Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 218th General Assembly is underway in San Jose, meaning that hundreds of Presbyterians are attending committee meetings, sorting through great piles of resolutions and amendments and other paperwork, and preparing for lots of votes.
That’s the Presbyterian way. (You have to love the John Calvin bobblehead doll in the exhibit hall.)
It also means that a debate is underway (or an old debate is continuing) on the status and future of Amendment B. This is the 1996 amendment to church law that requires â€œfidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singlenessâ€ and is supposed to rule out gays and lesbians for ordination.
There have been several efforts over the years to strike Amendment B from the books, all failures (so far).
Last night, a committee recommended that the full Assembly delete the amendment. The committee had several overtures to choose from, including one put forth by the Hudson River Presbytery, which includes PCUSA churches in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and northern counties.
The committee approved this proposed amendment put forth by the Boston Presbytery:
â€œThose who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidateâ€™s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.â€
At some point, the full Assembly will consider the amendment. If it passes, the amendment would still have to be approved by a majority of presbyteries across the country.
The Rev. Chris Shelton, a minister from the Hudson River Presbytery, is blogging about the GA. He writes:
And so, I refer you back to the beginning of these thoughts — “Lift up your hearts!” However you feel about the actions taken by these committees, the time for prayer is now. These are exciting, trying, and tiring times here in San Jose. The Commissioners and Advisory Delegates need our continued prayers for strength, for wisdom, for the sustaining hand of the Spirit. Pray for all our sisters and brothers as we face the challenging conversations ahead.
I should note that PCUSA lost 2.5% of its membership from 2006 to 2007. Here’s a brief from the AP:
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) suffered its worst annual membership decline in decades last year.
The Louisville-based denomination reported 2.2 million active and confirmed members in 2007, a loss of 57,572 members and a 2.5 percent decrease from 2006. It’s the denomination’s largest membership loss in terms of numbers since 1981 and the steepest percentage loss since 1974, when it fell 2.7 percent.
The church has steadily been losing members since peaking at 4.25 million in the mid-1960s.
“Any decline in membership is a disappointment, to be sure, because those numbers represent members we know and love who are no longer part of our congregations,” said the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who is completing a 12-year term as stated clerk of the PCUSA.
Opinions differ about the cause for the decline, including controversies over homosexuality, low birth rates, an aging white population and a societal move away from institutions in general. Some congregations also have left for a more conservative Presbyterian denomination.