Defining moments from General Assembly 2022
The General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada provides a four-day snapshot of the state of the church. Anyone concerned about the evangelical renewal of the church would have heard numerous causes for concern.
RF Executive Director Andy Cornell watched the entire proceedings and compiled notable and telling quotes from General Assembly debates which highlight the challenges before us.
(NOTE: A condensed version of this account appears in the Summer 2022 printed edition of Renewal News.)
“At the 145th GA there was a non-binding vote that resulted in an expression of desire to become fully affirming, and then two motions on marriage and ordination were passed and sent down through the Barrier Act. Those two remits were approved. And in addition, the 146th GA, in adopting all the recommendations from the Rainbow Commission Report, declared the PCC to be an affirming church. The remits ‘B’ and ‘C’ are implementations of part of this shift to becoming an affirming church. Those two remits enact a permanent grandfathering of two definitions of Christian marriage and permitting ordination of LGBTQi peoples without discrimination. There was never an attempt to balance theologies of marriage but rather within the context of an affirming church to permit liberty of conscience and action, which was a bold and controversial step, considering that the ordination of women only permitted liberty of conscience but not action. This non-balancing of theologies, or at least the proposed balancing of theologies of committees and agencies goes against much of our big tent thinking. Non-balancing is quite similar to our different theologies of wealth and poverty, peace and war, and yet, we do not require balance of membership on committees. The balance we are seeking, through this special committee report and overall, is a balance of voices from non-dominant peoples and cultures, not theologies.” — Matthew Sams (East Toronto)
“I appreciate Matthew Sams for tipping his hand because basically what he is saying is showing us that evangelicals do not have a safe space moving forward in this church, that liberty of conscience, since it is nonbinding, can in fact be removed and, according to Mr. Sams, probably will be removed going forward. Thank you for showing us that the church is not a safe space for conservative theologies moving forward. There are many of us in our church who do share the theology of our ethnic congregations. We will be coming to other discussions later on about how we live together in this new reality. So, I think this discussion has just set the stage, and I would certainly vote against this motion, because evangelicals who have voted in favour of the remits will see where we are headed going forward.” — Timothy Ferrier (Barrie)
The issue was recommendation SCP-009 from the Special Committee Responding to Petitions 1 and 2 (2021) from the two Korean-language presbyteries alleging generational “silencing, slander, ridicule, racism and “mistreatment” to ethnic groups. The recommendation called on the Assembly to “instruct the Assembly Council, the General Assembly Office and Life and Mission Agency and Committee to Nominate Standing Committees and the other boards and committees of the church to ensure that there is balance and respect for both definitions of marriage in all correspondence sent to congregations, sessions, presbyteries and synods; the delivery of resources and workshops, and the membership of the boards and committees of the church; also that the Assembly Council provide progress reports on the balancing of the two definitions of marriage in the life of the church to the General Assemblies of 2023 and 2024.”
Matthew proposed an amendment to remove all references to “balance.”
The committee, in its report, recognized a very high correlation between non-Anglo congregations and traditional theology. Mandating equal resources would be a tangible effort to demonstrate to ethnic churches that they are welcome, and they belong.
Timothy noted the word “grandfathering.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “exempt (someone or something) from a new law or regulation.” In other words, to make an exception from the rule. Inclusion would be the rule.
Other commissioner comments:
“Balance and respect has been assured in these remits. We don’t need to continue to study and debate this any further. I don’t think this work is necessary and I think it has very little to do with the harm done to non-white Presbyterians, which was the mandate for this special commission…. This goes beyond the scope of what they were asked to do.” — Cherie Inksetter (Niagara)
“It really is troubling with the possible view of colonizing our view of sexuality of the West upon non-white ministries who, I can tell you with authority, are very troubled by the remits. I pray and I hope that we will not look at this as inclusion and exclusion, but as an opportunity, if possible, for this church to stay together as a big tent…” — Emery Cawsey (Kamloops)
“It isn’t as much about balance as it is to let the public know that the PCC denomination holds to two faithful, parallel definitions of marriage… This bears on our witness to our ethnic community. I want to let the court know that as soon as the remits were passed, everyone thought, or they believed, that the PCC has changed the definition of marriage to between two people – that’s it. This recommendation is to witness and to let people know that the PCC has a place for both definitions of marriage and that’s the essence of this recommendation. It is about balance but it’s more about bearing witness, particularly to ethnic communities that the PCC can welcome both definitions of marriage and hold to both definitions of marriage and be able to belong to this denomination.” — Jinsook Khang (Eastern Han-Ca)
Commissioners approved the removal of “balance” by a vote 106-85.
The amended motion: “That the General Assembly instruct the Assembly Council, the GAO and LMA and Committee to nominate standing committee and the other boards and committee of the church to ensure that people are not excluded from serving based on their theological conviction of either definition of marriage endorsed by the GA.”
Discussion regarding the amended motion:
“We are in an exercise of listening, particularly to our Han-Ca brethren and sisters and the committee has done a wonderful job of helping us hear and listen. We are being watched and many members of our denomination are watching to see where this General Assembly is taking us and this particular vote is going to be a signal, a very clear signal, one way or the other. And this gives me great and deep concern for our brothers and sisters in the Han-Ca presbyteries. I believe we are not listening to them and that’s really very sad.” — George Anderson (Hamilton)
“This is what everyone was wondering about when we came into the court this week: how would we walk out remits ‘B’ and ‘C’. Some people are suggesting it’s about participation in ordination once in a while. Some would be bold to say that nothing has changed for traditional and conservative Christians in the church. But the fact is that’s not their impression. Their impression is that the church has completely changed its understanding of a number of things: of Scripture, of subordinate standards and one another. This question will not only apply to this motion but will be the theme for many of the other things we will be talking about. I have to vote against this motion and against the understanding that we don’t somehow have to walk out what the remits mean in terms of two cultures, two understandings of Christian faith together. It’s so much more than about marriage and ordination; it’s much more than that…. The larger tent is what I’m hoping we will be able to work out together.” — Jonathan Dent (Ottawa)
The amended motion carried 100-89.
“It’s much better to stay together as one denomination and still talk to each other.” – Barb Sargent (Essex-Kent)
A total of 25 overtures made in 2020 and 2021 sought the creation of theologically based synods to allow conservative congregations to adhere to traditional theology. Assembly Council (AC) established a seven-member working group from its own membership to study the issue and prepare a response to these requests along with overtures allowing congregations to leave the PCC with their buildings and assets. AC’s response was “that leaders find ways to function effectively in current structures with consensus building and not view matters as insurmountable.” (Barb was among three members of the working group who had a minority opinion.)
“There is a divide. This proposal could allow us to work together.” — Lisa Aide, (Essex-Kent).
“People will end up leaving and departing.” — Jonathan Hong (Eastern Han-Ca).
Commissioners approved AC’s response 113-71.
“Is this truly the heart of the church?” – Matthew Lingard (Hamilton)
Matthew was responding to the AC recommendation to allow congregations to voluntarily withdraw from the PCC and receive 50 per cent of the value of their net assets. (If a congregation wanted to retain use of its building, it would have to pay the PCC half of the cost.) The proposal was in response to dozens of overtures in recent years.
Noting the high cost of departure, Lingard asked: “What sort of legacy will we be leaving?”
“This is a loving, caring and wise approach.” – Deborah Jones-Synders (Brampton)
“It’s punitive to take 50 per cent.” – Emery Cawsey (Kamloops)
“Would 50 per cent be compassionate to you?” – David T. Sturtevant (Newfoundland)
“Asking 50 per cent is certainly not in the Spirit of Christ.” – George Anderson (Hamilton)
“This is a compromise.” – Marianne Emig Carr (Seaway-Glengarry) who pointed out that currently a congregation whose members depart would have to leave their building behind and receive nothing.
Commissioners approved the voluntary withdrawal process 117-74
“The motion is attempting to set up something that informally already exists…. organizations, some of them have been around for a number of years, already exist for like minded folks and have never needed Assembly’s permission to be established or to associate.” – Thomas Kay (Prince Edward Island)
The Special Committee dealing with the racism petitions recognized the need for mutual support in a divided denomination. The committee wondered “about the only congregation in a presbytery who has called a same sex married minister. Where does that minister and that congregation find collegiality, support and encouragement in an open and safe space? The same can be said the other way round, where a minister and congregation hold to a traditional definition of marriage in a presbytery where the rest of the ministers believe that marriage is between two adult persons.”
The committee recommended further study to determine if such associations would be helpful. Commissioners agreed by a vote of 121-61.
“We can do better.” (Part 1) – Peter Bush (Waterloo-Wellington)
Peter challenged Assembly Council’s all-or-nothing response to his presbytery’s overture asking that some of the denomination’s investment income be used to:
- provide $10,000 per congregation in seed money grants to assist congregations in improving the energy efficiency of their church buildings and/or in moving off-grid,
- provide $10,000 per manse in seed money grants to improve energy efficiency and/or to go off-grid,
- provide $20,000 per multipoint change to assist in the purchase of a hybrid or electric vehicle for the minister,
- provide $5,000 grants to congregations interested in building charging stations on their property.
The request was made considering widespread acceptance that “climate change has been described as ‘the existential crisis of our time’” and the fact that past General Assemblies have spoken about the need for change. The response from AC assumed that every congregation would apply for and receive a grant for every item, which would cost $15,835,000. In response, the council pointed to existing government grants or applying for a loan from The Presbyterian Church Building Corporation for building improvements.
Commissioners agreed by a vote of 95-92 to send it back to the council for more study.
“We can do better.” (Part 2) – Peter Bush (Waterloo-Wellington)
Peter was commenting on the response from the LMA to the 2019 overture from Calvin Presbyterian Church in Toronto, which requested that “the church’s theological colleges and the Life and Mission Agency work together to amend their curriculums and programs to include, administer and promote the creation of a network of voluntary student charges or placements, with an emphasis on congregations that do not currently have Reformed and trained leadership, for which students will be remunerated and/or receive credits or tuition relief for their services.”
It was requested for several reasons, notably to help “congregations and pastoral charges without pastoral leadership” especially in remote areas and particularly those “served by non-Reformed or unsuitable or untrained pastoral leadership.”
For several reasons, LMA rejected student charges as “impractical” and suggested that presbyteries create more multi-point or cluster ministries or seek an LMA grant.
Said Bush: “I fully agree with the answer as a multi-faceted thing that goes way beyond the colleges’ function. But the answer provided… does not move beyond that narrow question. A response, I would hope, would say something like, ‘The idea proposed by the overture won’t work but we have some other ideas.’ We need to think creatively about other options. We can do better than this response. We can be more creative.”
Commissioners agreed. The motion to answer the overture considering the LMA’s concerns was defeated with 70 in favour and 111 against.
“It’s important to find new ways to do ministry… what we are doing is not working.” — Doris Eaglesham, Niagara
LMA followed up on its 2020 survey which found that of 696 PCC pastoral charges in total, 244 were officially vacant but only 30 were actively looking to call a minister. LMA followed this up with a survey of presbyteries to determine the underlying reasons. Lack of finances was a factor for 18 of the 26 presbyteries which responded.
Said the report: “Some presbyteries indicated that distance was a factor for interim moderators who made lengthy drives to attend meetings or conduct pastoral visits. Respondents also remarked on the heavy workload for interim moderators who were not only responsible for their own congregations but also for the additional congregations they were charged with serving… [and] heavy workload for retired ministers within their bounds who were increasingly called upon to serve as interim moderators or stated supply.”
Of the 771 pastoral charges in the PCC in 2003, 128 were officially vacant and not seeking a new minister (16.6 per cent.) In 2020, the PCC had 696 charges, of which 218 were not seeking (31.1 per cent).
LMA asked that its surveys be sent to presbyteries, sessions and congregations for study and reflection. Peter Bush (Waterloo-Wellington) amended the motion to encourage presbyteries to “be innovative and experimental.” Commissioners approved the amendment 183-6 and the amended motion 194-0.
- For the full text of General Assembly committee reports cited below, go to https://assembly.presbyterian.ca/#/ and click on the “committees” tab.
- For the draft minutes of each sederunt: using the above link click on “resources.”
- For more information about The Renewal Fellowship within The Presbyterian Church in Canada, go to http://www.renewal-fellowship.ca/