General Assembly — For the First Time

Stan Spavold is Vice President and Comptroller for McCain Foods Limited in Florenceville, New Brunswick, and elder of St. Paul's Church, Woodstock, New Brunswick.

After attending General Assembly for the first time, I should open by moving that this report be received, but I would be afraid that someone would amend it, or even worse, rise on a point of order claiming that someone of my questionable writing skills should not be submitting a report to Channels magazine. To avoid this I will simply continue.

When Calvin Brown called, asking that I submit an article reporting on the Assembly, my first reaction was to say no. On reflection and prayer and, hopefully under God's direction, I have decided to try. Now what to report? I could give a summary of the debate and the results of the votes taken on various resolutions which occurred over the six days of Assembly. You will need to wait with anticipation for the blue book (i.e., The Acts and Proceedings) or borrow one of the thick green binder of reports that each commissioner to the Assembly received.

As I have said, this was my first General Assembly. Prior to attending I was in a period of what I would refer to as spiritual malaise. I was questioning my role and presence as a member of the Presbyterian Church. I had called my minister a week before leaving for the Assembly to ask if I could get out of being a commissioner. I had even told my wife that when I returned from Assembly that it would be my last Sunday in the Presbyterian Church. The reasons for all of this malaise are not relevant as that would be an article in itself, but it is important that for this article to have meaning one must know something of the mood I was in as I headed for Windsor.

What I want to do therefore is to take this opportunity to report that the Assembly was a tremendous time of renewing my faith in Christ, of reaffirming why I am a Presbyterian, and in reconfirming my belief in the future of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The Renewal Fellowship has a large role in this. Were there disappointments? Yes! But there will always be disappointments as we strive under God's direction to do his will and build his church. Ultimately we are assured of victory in Christ Jesus, not because of what we pass or don't pass at Assembly, but because of what Christ did on the cross.

In terms of renewing my faith I must give credit to whom credit is due: to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was certainly present at the Assembly. I reflect back on the opening words we sang each morning: "In the presence of your people I will praise your name, for alone you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Let us celebrate your goodness and your steadfast love; may your name be exalted here on earth and in Heaven above." Yes, the promise that where two or three are gathered in his name God will be there is true.

He was present as Dr. William Klempa was elected Moderator of an Assembly that would require his compassion and learned oversight. Dr. Klempa's worship times focused on teaching. It reminded me that we have so much to learn about what God really wants from each and every one of us as we build his church. The words that he spoke from Psalm 119:12 — "Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your decrees" — had special meaning.

The Holy Spirit was present in the worship each morning. While the messages were excellent, and I heard many say that they were very powerful, I think it was more critical that these worship services proved that we can successfully merge our traditional ways of carrying out a "sit on your hands" Presbyterian service with new and interesting ways of worshipping God. I believe that this principally was because of the type of music and the way that was incorporated into the services. Many of these pieces were from the new Book of Praise. While the new hymn book has its shortcomings in its attempt to be "politically correct," I believe it incorporates the traditional psalms, hymns and contemporary music in a way that may aid in making our worship services more uplifting and meaningful to the next generation. For example, "Shine Jesus Shine" was sung to upbeat music with great enthusiasm by young and old alike.

He was present in the lives and speeches of the ecumenical visitors who reminded me how blessed we are to live in Canada where we have so much not only in material worth but also in the freedom to worship that we take so much for granted. What was clear was that these other countries and cultures have passed us by in terms of fulfilling the Great Commission. What is also interesting is that they thanked many a Presbyterian missionary who planted those first Christian seeds in their country. Now they hold out a model of worship and growth to us.

The Holy Spirit was present during the debates which, while tense, never really deteriorated into personal conflict or animosity. Many evenings as we gathered together for prayer in the spaces organized by the Renewal Fellowship many were so thankful for his presence in Assembly that day. I also believe he was present in the resolutions passed (and not passed) as, notwithstanding disappointments, we must acknowledge that he is Lord and his purposed will unfold as he chooses.

The Spirit was present in the lives of so many of the committee members, elders and ministers who attended the Assembly. I met, worshipped and prayed with these fellow believers and evangelicals (or whatever we call ourselves) who believe that we can plot a special course for our denomination between fundamentalism and liberalism, between the traditional and the charismatic, yet remain faithful to the principle of the supremacy of Scripture and the need for Christ to be both Saviour and Lord of our lives. People like George Anderson, John Vissers, Harold Wilson, Daniel Shute, Richard Leclerc, Kevin Livingston, Ian Shaw, Mary Rogers, Calvin Brown and so many others secure the future of our denomination as part of the Body of Christ. (Forgive me for not mentioning all the names of those I met and worshipped with during the Assembly.) "As I reflect back it is really these men and women of God that had the biggest impact in terms of my renewed faith and my belief in our denomination and its future.

The Holy Spirit was present in our youth delegates. Having worked with our youth in my congregation and being worrying about whether our church can reach out to this critical group in our church family. I saw youth who were excited about what the Spirit was doing in their lives, also saw a future for our denomination and most importantly a future for our denomination with a place in it for them. We must strive to listen to what they said to us and learn from their energy and enthusiasm. One of the youth representatives particularly caught my attention. Terri Tough and her husband are struggling to establish their youth street ministry in Alberta. Her story of not having funds to travel for her ministry, missing her flight, and then receiving a free pass to travel on Air Canada on the next flight reinforced how God works in such strange ways. When she found out about and came to one of our evening sessions she expressed such surprise at finding an organization like the Renewal Fellowship within the Presbyterian Church dedicated to prayer and renewal within our denomination. It was an answer to one of her prayers she said. I guess the Renewal Fellowship is an answer to all those who pray for renewal within our denomination.

The Spirit must be present in our colleges and universities. In spite of many concerns about theological education in our church the words of the student representatives of our universities and colleges were inspirational and touching. I want to particularly mention the words of Karla Wuebbenhorst of Presbyterian College whose report, read from a portable computer on the floor of the Assembly, was so meaningful and insightful. Our future is secure as long as the Lord continues his work in all the young people such as those represented at Assembly.

Last but not least, the Holy Spirit was present with the Renewal Fellowship as it filled such a critical role and had such a powerful presence at Assembly. Each night once the evening sederunt had closed Calvin Brown had arranged a space for us to get together. He would then lead a wide-ranging group of individuals in sharing our faith, the many things we had to be thankful for, what the Lord was doing in our lives and in our congregations, in music, in song and most importantly in prayer. I wish I could describe my feeling of experiencing the Presence of God's Spirit late Thursday evening. After a day of the toughest debates, having approximately 30 people sitting around in a circle, holding hands, singing praises to the Lord and praying really is a tremendous renewing experience. What could have been a day of disappointment turned into the most powerfully uplifting experience. Listening to the participants speak of hope and victory in Christ, not defeat, is really beyond the ability of anyone to summarize in a few lines.

The reality of what Calvin Brown and the Renewal Fellowship are doing in providing a base for the renewal of our denomination is very encouraging. It must be encouraging to others as well as the Wednesday night dinner was over-booked very quickly. I do feel a little for those hosting the event as Calvin continued to issue invitations to all who were interested in coming.

What can I say about the resolutions passed by the Assembly? We need to be diligent in watching out for the prowling lion. There is clearly a group in the church who wish to move us away from our reliance on Scripture as the cornerstone of our faith. I refer to Christ's warning to the churches in Revelation. If our church does not continue on a path to renewal it will end up like those churches which today lie in ruins in some of the strongest Muslim areas of the world. We must put on our spiritual armour if we are to succeed, particularly the word and continuous prayer. We need to pray for the congregation in Lachine and the Presbytery of Montreal. We need to pray for Dr. Klempa as he carries out his duties as moderator, for Mary Rogers as she continues as the convener of the Committee on Theological Education and for Kevin Livingston, who will serve on the special committee to deal with the overtures on sexual orientation. We also need to pray for Calvin Brown of the Renewal Fellowship as he continues to lead us as we continually renew our faith as well as the Presbyterian Church.

Finally we need to pray for the 125th General Assembly as it will continue to face the issues that threaten to interfere with that future that I referred to above. Pray for commissioners who understand the Book of Forms and the way our church governs itself and who know God's Spirit in their lives.

I will close with what I thought best sums up a General Assembly. On one occasion a commissioner rose to make an amendment to an amendment. The Moderator said something to the effect that, "Thank God that's impossible."