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Fossil fuels, Middle East, denomination structures and funding likely to dominate General Assembly


Three slates of candidates stand for moderator of GA223 in St. Louis

by Jerry Van Marter | Office of the General Assembly Communications

LOUISVILLE — While trying to predict what shape any Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly will take, several issues are shaping up to take center stage June 16-23 when the 223rd General Assembly convenes in St. Louis.

The first order of business for the 538 commissioners and about 200 advisory delegates will be to elect their moderator. Then the 13 Assembly Committees will work their way through the items of business this Assembly will consider.

That business will include a mix of social and theological issues and the internal workings of the PC(USA). The 10 issues most apt to capture major attention at the Assembly:

  1. Election of the Moderator: Three slates — two co-moderator teams and one moderator/vice-moderator pair — have formally announced their intention to stand for moderator. They are Chantal D. Atnip, a ruling elder from the Presbytery of Carlisle standing for moderator with her vice-moderator running mate the Rev. Ken Hockenberry of Chicago Presbytery; the Rev. Eliana Maxim of Seattle Presbytery and the Rev. Bertram Johnson of New York City Presbytery as co-moderators; and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann of the Presbytery of Boston and Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida as co-moderators. The election is Saturday evening, June 16.
  2. Fossil Fuel Divestment: For the third Assembly in a row, an overture — OVT 006 from Hudson River Presbytery — has been submitted asking PC(USA) investing agencies (primarily the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation) to divest of stock in fossil fuel companies. To date, more than 30 presbyteries have concurred with the overture. Other overtures from New Covenant Presbytery (OVT 14 and OVT 59), Newton Presbytery (OVT 40), Monmouth Presbytery (OVT 47 and OVT 48) and Twin Cities Area Presbytery (OVT 57) address various aspects of climate change and environmental justice.
  3. Israel-Palestine/Middle East: With positions hardening in the region, at least three overtures ask for continued work on Middle East peace, particularly in Israel-Palestine. Overtures to date are from the Synod of the Covenant (OVT 020 and OVT 21), Grace Presbytery (OVT 025), San Francisco Presbytery (OVT 029 and OVT 030), Philadelphia Presbytery (OVT 42) and Redwoods Presbytery (OVT 46). An overture from Cascades Presbytery (OVT 010) calls for the PC(USA) to respond to the crisis in Syria focused on four principles: stop the killing; work for reconciliation; alleviate the suffering; and deepen PC(USA) partnerships with Syrian Christians.
  4. Per Capita: With economic stresses affecting the PC(USA) at all levels and amidst a rapidly changing ministry context everywhere, a 2019 per capita increase of $2.98 per member to $10.71 (a 39 percent increase over 2018) and $.74 in 2020 to $11.45 is being sought by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly in order to rebuild and reinforce the work of mid councils with their congregations denomination-wide. An overture from Newton Presbytery (OVT 018) seeks a study of the system of per capita funding in the PC(USA).
  5. The Way Forward: Without bishops or other centralized authority figures, the question of who speaks to and for Presbyterians in the church and the world is an issue that has received extensive attention by the Way Forward Commission, a group appointed by the 222nd General Assembly to find better ways for the PC(USA) to operate in the 21st century. The Commission’s recommendations strengthen the office of General Assembly Stated Clerk, making that person the formal “head of communion,” clarify the Stated Clerk’s role as the primary spokesperson to and for the church, and strengthen the Stated Clerk’s overall management role in the ministry of all the church’s national agencies. The reports of the Way Forward Commission and the Assembly’s All-Agency Review Committee propose a number of ways the work of the denomination’s national agencies — particularly the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency — can be made more efficient, more effective, and more collaborative. The most contentious recommendations are around the structure and responsibilities of the denomination’s Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) A Corporation.
  6. Racism/Poverty/Violence: Against the backdrop of a history of conflict in St. Louis around racism, violence and poverty dating back well before the police shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson in 2014, the Assembly will address a number of issues around those questions. A report from local and denominational leaders entitled “The Gospel from St. Louis” will come to the Assembly through the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. Through the “Hands and Feet” initiative launched by General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II, Assembly-goers will have a number of opportunities to learn, engage in direct community service, and participate in public witness events around the issues of racism, poverty and violence.
  7. Immigration: Though at this date no formal business has been submitted, with the continuing threats of deportation and detention of immigrants, many of them Presbyterians from such countries as Indonesia, the issue of immigration is sure to be addressed at the Assembly. The Assembly is also apt to address the plight of some 800,000 immigrants whose status is uncertain due to the federal government’s failure to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act.
  8. Gun Violence: New Castle Presbytery has submitted OVT 51, which addresses the epidemic of gun violence in this country, affirms previous General Assembly policies designed to reduce gun violence and urges all Presbyterians to pray for an end to gun violence and to take steps to reduce gun violence in the U.S.
  9. Paid Family Leave: The Presbytery of Boston has submitted a package of three overtures (OVT 032, OVT 033 and OVT 034) that instructs the Board of Pensions to include 12 weeks of paid parental leave as part of its benefits package, including financial assistance to help congregations pay for a supply pastor during the leave; calls for family leave of 12 weeks to be included in all terms of call; and to include paid family leave of at least 12 weeks as part of the responsibilities of presbyteries. A similar overture has been submitted by Twin Cities Area Presbytery (OVT 56).
  10. Pastoral Leadership for Immigrant Congregations: As the number of immigrant fellowships grows in the PC(USA), the question of finding adequate leadership for these nascent congregations is more frequently asked. An overture from de Cristo Presbytery (OVT 017) seeks more flexible ways to ordain immigrant congregational leaders as ruling elders in order to provide more and better leadership for the whole church.

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