Louisville, Kentucky – Commissioners of the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) gathered virtually on July 5, 2022, for the first time since the opening of the assembly on June 18. The assembly reconvened for the fourth plenary after two weeks of committee deliberations over business referred by the GA 224, which met online in 2020, and new business introduced to the 225th assembly. The 224th GA was truncated significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only meeting for two days in 2020 and referring the vast majority of its business to 2022.
After an initial welcome and reminder orientation to plenary processes, co-moderators Shavon Starling-Louis and Ruth Santana-Grace, introduced a lengthy consent agenda containing 127 items of business believed by committee leadership to be non-controversial. Every item on the consent agenda passed committees by an overwhelming majority.
Six items were removed from the consent agenda by commissioners for further consideration Those items pulled included:
- HSB-11 on affirming reproductive justice, approved 37-3 with amendment in committee;
- RGJ-07 on addressing the lack of installed pastoral leadership in People of Color congregations, approved 33-0 with amendment in committee;
- RGJ-08 on offering an apology to African Americans for the sin of slavery and its legacy, approved 31-0 with amendment in committee;
- ECU-06 on distributing of a study document on denouncing antisemitism and islamophobia, approved in committee 25-2;
- IMM-06 on declaring the PC(USA) to be a sanctuary and accompaniment church, approved 36-3 with amendment in committee; and
- ENV-04 on creating the Presbyterian Tree Fund, approved 35-1 with amendment in committee.
Each of the above items will be presented during the respective committee reports later in the assembly.
The Bills and Overtures Committee presented minutes from the first three plenaries, including the adoption of special rules allowing for the historic hybrid online and in-person assembly, and the election of the co-moderators for the 225th GA.
The assembly also adopted B+O-02, a detailed docket outlining when committees are scheduled to present their work to the assembly for approval. It is expected that the docket will be updated and re-represented for approval should schedule require it.
Ian Hall, chief financial officer and chief operating officer of the PC(USA) A corporation, and DeAmber Clopton, assistant stated clerk and associate director for finance administration at the Office of the General Assembly, updated commissioners on the per-capita and mission budgets. Up to date information can be found at www.pc-biz.org/ga#/myga and clicking on the “Financial Implications on PC-Biz” link on the left.
The 2022 per capita is $8.98 in per member. Prior to the assembly and based on actions of previous assembly, per capita was expected to increase to $9.61 per member in 2023 and $10.28 in 2024. Already approved and pending business before the 225th GA could push per capita up to $9.75 in 2023 and $10.33 in 2024.
The Mission Budget for 2022 sits at $67.3 million, and is expected to increase to just over $70 million in 2023 and nearly $71 million in 2024, if all items of business currently proposed are approved.
Theology, Worship, and Education
The first committee to present was the Committee on Theology, Worship, and Education. Three items out of 19 items of business were excluded from the consent agenda and presented for approval to the assembly.
Committee moderator, Joe Scrivner, teaching elder from Sheppards and Lapsley Presbytery, and committee vice moderator, Eniko Ferenczy, teaching elder from Muskingum Valley Presbytery, presented several items that were included on the consent agenda.
Scrivner introduced the business by saying, “As the committee engaged the work, we shaped our life together as God’s people united through scripture, song, prayer, and laughter – lots of laughter.”
Ferenczy added, “Our committee modeled energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. As a reflection of our unity, most of our work may be found in the consent agenda. We commend the assembly for taking action on a variety of issues related to theology, worship, and education.”
Scrivner and Ferenczy highlighted a few items included in the consent agenda:
Award for Excellence in Theological Education. In 2020, the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) recognized Elizabeth Francis Caldwell, professor of pastoral theology at McCormick Theological Seminary, and Darrell Likens Guder, professor emeritus of missional and ecumenical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, for their lifetime contributions to theological education “in and for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, recognition of the award was referred from the 224th GA to the 225th GA.
Elizabeth Caldwell served at McCormick from 1984 to 2014. In 2004, the Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators (now the Association of Partners in Christian Education) named Caldwell as Educator of the Year in 2004. In 2008, she was elected by the PC(USA) to serve on the Presbyterian Publishing Board. She also served as a member of the editorial board in the creation of the new Common English Bible.
In a pre-recorded accolade, Rodger Nishioka said of Caldwell, “She’s the one that began to talk about moving us from Christian education, the idea leading out, to formation, to think about what it means to help shape the whole person – not just the mind, but indeed the body and heart and our emotions, everything around us.”
In his 50 years in education ministry, Darrell Guder served at three PC(USA)-related seminaries, one related university, and at two other schools. Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, nominated Guder and credits him to pioneering missional theology.
“I am persuaded that mission is a fundamental discipline of the Christian faith that informs the other discipline,” Guder said in a pre-recorded statement. “My hope is that we’ll free ourselves from the western legacy, becoming members of the church, getting people saved.”
Barnes, who has known Guder for nearly 40 years, wrote, “Missional theology” is now a commonplace term in the church and academy, and Dr. Guder is the pioneer of this body of work. His fundamental conviction that the church does not exist for its own sake but rather to equip disciples of Jesus to go forth in faithful service to God’s mission in the world is at the heart of all his work.”
Covenant Relationship with San Francisco Theological Seminary. During the significantly truncated meeting of the 224th GA in 2020, controversy arose when COTE presented a list to the assembly of seminaries and universities in covenant relationship with the PC(USA). San Francisco Theological Seminary was conspicuously left off the list. In 2019, SFTS had become a graduate program of the University of Redlands. Doubts were raised as to whether SFTS continued to be a PC(USA) seminary.
In 2020, Gregory Bentley, co-moderator of the 224th GA, told to the assembly, “[T]his is not a clear item of business that allows us to address the core questions in the dispute. Nor is there adequate capacity among commissioners to fully discuss, understand and make a decision. There are many issues the church is facing today. And we do not think that this assembly wants to be defined by this conflict in this time and place when so much of the world is in pain and yearning for a word of hope.”
Since 2020, COTE and SFTS have been in conversation, resulting in item TWE-16 on approving a covenant between GA and SFTS. Controversy averted, the committee voted unanimously to approve the covenant. The covenant was approved by the 225th GA as part of the consent agenda. SFTS is once again a PC(USA)-related seminary.
Christopher Ocker, professor of Church history at SFTS, spoke in a pre-recorded video to the assembly and took the opportunity to speak directly to alumni of the seminary, saying, “Like all of my faculty colleagues, I feel tremendous pride in those of you that have studied at SFTS. You number 3,600 people scattered around the world today. You are activist pastors, spiritual directors, and innovators, in chaplaincies, ministries of racial justice, compassion, vocations and careers of every kind. … We are amazed by you. We learn from your example every day. You’re in our hearts. We pray for your thriving. Please pray for us.”
Ocker went on to say, “SFTS enthusiastically supports the covenant proposed between the seminary and General Assembly.”
Directory for Worship. The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) recommended in item TWE-05 nine amendments to the Directory for Worship in the Book of Order (find more on the committee’s deliberations here). The committee recommended to the assembly approval of recommendations 1, 2, and 4 as written, and recommendations 5 through 9 with amendments, and disapproval of recommendation 3, providing further language about where in worship the words of institution during communion may be placed.
The assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve the TWE committee’s recommendations, including the disapproval of PMAB’s recommendation 3.
The assembly also voted to approve 371-23 item TWE-06, on amending W-4.0403 regarding laying on of hands at an installation. The original overture sought to invite all members of a congregation, not only ordained ruling and teaching elders, to lay hands on newly installed ministers of Word and Sacrament, ruling elders and deacons, not only at ordination as stated in W-4.0403. In its rationale, the Presbytery of West Virginia stated that laying of hands is not a sacrament but “an act of diverse meanings as witnessed in Scripture and the Reformed Tradition,” and therefore should be more broadly applied.
The TWE Committee recommended to the assembly that language less specific to the laying on of hands be used, and opted to replace the suggested language with: “Signs and symbols of blessing may be conferred on the newly installed or commissioned person.” The assembly agreed with the committee 371-23.
Commissioning a confession for the PC(USA). The final item of business before the assembly during Plenary 4 was item TWE-08, calling for a new confession to be written for the PC(USA) to be included in the Book of Confessions, part 1 of the PC(USA)’s constitution. The TWE Committee voted 30-2 to approve an amended version of the original overture to ensure broad representation on the commission, including “voices not yet represented.” In addition, committee added a comment that commended the Synod of the Northeast for the work done in preparation for writing such a confession and include rationale provided in a similar overture, TWE-01.
Amantha Barbee, a corresponding member from the GA Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, commented on the inclusion of the Belhar Confession in the Book of Confessions. She said Belhar addressed apartheid in South Africa, but does not address the sins of racial injustice in the U.S. She said, “The confessions are not confined to the past, but they express what the church was, used to believe, and what it resolved to do. The confessions address the current faith and life, declaring convictions and actions. … The time is now, more than ever, to write the confession.”
The assembly supported forming of the commission 352-44, at an estimated cost of $40,210 over two years. The cost is estimated to increase per capita for 2023 and 2024 by $0.02.