Monday, July 23, 2012

2012 General Assembly Wrap-Up

The 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) concluded its work almost two weeks ago, on Saturday, July 7.  Bob French, Bert Richardson, Pearl Fischer, Earl Arnold, and Marianne Rhebergen are all safely back home, getting some sleep and decompressing from the intensity that is true of every General Assembly.

This e-newsletter reports on most of the major actions of the Assembly, largely by making use of the Presbyterian News Service articles.  More information on each topic can be found at .  A twelve page "Assembly in Brief" document, formatted for use as a bulletin insert, can be downloaded by clicking here: 2012 Assembly in Brief.

A Call for 'Serious Study and Discernment' re. Christian Marriage

By a vote of 338 to 308, the 220th General Assembly voted to neither re-affirm nor change the denomination's definition of marriage as "a civil contract between a woman and a man."  Instead, after about four hours of debate, the Assembly approved a proposal generated from within the Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues calling for two years of  "serious study and discernment" regarding Christian marriage.

The General Assembly Mission Council's Office of Theology and Worship will prepare and distribute educational resources to all presbyteries and congregations. Presbyteries are instructed to report their responses to the Office of the General Assembly three months before the 221st Assembly (2014).
Commissioners' opinions were varied on the season of study.

For the past two years, presbyteries have been wrapped up in discussions about changes to ordination standards and a new Form of Government, both of which were approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010), said Allen Foster, a teaching elder from Glacier Presbytery. They need this time to focus on studying marriage, he said.

But other commissioners saw the study as a way to delay action. "While we are thrilled with yet another study, it doesn't give any relief to those of us in states where same-sex marriage is legal," said Karen Bartel, a ruling elder from the Presbytery of East Iowa. 

As in committee, the Assembly did not approve several proposed authoritative interpretations that would allow teaching elders to perform same-gender marriages in states where those marriages are legal.

The Assembly also voted down two minority reports-one proposing a four-year season of study and one affirming the definition of marriage as between a woman and a man.

Assembly Opts for 'Positive Investment' rather than 'Divestment' 

After two hours of debate and presentations Thursday night (July 5), the 220th General Assembly, by a vote of 369-290, said no to divestment as part of its position on peace in the Middle East.  The path to the final vote came through the Assembly's adoption of a minority report presented by members of the Committee on Middle East and Peacemaking Issues.

The committee's plan for a "both/and" solution of proposing divestment and positive engagement was derailed when the minority report replaced the main motion by only two votes, 333-331-2. The original motion to be considered was to support the recommendation of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) to divest the holdings in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard because eight years of engagement with those companies ceased to be productive, according to the Rev. Brian Ellison, chair of MRTI.

Before affirming the text of Item 15-10 as the main motion, commissioners added the following to the document: "The 220th General Assembly instructs the GAMC (General Assembly Mission Council) to create a process to raise funds to invest in the West Bank, and the program will be inaugurated no later than the meeting of the 221st General Assembly." Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council, said there would be some cost to create such a process and that "there are some funds available for investment."

Church Growth Committee Recommends Approval of 1001 Movement

After 90 minutes of spirited debate, the Church Growth and Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP) Committee approved a motion that recommends the 220th General Assembly declare a churchwide commitment to ignite a movement that results in the creation of new 1001 worshiping communities in the next ten years.

In approving the motion, commissioners added language seeking the development of workable strategies, collaboration with congregations in growing new communities of faith, and a report on the movement's progress to the 221st General Assembly (2014).

The Assembly's Church Growth and PILP committee also recommended that the 220th General Assembly (2012) direct the General Assembly Mission Council (specifically Racial Ethnic and Women's Ministries, Presbyterian Women and Evangelism and Church Growth Ministries) to:
  • train and deploy five regional coaches to collaborate with mid councils and congregations to implement the African American Church Growth Strategy, and
  • hold a national consultation to develop strategies and policies to support racial, ethnic, multicultural and new immigrant church growth in the PC(USA).
No Change to Special Offerings

As late Friday night turned into early Saturday morning, July 7, the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) elected not to change the denomination's four special offerings.

Amending the report of the Mission Coordination Committee, the body resoundingly decided against merging the Peacemaking Offering into a new World Mission offering, potentially to be received on World Communion Sunday. The Assembly called for a status report/check-back when the 221st General Assembly convenes in Detroit in 2014.

As a result, the current formulas and protocols for recipients and distribution remain for the Christmas Joy Offering, the Pentecost Offering, the One Great Hour of Sharing and the Peacemaking Offering, usually received on World Communion Sunday.

Interested in Reading Marianne's Daily Blog Posts from Pittsburgh?

At least once a day until she left the Pittsburgh for a weekend with family in Michigan, Transitional Presbyter Marianne Rhebergen wrote a few paragraphs describing opening worship, deliberations of committees,actions of the plenary assembly, a trip to visit several exciting new church developments sponsored by Pittsburgh Presbytery, and her climb up the Duquesne Incline to view the city from above.

If you missed them the first time round and would like to hear a more personal take on the proceedings, go to