Tuesday, June 20, 2006


GA: It's Not Just for Commissioners Anymore

Got a late start Monday morning. Missed the free breakfast, and hopped a shuttle to the convention center. Our denomination is meeting at the same time and location of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, so we’re mingling with a sister church. We’re sharing some convention space, and sharing the exhibit hall.

We registered, got our badges saying that we could watch anything open to the public, and entered into the plenary session. We got there just in time to observe the discussion on the Trinity Paper. James is less interested than I in the floor debates, but I made him sit with me anyway. He helps me translate some of what is happening. I’m the polity wonk, and although I do pretty well with theology, James grasps things a little more quickly than I do.

You’ve probably read about the Trinity Paper in the local newspaper.

OK, side rant here. I hate when the secular press reports on what’s going on at GA, because they don’t really understand our denomination. We are a representative system. We don’t have bishops making decisions for us. We, the collective governing bodies, are the Bishop. So when you read something about the PCUSA in the newspaper, write to me and ask me if this or that is true.

I am often shocked at the level of debate on the General Assembly floor. In my dreams, there would be great struggles over the significance of this word or that word. There would be nitpicking in order to make sure whatever is passed is theologically correct. And there is some of that. But there is also a lot of emotional pleading, a lot of gee-the-committee-worked-so-hard-on-that-paper-we-don’t-want-to-hurt-their-feelings-by-not-passing-it type of comments.

The problem with the paper is not necessarily the metaphors. Some of them are biblical, some of them are images collected and thrown together from different places in the Bible. The problem with the paper is that it takes the classic formula, which is NOT metaphorical, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, and calls it metaphorical. You could even argue that the paper itself elevates new sometimes biblical sometimes not metaphors to the level of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” To some, that analysis is picking nits. To me, great human beings went to their martyrdom defending the formula of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and we ought not to throw it away as mere metaphor.

Most churches accept Presbyterian baptism because we baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. One pastor on the floor shared the story of a Presbyterian who joined another denomination and had to be re-baptized, because the pastor of that congregation said that he wasn’t sure that the Presbyterians used the classical formula all the time. That is something I fear is going to happen more often.

After the Trinity debate, we walked around the exhibition hall. Because James and I are both very chatty, we took about 2 hours to hit just one half of the booths. Some cool things that happened in the hall.

1. I met a really cool pastor who serves the church, specifically in Appalachia, by providing public service announcements to radio stations. They are looking to move beyond Appalachia, and here I come, with my radio experience. We spoke for a bit about how I could be involved in that ministry. We traded email addresses, and I really hope something comes of that.

2. James and I spoke with the admissions director at Memphis Seminary. They have a Doctor of Ministry program. They are starting a new track in January, 2008, focusing on faith and the arts. James suggested to them that we might come if they do a two-for-one-deal, and they suggested that they would do what they can. D.Min.s are expensive, so any little bit helps. Then, I mentioned my interest in studying faith in the works of Flannery O’Connor, and he actually got excited.

3. We saw Don Dawson, the man who made it possible for James to go to Senegal four years ago. He shared with us the exciting growth taking place in the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

4. I was able to reconnect with my old friend Tom Sawyer. We later went to dinner with him, another pastor I’m acquainted with named John Erthein, and two of Tom’s parishioner. We had a fine time eating barbeque, laughing and talking.

Outside of the exhibit hall, we hopped on a loop bus and saw a bit of Birmingham. We went to the Episcopalian bookstore, which had some really cool stuff for the Anglicanophile in me (I know Anglicanophile is not a real word, but it is an accurate description).
Got back to the hotel, relaxed some, and went to bed too late.

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