Saturday, March 14, 2009

Plodding Presbytery Votes!

Today was the day of the Special Called Meeting of Presbytery to vote on the Amendments to the Constitution of the PCUSA.

There are a few amendments, as well as some ecumenical statements that were sent down to Presbytery for a vote, but the main reason most people were there were for the Amendment 08-B, to change the paragraph that contains the 'fidelity and chastity' clause that bars non-celibate singles from ordination. The pro side in this change calls the paragraph the one that bars homosexuals from office, the con side calls it the one that bars all those who are not married, or chaste in singleness.

I'll get to that in a bit, but the events leading up to the actual voting on the amendments was interesting. The moderator, in his remarks prior to our worship time, asked that no matter our opinions, that there would be no applause or groans during the discussion time, or when the results were announced.

The moderator then noted that since the original printing of the docket, there was some interest in adding a time of listening to the original docket, and asked for a vote approving this change. It was disapproved by voice vote, which took a few people by surprise, as someone then rose to ask for recognition.

It evidently was the person who was going to talk in favor of the amendment during that time of listening, as the commissioner moved that a time be set aside before the vote to hear a 7 minute talk from both sides on the amendment. When asked by the moderator who was going to speak, the commissioner replied that she would speak for, and someone else would speak against. Again, to this commissioner it sounded like the commissioner was trying to get the listening time added in through a back door. It was also loudly defeated.

So onto the voting. An omnibus motion to consider and pass all the amendments and evangelical statements in the affirmative was moved and seconded. During discussion 08-B was pulled from that motion, as was expected. But in addition, a few others were also pulled.

The omnibus motion then was passed, and we moved to 08-B. The moderator, in a move to allow more speakers, made a motion to change the amount of time each speaker could speak from 3 minutes to 2. This was approved on a majority voice vote.

We then moved to the discussion time. There were a good set of speakers both for and against. One person for talked about his son and his partner who, in his opinion, were unable to participate in the life of the church, this commissioner obviously was passionate about voting for the amendment. Then there was the elder speaking against the motion, who talked about his son, who died of AIDS, and who was not reconciled with the church. When he talked I heard the love and sadness in his voice as he talked about when he passes on to his heavenly reward, how he will again see his wife, other children, but will miss this one son because he won't be there. There were a few gasps in the room when he said this, which surprised me as that issue goes straight to the heart of the Reformed faith, we are all depraved, and are all sinful, but God gives us the grace to recognize this, and accept that He has chosen us, and as part of being chosen we are required by God to repent our sins, and "sin no more".

As I mentioned, there were a few people on line; some in the pews took offense when Dr. Gagnon went over his time by a few sentences trying to finish his point. Indeed, I've heard that trying to get him to stop once he gets going is a hard thing to do. But others on the pro side ran over too, although, I have to admit, not as long as he did ;)

The 20 minutes set aside for pro and con discussions soon ran out, and the moderator then asked for a motion to set aside another 20 minutes for more discussion. He seemed to have been taken aback at the loud no vote that this got, so the discussion ended at that point.

The time came to vote, and it appeared that a voice vote was not even considered, as the moderator called for the ballots to be handed out. A very simple ballot, which basically asked should paragraph G6-xxxxx be amended as laid out in amendment 08-B? Once the ballots were taken up, we moved on to the other amendments and statements for a vote.

One by one the amendments were brought up and passed. There were a few I voted no on, one of which was the change to the Ordination Exam requirements. It is being changed to let the CPM decide whether or not the inquirer or candidate meets the academics required to pass the Ordination Exams. I voted no because I feel that since the Exegesis exam was changed so as not to require a proficiency in Greek or Hebrew, since passing both is a requirement and the Seminary has already judged the student proficient in those languages; the Seminary could also judge whether or not the student was ready to take the Ords, whereas the CPM, being detached from that process, would rely on grades from the Seminary. So why add another hurdle?

A recently ordained minister I know told me he voted against that because he was worried that the amendment change would allow the CPM to require a inquirer's or candidate's attendence at a PCUSA affiliated seminary, a few of which he would not recommend at all. I thought about that, and also agreed with his analysis.

All in all, the amendments to this point had passed, and we moved on to the ecumenical statements. The first on the recognition of the Roman Catholic Baptism as being valid, just affirms in writing what is currently being done today. No one rose to speak for or against this statement. However, there were a few no votes heard during this vote.

The next statement with the Episcopal Church brought out some comments. One of the professors at the local seminary pointed out the turmoil currently brewing in the Episcopal Church USA, and said while he had no problem with the theological statements in this Ecumenical Statement, he did have a problem with the part about recognizing ministers, since the PCUSA would be buying into one of the same problems we were voting on in an amendment today (referring to the elephant in the room).

This voice vote was so close, we had to do a standing vote. The result was that this statement passed, but on a vote of 140 for to 135 against. I voted against, because of that very problem. One other that was mentioned to me was that another section appeared to recognize that bishops and the presbyteries were somewhat alike. Shades of papism !! ;)

The final two ecumenical statements with the Korean Presbyterian Church USA, and the Moravian Church passed on unanimous voice votes.

We finally came to the results of the 08-B vote, the moderator asked if the votes count was completed, the clerk replied it was, and the moderator then asked the associate pastor to the presbytery for prayer. He then read the results: 105 for, 206 against with 1 abstention, the Amendment was not agreed to. Despite the request that there be no audible groans or applause, a few groans were heard, but quickly stifled.

The proceeding were then concluded with the report of the membership clerk that there were 312 commissioners in attendence, with a majority of elders present, and with 90 churches (out of about 150) sending at least 1 elder. I wonder what the 60 churches who didn't send anyone, even on a Saturday, were thinking. Perhaps they already left the denomination "in place", had no clue, didn't care one way or the other, or were just tired of the whole mess.

That said, it appears that Stodgy Presbyterian seems to have been forgotten at Presbytery, even though I've attended 3 out of the 4 Presbytery meetings held prior to this one as commissioner from SPC. When I went to be verified as an elder commissioner for SPC, the staffer who had the list of churches showing how many elders they could have in attendance, didn't even have SPC on the list. I guess they're only worried about us if we don't get per capita in on time.

And so it goes ....

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