Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Shadyside: 6. Overture to General Assembly

The meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery on Feb. 3, 2006 at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church had already gone past the expected time of adjournment when it took up one item of new business, a proposed overture to the General Assembly (here or here).

The overture had been written by Elder Robert Gagnon, who is a commissioner to that General Assembly and a professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The sessions of the Eastminster Presbyterian Church and the Elfinwild Presbyterian Church were supporting the overture.

I've discussed earlier my feelings that the proposed amendment to the PCUSA's constitution seemed unnecessary. The lateness of the hour did not put me in a better frame of mind to hear a different perspective had one been offered. The Presbytery's vote to give Elder Gagnon ten minutes rather than the usual three to present the overture was generous, but only served to prolong the meeting.

The overture was a response to an interpretation of Recommendation 5 in the Final Report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. Recommendation 5 has not yet been adopted, and its effect has not yet been determined; its critics claim that it will create "local option" giving each ordaining body the right to choose for itself whether it will ordain elders or ministers who are not in compliance with G-6.0106b. The arguments that Recommendation 5 would create such a local option are unpersuasive and contrary to explicit language in the Recommendation. The authoritative interpretation offered in Recommendation 5 only restates our existing polity to make it more understandable.

Moderator Carol Divens Roth ruled a motion to postpone the overture to the next presbytery meeting out of order, and the Presbytery upheld her ruling on appeal to the body.

During the course of the debate, Rev. Janet Edwards spoke to urge the Presbytery to follow a more excellent way that she asserted was expressed in the Presbyterian Hymnal. She invited us to sing hymn number 438.

We don't use the Presbyterian Hymnal at Central. The hymn number meant nothing to me. So I reached into the pew rack in front of me and pulled out the hymnal with curiosity. Turning to the appropriate page, I read the title.
"Blest Be the Tie that Binds"

Immediately my memories took me back almost 35 years. I was in Cooperstown, New York, standing in a familiar pew in the Cooperstown Presbyterian Church with my parents and siblings and friends around me. We were holding maroon Hymnbooks and singing the hymn that the congregation sang every time a new member was welcomed into the church. Nearby my sister was standing next to one of my high school classmates, and they gestured together to wipe away a symbolic tear at the verse that said, "And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear."

I suspect that there are some who would consider singing this hymn during debate to be a partisan demonstration. I'll admit that I joined in the a capella singing of four verses that summed up my affirmation that God has something better in mind for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) than endless debates about rules. I don't know how or when we're finally going to get it, but I am sure it is there for us.

The debate continued, with more counted votes on whether to extend debate, and eventually on the main question. The overture passed by 68-62, and will go on to the General Assembly.

Because Pittsburgh Presbytery has submitted the overture by the 120 day deadline before the General Assembly meets, the Advisory Committee on the Constitution will have an opportunity to review it and give advice to the General Assembly. This committee is composed of many of the best constitutional thinkers in our church, and is able to help the General Assembly understand what it is doing when it votes on amendments or interpretations of the church's constitution.

My other articles on this meeting: 1 2 3 4 5 6

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