Monday, July 12, 2010

My Time in the Exhibit Hall and Connecting

As I was in Minneapolis, I kept thinking I should be blogging ... but the time would get away from me, and I kept meeting and seeing new people to connect with.  I am not a polity-wonk or GA junkie, but I love spending time in the Exhibit Hall.  I spent almost a full two days just hanging out there, running into people I knew from other presbyteries, GA staff, etc.  And I would sit and have long conversations with a number of folk ...

This year I spent a lot of time at the PCUSA Church Growth booth, connecting with Philip Lotspeitch and Ray Jones.  We shared what was new in our presbytery and what was happening around the country ... nothing much new to share with you, though I am conversing with Philip about doing a national NCD conference here in Houston sometime next year.

Mission Insite had a booth in the Exhibit Hall and I spent one afternoon catching up with Peter and Chuck about the newest innovations being offered our congregations through this demographic tool.  In case you aren't aware, our presbytery was one of the first to sign on with a contract to Mission Insite ... if you want demographic information on your community this is the place to go.  All the information you need to sign on is on our website. The great news is that soon every congregation will be able to plot their congregation members on the interactive map and have a visual representation of where their members live.  If you'd like to get your congregation plotted, just drop me an email and I'll get you started. 

Mary Marcotte and I spent one afternoon being introduced to a new assessment program for congregations facing an indefinite future.  It's called New Beginnings.  At first blush, it seems very comprehensive, solid, and intentional.  We both volunteered to be trained as consultants/assessors for other presbyteries as we discern its usefulness with our own presbytery and the congregations here as then imagine different possible scenarios for their future.

Having heard Phyllis Tickle speak to the middle governing body representatives, I was intrigued by the challenges virtual worlds were facing the church.  In passing she mentioned a facebook friend of mine, Neal Locke, and his venture at starting a PCUSA congregation online in Second Life.  First Presbyterian Church of Second Life has been meeting regularly for a little more than eight months now.  I spent a couple of hours one afternoon picking Neal's brain about the challenges and realities of new church development in a virtual world.  The avatars who worship on Sunday evenings all represent a Real Life human being, many of whom are meeting Jesus and developing life-changing relationships online through this ministry.  Call or email me if you want to chat more about this ... it's absolutely fascinating!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Last Night in Minneapolis

As we close out the General Assembly, there are new groups at the convention center. As I walked into tonight's proceedings, the man walking near me said, "They don't look like Presbyterians." And he is right. There are now a bunch of Yu-gi-oh players here - mostly older teens, as well as a triathlete convention. As I look at the Yu-gi-oh players, I wonder if they attend church anywhere, as they are the demographic that we are missing in the congregation that I serve. Yet, if they were to walk in, I wonder how open and inviting my congregation would be.

That is one of the struggles for many congregations. For as much energy as the Young Adult Advisory Delegates give to the GA, I wonder how many congregations actually have people in that demographic to serve (17-26). Our two (brothers) are attending the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, coming up in July. But they are the two high schoolers that we have. How do we find a balance between the traditions and music that the older generations prefer and what appeals to the younger generation, especially when one has 50 or so in worship?

That continues to be a struggle, and I imagine that I am not the only one who pastors a congregation with these issues. I so wish we could finally get past the "sex" stuff, but I fear that it will mean that many of my pastor friends might be moving on - and many friends in other congregations will follow.

Yes, worship wars continue ... but do they mask the underlying issues that we really don't want to talk about? Lord, do we need to start having Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments in the church? How do we attract new life in our congregations today? Who are the kids in our 'hood? And how do we engage them?

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Fair and Fluid GA – Mike Cole

As I prepare to leave to drive home to Houston and reflect on this GA, two words come to mind: fair and fluid. As this GA worked through a myriad of issues and overtures, it has sought to be fair to all concerned. That doesn’t mean that I agree with every action or that every action of the GA is balanced the way I’d like to see, but it does mean that the commissioners tried their best to take all perspectives into consideration in making decisions. Yes, we’ll have another vote on G 6.0106b but the GA vote was fairly close. No, the GA didn’t re-define marriage, but they did commend two study papers representing very different perspectives to the church. No, the GA didn’t refuse the report from the Middle East Study Committee, but they did significantly improve it to make relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters less tense. Yes, the GA voted to denounce Caterpillar, but they didn’t vote to divest. Yes, GA voted to move forward with translation corrections in the Heidelberg Catechism, but they do so in consultation with other Reformed bodies who are also working on a more accurate translation. Yes, GA approved sending the new Form of Government to the presbyteries for a vote, but they did address many of the concerns raised during the period of study. Yes, the GA did approve establishing a commission for Middle Governing Bodies, but they made sure that the commission would be working in response to initiatives from middle governing bodies rather than initiating actions themselves.

This was also a GA that desired to be fluid and flexible. The new Form of Government, the Commission on Middle Governing Bodies, the study papers on Christian marriage and civil union all point to a GA that wants the denomination to be more nimble and adaptable to our rapidly changing context. I see these are positive actions which will enable us to become more missional and transformational in structural ways. There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but the actions of the GA give us a framework for doing God’s work together.

Early Departure and Final Thoughts

Some of us are having to leave MN before GA adjourns tomorrow; the commissioners, however, are still hard at work and this will be another exhausting day for them. Please pray them a gracious measure of energy and discernment.

As I leave, I want to share a word of appreciation for the beauty of the churches in downtown Minneapolis! They are beautiful old buildings, of various stone, and their proximity to the Convention Center provided us with images of strength and grace, wherever we walked! To the Lutherans who welcomed us with banners and the other congregations who prayed for us as we met, we give thanks to God!

As for the congregation of Westminster Presbyterian Church, a block from the Convention Center, may they soon have a time of rest and renewal! We praise God for their warm and engaging hospitality! This church flung wide its doors to provide space for meetings, for meals, for prayer, and for renewal through daily offerings of music to entertain, and to soothe troubled souls. I was only able to attend one lunchtime concert -- a duo of Celtic harp and Irish whistles. What a treat for all who were there.

I didn't get to see the statue of Mary Tyler Moore (i.e., character Mary Richards of that old sit-com), but I can attest that Minneapolis IS a city where one feels like throwing a hat in the air, smiling and dancing a bit!

Mike Cole and our commissioners will close out this blog as the GA winds down today and adjourns tomorrow morning with worship. Let me remind all who read this that the presbytery is holding a special called meeting on Sunday, July 18 (3-6pm @ Pinecrest PC) to hear the report of the GA Commissioners, and to engage in a time of conversation together. I hope to see you there! (dkp)

GA Approves a significantly revised report from the Middle East Study Committee – Mike Cole

The GA approved a report from the Middle East Study Committee by a vote of 82% to 17%, after major revisions were made to the report during the committee consideration. The most egregious and unfair portions of the report were removed during the committee meeting, creating a monitoring committee which would solicit four pro-Israeli and four pro-Palestinian narratives of approximately equal length and scholarship to be included in the report. This action also commends “The Kairos Palestine Document” written by Palestinian Christian leaders for study but not endorsement. The GA does endorse the document’s emphasis on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy and reconciliation.

GA votes not to Divest but to Denounce Caterpillar - Mike Cole

On Friday morning, the GA voted 66% to 33% not to divest but to denounce Caterpillar. This action will keep our denomination in conversation with the corporate leadership of Caterpillar.

GA refuses to reconsider Thursday night's action on civil union and Christian Marriage - Mike Cole

The GA voted 60% to 40% NOT to reconsider the action taken on Thursday night including the majority and minority reports on civil union and Christian marriage as a study document for the church. Thursday night's action also answered all the overtures previously sent to GA on issues of civil union and Christian marriage.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

GA approves Both the Majority and Minority Reports on Civil Union and Christian Marriage – Mike Cole

The GA approved by a vote of 67% to 32% BOTH the majority and minority reports of a special committee to study civil union and Christian marriage. This action will commend both reports for STUDY to the church at large. The action encourages all sessions to use the Biblical and background materials for study and as resources for educating ourselves on issues surrounding civil union and Christian marriage. Neither report alters our current definition of Christian marriage as a lifelong covenant between God, a man and a woman, and the community of faith."

The GA also voted by 52% to consider the above action its response to ALL overtures previously submitted to it on civil union and Christian marriage. The other overtures addressed a variety of issues related to guidance to churches and ministers on civil union. As a result of this vote, the PC(U.S.A.) definition of marriage remains unchanged.

9:50 pm and going strong

GA commissioners are having floor discussion about marriage ....

...and civil unions.

Perfecting major and minor reports and then will determine if the perfected minor report shall become the main motion? If not, the perfected main motion (major report) will be acted upon.

GA Approves an Amendment to Change Ordination Standard Language - Mike Cole

This afternoon, the GA voted 53% to 46% to send to the presbyteries an amendment replacing the language of G 6.0106b with the following language: “Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”
The language (what is presently in the Book of Order) that would be replaced by the amendment reads: “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”
A majority of presbyteries would have to vote in favor of this amendment in order for it to become a part of our constitution. If passed, this amendment would allow each ordaining body (session and presbytery) to establish ordination standards which might differ from standards established by other ordaining bodies. The amendment would not require ordination of homosexuals but it would allow an ordaining body to make that decision based on its own examination. It’ll be interesting to see how important our presbyteries consider it to be to have a uniform standard of ordination across the denomination.

The Spirit Among Us.Thursday afternoon

Spirit of the living God
fall afresh on me;
Spirit of the living God
fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God
fall afresh on me.

May this be the prayer of each and every commissioner in this current debate, and as they vote.

protesters, science and faith

I had to laugh as I talked to the two protesters outside the convention center. They are from Ethiopia, and while displaying his sign declaring "NO MORE SIN", a man ran by with his dog, took one look at the sign and said, "Sin ... Yeah ... Sin" with fist upraised. How do we engage a world when we all are sinners?

I had the pleasure of hearing Bill Brown speak on his new book, "The Seven Pillars of Creation", which ties together scientific connections through the Old Testament, which he teaches at Columbia. Interesting guy ... sounds like a good book. There is a move to get the scientists talking to religious folks, and 48% of scientists profess a faith life.

How do we talk about evolution to fundamentalists? I was encouraged by his quote of a high school student from Georgia, where he lives, who said, "I know now that I can study science, read my Bible and pray, and I don't have to choose between one or the other."

Be filled with wonder at God's creation! Even guys who celebrate sin!

Missionaries Commissioned

Lest we give you the impression that everything here at GA is about "issues," I commend to you the blog entries about worship. There is always wonderfully uplifting worship experiences at every General Assembly and this year's is no different. This morning during the worship service that began our day together, missionaries and volunteers in mission were commissioned to their respective ministries. Among those commissioned were The Rev. Jacob George, minister member of New Covenant, and his wife, Aliamma. They will be going to the Sudan.

There are also very special moments interspersed throughout the day while the assembly is in session. Short video presentations have highlighted the varieties of Presbyterian ministries that are making a difference throughout the world. We have marked the 50th celebration of the Presbyterian Peacemaking ministry, and we have prayed together and raised our voices to sing familiar and not-so-familiar hymns and songs.

It is now almost time for the lunch break -- a welcome time of rest and renewal before a long and perhaps contentious afternoon and evening.

Always Have a Back-Up Plan!

I am sitting at my assigned seat in plenary and writing this while the assembly takes a brief break due to technology glitches -- the keypads that the commissioners use to vote are on the fritz! Moderator Bolbach is not reluctant to ask for voice or hand votes, but some simply must be done by the voting "machines." During the early part of this break the YAAD's (Youth and Young Adult Advisory Delegates) led the assembly in an energizer, which was delightful to watch, if not in which to participate! The camera panned the commissioners and I saw the New Covenant folks actively participating (well, most of them)!

15 minutes later..... seems like folks still remember how we "used to do it." I was writing the paragraph above when I was summoned, along with 6 other stated clerks, to be tellers to count paper ballots -- as a solution to the technology glitch! While we waited for our instructions backstage, the voting mechanism was restored. So, our little group of clerks is now on stand-by as the back-up plan for the next time this happens! (dkp)

GA Approves a Commission for Middle Governing Bodies - MikeCole

This morning, the GA approved by 84% TO 15% a recommendation to create a 21 person Commission for Middle Governing Bodies, which will consult will "consult with sessions, presbyteries, synods, and the wider church on the mission and function of middle governing bodies. The commission will develop models that reflect the roles of middle governing bodies in our polity and the changing context of our witness in the United States and their relationships with other governing bodies. The commission will prepare a report to the 220th General Assembly (2012) of its findings and any recommended Book of Order changes. The commission will implement, within the powers granted it, any decisions forwarded from the 219th General Assembly (2010) and approved by presbyteries regarding the form and function of middle governing bodies with a report to the 220th General Assembly (2012). In response to actions of the 219th General Assembly (2010), or upon request of the presbytery and synod by 2/3 vote, the commission is authorized to act as the General Assembly according to organize new synods and to divide, unite, or otherwise combine synods or portions of synods previously existing; or to approve the organization, division, uniting, or combining of presbyteries or portions of presbyteries by synods. Finally, The commission will supervise the Special Administrative Review Committee on Puerto Rico and act on any recommendations they may make within the powers given to the commission.

This has the potential of allowing us to be more flexible and nimble with regard to structural matters and the development of new and creative models for the mission and vision of our middle governing bodies.

End of the day

I wonder how often Stan Ott walks into a bar and is cheered upon his arrival. Of course, his name around our presbytery is spoken with tones of awe and wonder. Last night, we found out we went to rival high schools ... it is a small world! He and Mary have a shared experience in National Capital Presbytery.

For many of us, he is one of the gurus. Last night, he received a "wave" of support from Presbytery of New Covenant ...

Thanks, Stan, for your many contributions and your love for our church!

Orders of the Day

In building the docket for this assembly's plenary sessions, the Bills and Overtures Committee has recommended Orders of the Day for particularly significant issues. Today there will be Orders of the Day at 10:30 am for Middle Governing Body Issues and at 2:00 pm to consider the report and recommendations of the Church Orders Committee (dealt with all overtures affecting 6.0106b). Tonight the evening session will be dedicated to the report and recommendations from the Committee on Civil Unions and Marriage. Adhering to the docket will help those viewing from home (via live streaming on the computer).

If you want to see how the business will be handled the rest of the week, go to Find the link to PC-Biz. Follow directions to register, then open Committees, Bills and Overtures, and click on 02-05, "Docket and Minutes."

Blessings this day.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ecumenical Worship Wednesday morning

Westminster Presbyterian Church hosted the GA Ecumenical Worship service this morning, another amazing worship experience. The Minnesota Boy Choir sang beautifully at the beginning, middle, and end of the service, and the group African Harmony also sang an anthem. The worshippers, after a little instruction, sang songs representing the cultures of Korea, Ghana, and El Salvador. Scriptures were read in French and English, and many ecumenical partners participated in the worship service. We received greetings from former Vice President Walter Mondale, who is a member of the Westminster congregation. The sermon was given by Peg Chemberlin, a Moravian minister who is the executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches and the President of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. We celebrated her message of unity in the sacrament of holy communion, becoming one in the body and blood of Christ.

New Form of Government Sent to the Presbyteries - Mike Cole

After about 90 minutes of debate, the General Assembly voted by 69% to 30% to send a new Form of Government to the presbyteries for their vote. If adopted, the nFOG would reduce our present Book of Order by about 2/3. Much more authority would be given to governing bodies and there will be new language to learn.

Consideration Tonight of New Form of Government (nFOG)

Commissioners will return from an extended dinner recess to a primary focus of this assembly. At 8:30 pm (unless it is moved up) the New Form of Government, as amended by the GA Committee that studied it here, will be considered. This discussion can be viewed through a live stream from the denomination's website: Shall the Form of Gov't in our current Book of Order be replace? We shall see what the assembly determines. If approved, nFOG will go forward to the presbyteries for approval, requiring a simple majority, as opposed to the Belhar Confession, which will require a 2/3 majority vote (see Mike's post).

The caveat, "unless it is moved up," refers to the fact that Moderator Bolbach possesses a command of the podium that we have not seen in many years! Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons complimented her before the dinner recess by telling the body that she is "...the most efficient moderator he has ever known!" May it be so as we enter this evening's session.

Holy Spirit, descend on us, we pray.

GA Takes action on Confessions - Mike Cole

Today, the GA acted to continue the present Heidelberg Confession Committee and instruct them to work on a new translation of the confession along with other Reformed bodies and provide additional scriptural references.

The GA also sent the Belhar Confession to the presbyteries for a vote on including it in our Book of Confessions. This will require a favorable vote of 2/3 of all presbyteries. It was interesting to note that at present we do not have a single confession from the southern hemisphere, in spite of the fact that this is the are where the Christian church is growing fastest.

Exhibit Hall closes today

Sadly, the display area closes today. I can't figure out when they think the commissioners have time to go and shop, network, learn, and whatever else one does with the exhibits. People traffic seems to have been slow when I have been working the Outlook booth. This can lead to long conversations which are good in many ways. I have met some fascinating people and am glad for that. The booths are pretty expensive, and I hope it has been worth it for the vendors!

Come on by today ... The Presbyterian Outlook is offering 40% off new subscribers while at GA. Cokesbury had an 80% off table yesterday. I imagine prices might be falling as people don't want to have to pack up a lot of stuff to take home!

GA Returns to Plenary Sessions Today

Commissioners, presbytery and synod staff, and GA "junkies" from our presbytery gathered last night at a local restaurant for a dutch-treat appetizer supper and to catch up with each other. Since everyone has been assigned to different committees, our contingent has not had much opportunity to see each other since last Saturday. It was good to relax together and to hear what about each committee's work. Today the General Assembly returns to plenary sessions -- the gathering of the whole -- to begin to sort through committee recommendations. This morning is set aside for reading all of those recommendations, and then after lunch back to work in when the plenary reconvenes.

Please continue to keep all commissioners, but especially ours, in your prayers. As a reminder, they are: Cassandra Dahnke, Doug Gleditsch, Greg Han, Shelley Hernandez, Mary Mahlmann, Marie Mickey, Steve Newton, Ginny Raska, Gary Johnson. Advisory Delegates from New Covenant are Ross Freeman, Amy Klinkovsky and Shane Webb.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Committee Updates by Mike Cole

The Committee on the Middle East approved sending the Middle East Study Committee report with major deletions and revisions. Deleted was Section III (except the Appendices), which was the most objectionable part to Jewish leaders. A 7 person monitoring group will solicit 4 narratives from an Israeli and 4 from a Palestinian perspective in place of Section III. The "Kairos" document was commended for study with the understanding that we are not endorsing anything in it except its emphases on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy and reconciliation. After significant re-working of the response to the report and the report itself, the committee voted unanimously to send their work to the GA plenary.

The Committee on Civil Union and Marriage is forwarding to the GA Plenary the endorsement of 12-04 and similar overtures changing the language in the Book of Order and Directory for Worship in reference to marriage as between two people instead of between a man and a woman. The committee added language that clarifies that ministers and Commissioned Lay pastors have the right to refuse to perform any marriage, even those sanctioned by the civil court and that sessions may prohibit any marriage on its property. The vote was about 2/3 in favor. Mike Cole

Overture to Insert New Text for 6.0106b Approved to go Forward

Breaking News:
At 2:45 pm this afternoon, Church Orders and Ministry approved an overture submitted by the Presbytery of Western Reserve to strike the current text of the Book of Order, Chapter 6 (6.0106b), and insert new text. The approved overture follows; it will be recommended for approval by the whole of General Assembly. The vote of the committee was: (36)Yes; (16)No; (1) Abstention.

Shall G-6.0106b be amended by striking the current text and inserting new text in its place: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

“b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

Committee Action on New Covenant Overture on Marriage

Breaking News:
Late this morning, the Committee on Civil Unions and Marriage voted to send New Covenant's overture (#12-01) to the General Assembly with the recommendation not to approve. Two similar overtures received the same action. The Rev. Dr. Jim Davis (Pastor, FPC Kingwood) spoke eloquently before the committee in advocacy for our overture.

Parliamentary Procedure (PP)

Okay, folks, we think our presbytery meetings can become cumbersome with PP?

I am sitting in the Church Orders and Ministry Committee and on the floor is a motion to adopt an overture, on which a substitute motion was made, to which an amendment was made, to which an amendment to the amendment was made. Slowly but surely they will vote in this order: on the amendment to the amendment; on the amendment; on the amended substitute motion; on whether the (amended/amended) substitute motion shall become the main motion -- and then either on the substitute motion as the main motion, or back to the original motion: to approve the overture. Whew! I am exhausted!

Oh, and I forgot, all of the motions to call the question along the way ...... (dkp)
Commissioners are hard at work, decisions are being made on what to recommend to the General Assembly as a whole, when it reconvenes in plenary tomorrow. We on the sidelines are praying mightily for the Holy Spirit to move throughout the assembly hall today.

Some decisions already made are as follows:
1) to recommend adoption of the report of the special committee on Civil Union and Marriage; 2) to recommend denouncing Caterpillar for actions in the Middle East; 3) to recommend approval of recommendations from special committee on the Heidelberg Catechism, and to recommend including the Belhar Confession in the Book of Confessions; 4) to recommend the role of certified Christian educators be affirmed; 5) to recommend a negative vote on "Christians and Jews" paper; 5) to recommend the establishment of a Middle Governing Body Commission, which would be authorized to act on the requests of presbyteries and synods "to divide, unite or otherwise combine" them during the next two years. If created by the General Assembly, this 21 member commission will be authorized to act as the General Assembly during the period between this assembly and the next; 6) to recommend the establishment of financial support for a coastal wetlands education center in south Louisiana ($111,700); 7) to recommend that GA bring to the attention of the church significant trends and developments in human rights, particularly in the areas of trafficking, detention of immigrants, and the continuing problem of torture.

More to follow at the end of this day. (dkp)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Breakfast with Phyllis Tickle

We were privileged to hear Phyllis Tickle speak about emergence Christianity at the commissioner's group breakfast this morning. She said that her Episcopal denomination and ours are two of the most receptive to this movement. She quoted a bishop who said of this movement that we are not here to save the church, we are here to serve the kingdom of God, and behold, God is doing a new thing. The stated clerk of GA, Gradye Parsons, led us in a wonderful devotion on Luke 8:22-25, leaving us with a mantra which has helped him: Get in the boat; go to the other side; there will be a storm; you will not die. Apologies to any whom I may not have quoted accurately. Most of the rest of the day was spent in committee, hearing reports from those speaking about the overtures. Tomorrow will begin the difficult process of making decisions on sensitive and divisive issues. Keep us in prayer!

Testimony in Two Committees

I got to present testimony to two committees - a bit of a juggling act, but I got through it. I spoke to the Middle Governing Body Issues Committee in favor of the Commission of Middle Governing Body with some responsiveness.

I was also fortunate to be selected as one of about 25-30 presenters to the Middle East Committee. There were 160 people signed up to speak for 90 minutes of open hearing. I was able to make the primary points I intended - the MESC report erodes rather than enhances our relationship with Jews and the report is unfair, unbalanced and biased. As Presbyterians, many of whom have little history with the Presbyterian church, we expect study reports to be balanced and fair. This report and its conclusions are flawed. Therefore, the recommendations, some of which I could support, are flawed and do not rise to the level of objectivity I have come to expect from the PCUSA. Mike Cole

A Very Rare Moment of Free Time

My heart and mind are full. The words I want to write are large in number. But, my time between meetings is short. So, for the moment I leave you with this:

I am serving as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate on the Civil Unions and Christian Marriage Committee. The stories on both sides of the issue are incredibly heart- and gut-wrenching. Our moderator, Rick Nutt, pointed out at the end of our time together yesterday that he had been staring at a cross on the wall in the back of the room that was formed by the shadow of our WiFi intranet hardware. This was not a staged photo. Some might say it’s merely a coincidence, I choose to believe it is radical proof of the presence of God even in (and, perhaps, especially in) the midst of heated disagreement.

Church Orders Committee Will Recommend Referral of PNC Overture

This afternoon the Church Orders and Ministry Committee of the 219th General Assembly voted to recommend referral of PNC's overture to establish a process to evaluate the CALL Process to the Office of Vocations. Added was a stipulation that a report of findings and recommendations be ready for distribution no less than 180 days prior to the 220th General Assembly. The good news is that, in fact, this evaluation is already underway! The Office of Vocations is in the early stages of inviting a number of Church Leadership Connection (CLC) users and presbytery leaders into conversation to review and evaluate the current call process and system and they have indicated they would welcome bringing New Covenant's concerns into the process.

In conversation with members of the Office of Vocations, I am encouraged that our presbytery WILL have a voice in this evaluation and that many of the concerns we have identified within our Committee on Ministry are already on the table for discussion in Louisville. There was agreement among us in this conversation that the current CALL Process was established in a different time -- e.g., when most pastoral positions were full-time; when position descriptions were fairly standardized; and when churches had money! New times require new ways of meeting the pastoral, preaching and leadership needs of the denomination's churches. And so, the work begins! As for the time requirement, I am assured that as insights are voiced and solutions proposed, these will be shared in a timely fashion, and will not be held until a final report is prepared and circulated.

Gratitude is expressed to the session of FPC Pasadena for bringing their concerns to the presbytery in a positive and proactive way, by way of this overture to the General Assembly. (dkp)

PC(USA) Builds New Website at Same Address!

While you are waiting for new entries into this blog, take a minute and check out the denomination's revamped website:!

Having fun with the Outlook

Today I have been listening to the discussions of amending overtures for Committee 13 - Peacemaking. I wonder how this will play in the congregations I serve. One is involved with a Sudanese group in Houston, the other has many friends and family that are serving in the military, with several that have been in Afghanistan. So I wonder, how will the efforts on the national level play locally? I guess it is up to me to help interpret any statements that are made here at GA.

Former PCUSA moderator, Syngman Rhee, came by the proceedings this morning with the Vice Moderator of the Korean Presbyterian Church (yes, in Korea), who brought greetings and prayed for our efforts. Rev. Rhee had received an award from The Presbyterian Outlook at a luncheon on Saturday. He has been a minister for 50 years, and celebrates his 50th wedding anniversary! What a witness he has been ...

If you aren't a current subscriber to the Outlook, they are offering a 40% off cover price during the assembly. Come visit the booth in the display area!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Getting ready to testify on Monday morning

I'm preparing two presentations for the morning. 9:15 in Committee #14, the Middle East Committee and 9:45 for Committee #4 - the Middle Governing Body Committee. I believe that I will have 3 minutes in committee #4 and 90 seconds in Committee #14, so I have to keep it succinct.

I will be advocating not to adopt the MESC report and for the creation of a commission for middle governing bodies and will be speaking early in the hearings. Pray for the commissioners in all the committees as they listen to speakers who are all passionate about their opinions. Mike Cole

Nation's Birthday Closes with Fireworks

The Committee on Local Arrangements hosted a picnic and fireworks display on Nicollet Island tonight. July 4 comes to a close in Minneapolis, MN. Tomorrow will be a day filled with meetings for everyone. Committees get down to business, but not until we worship together.

Gracious God, please shed your grace on us this week as we discern YOUR future for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Calm before the storms

Sunday has been a great day. Worship was terrific...even had a baptism, a precious litttle girl who seemed to relish being the center of so much attention. Praise God for her and her family!

We started committee meetings today and we (committee 18) had a really good time and got to know each other. Tomorrow starts the real work of attending to the overtures that have been sent to us. I pray God will attend to all of us and we can get the work of his church done "decently and in order" as Presbyterians should!

Keep us all in your prayers.

July 4th Worship

The Sunday worship was indeed a wonderful experience and included liturgical dancers, as well as a liturgical artist, who painted a beautiful picture as she listened to the service. The music was very diverse, including many different instruments and styles, from praise bands to a huge and magnificent choir. The words of institution during communion were given in three different languages, and the rich diversity of the service reminded me of the multiculural worship service in our presbytery when we were commissioned, though this was on a much larger scale. Participating in such a worship service was a very moving experience with so many gathered together to praise God and to hear the Word proclaimed.

Wonderfullly Diverse Worship at GA

The General Assembly celebrated the sacrament of the Lord's Supper AND Baptism (firswt time ever at a GA!) with an energizingly diverse worship. Capitalizing on the Native American heritage of the Minnesota region, the worship was a blend of a variety of cultures and worship styles, culminating in the baptism of a little girl. Her parents presented Alexis to be baptized, in the midst of her own congregation, physically surrounded by the "cloud of witnesses" in the assembly hall. It was a very moving moment for all as the true connectional nature of the church was revealed.

We also honored all military chaplains and recognized their outstanding service to our nation and our God. This was an especially moving moment as we gave the military personnel a standing ovation on our national Independence Day.

Bruce Reyes-Chow preached a dynamic sermon challenging the church to be prepared for the movement of the Holy Spirit in shaking the mountains of tradition that we have always considered permanent and immovable. Bruce also challenged the worshipers to show the world (and the younger generations) that we care enough to include them and those things which they count as important. It was the start of a great day.

Mike Cole

It's What Time?!?!

As I take a peek at the clock on my computer it says 12:20 a.m. It's still set to Pacific Standard Time, as is my body. So, I am not particularly tired despite having a day that started at 8:30 a.m. and has yet to end. But, before going to bed and getting some rest after a very busy first day, I wanted to say goodnight by saying thank you.

Thank you to all my friends at New Covenant Presbytery. What a joy to visit with friends in person and be in community with one another during this important time in the church.

Thanks to San Francisco Theological Seminary for allowing me the opportunity to serve as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate.

Thanks to the Committee on Local Affairs and the great state of Minnesota. The people are welcoming, warm and friendly.

Thanks to Brentwood Presbyterian Church for giving me the time off necessary to be a part of the important work of the whole church.

Thanks to Bruce Reyes-Chow for his wonderful service as moderator.

Tonight, we elected Cindy Bolbach as moderator. Tomorrow (well, technically, today), we roll up our sleeves and begin to discern what it means to be the church today and tomorrow. Sometimes we will agree and sometimes we will disagree, but one thing we all know for sure is God is ever present and will speak to us and surprise us this week in amazing ways.

Outgoing Moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow, and Incoming Moderator, Cindy Bolbach:

Out of 6 candidates for Moderator and 6 for Vice Moderator, Cindy was the only elder! She is a member of FPC, Arlington, VA, and has served in many capacities in National Capital Presbytery. She is an attorney who announced she would move to part-time work in order to serve the denomination. As we give thanks for the Bruce's leadership these past two years, let us keep Cindy in our prayers as she begins her work tomorrow.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cindy Bolbach elected Moderator

Amidst some electronic glitches, elder Cindy Bolbach was elected the Moderator of the 219th General Assembly on the fourth ballot. Mike Cole

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tonight commissioners and other participants at GA were welcomed to Minneapolis by the congregation at Westminster Presbyterian Church (a block away from the Convention Center) with a wonderful, if not unusual pairing of musical groups! First to perform was Cantus, a men's accapella ensemble, whose harmony and selections completely wowed the audience. Following them were Monroe Crossing, a bluegrass group, whose lively tunes had us all clapping our hands, and whose ballads touched many to the core. To conclude this delightful concert, the two groups performed together! What a treat! Thank you, good people of WPC, and special thanks to these talented and engaging musicians and vocalists.

Dear God, thank you for the blessing of the freely shared gifts of others that bring such joy to our lives. Tonight we are especially grateful for the warm and gracious hospitality being showered upon us by the good people of Twin Cities. May they rest well this night. Amen.
Greetings! Presbyterians are pouring into Minneapolis today! So many Calvinists ... in such a small space! Registration is going well, although the much coveted GA Tote Bag (it is different each GA) is not yet available! There was some sort of delay in delivery, so everyone is curious about what it will look like, and also having to find other totes to carry necessary paperwork. The Convention Center is buzzing with folks who are registering, checking out the Plenary Hall, and seeking the rooms for particular committee deliberations.

Dear God, shower your grace, mercy and discernment upon those who gather in your name this week. We are only a small part of your large family here on earth, but pray for big hearts and open minds as we conduct the business of our denomination. May all that we do glorify your name. Amen.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Blogging from GA

This blog is for members of the Presbytery of New Covenant who are attending General Assembly in Minneopolis to share their experiences, thoughts and reflections with friends and colleagues back home and around the world.  If you are a member of PNC and would like permission to write to this blog, please leave a comment here and we will send you instructions so you can post. 

Anyone is invited to comment and ask questions ... let the conversation begin ...