ignore the history of anti-Black racism in the Presbyterian Church. We have a history that demands reckoning. Our church, like our country, was built on the scaffolding of white supremacy. It isn’t enough to not be racist, if we are following the God of liberation, we will be led into the work of antiracism. It’s important work that is easy to put on the back burner of the church kitchen, and by creating antiracist policies, we turn up the heat, so that we don’t ignore this important work.
Amendment 22-I - Terms of Call - adds to the minimum terms of call for all installed pastors a minimum of 12 weeks of paid family leave. This is long overdue. I don’t need to go into the details of how the United States lags behind so many other countries in parental leave. As a woman of child-bearing age, when family leave conversations have come up, all eyes turn to me, as it if it because of me and people like me that this needs to be a conversation. But family leave applies to so much more. One colleague had hoped to use it for parental leave after marrying her beloved a few years ago. Instead, she used it - twice - to care for him as he battled terminal cancer. Whatever the circumstances, the church being church looks like gathering around to support and care its members when they need it most.
Amendments 22-A and B - The Catholicity of the church and openness - both of these expand language in the Book of Order to be more inclusive of gender identity. As the rights of trans and nonbinary people are under attack in many different places, and as long as we continue to debate about these “issues,” we are denigrating the image of God in each of God’s beloved children. I am proud to be part of a church that is seeking to create space for the diversity of God’s beloved community. Though Shenandoah Pride won’t be for another few months, June is observed as Pride month across the country. I’m grateful to be part of a denomination and congregation that unapologetically affirms God’s love for all of God’s children, across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and pray that we continue to learn and live into what it means to be truly welcoming and inclusive.
The catchphrase for Presbyterians is that we do everything decently and in order. I’d like to say we do things with thought and intention, listening to the prophetic voices that call us to amend and reform, so that we can more faithfully be the church, the body of Christ, and witness to God’s love and grace in the world. May it be so!
Grace and peace,
For the full list of amendments that will go into the Book of Order, click here: https://files.breezechms.com/upload/files/639b47bccbed7/Proposed_Amendments_from_the_225th_GA_2022_.pdf