At the beginning of June, our minister, Scott McAndless and one of our elders, David Krueger, attended the meetings of the 141st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The meetings were held on the campus of the University of British Columbia in the heart of the city of Vancouver – one of the most beautiful urban settings in the entire country.
The meetings were marked by many good things: great conversations, renewals of old friendships and the making of new ones and worthwhile discussions. Both David and I are grateful for the opportunity to attend.
These are some of the highlights:
· The moderator of the 141st General Assembly is the Rev. Karen Horst. She took on her position with grace and wisdom and fulfilled her duties admirably. We are particularly pleased, of course, that Karen (who once worked at St. Andrew’s when she was known as Karen Timbers) has agreed to be our special anniversary guest preacher this October 25th. Not only will she bring a wonderful message, I am certain, but she will also be bringing us greetings from the assembly and be in a position to share our story with the whole church.
· Worship at General Assembly was wonderful and varied. We had everything from the most traditional service to the most contemporary with a little bit of jazz in the middle. The experience was certainly refreshing and enlivening.
· Some very important issues were discussed and debated including the environment, end of life, payday loans, truth and reconciliation with First Nations people and our mission. We talked about how we live out our response to these issues in our individual and corporate church life.
One of the issues that came up at the Assembly had to do with Human Sexuality. In the past year, the General Assembly has received a number of
overtures from congregations and presbyteries on related issues. Some were asking for more inclusion of people in the LGBTQ community. Others were asking for restatement of past decisions on the issue.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, is required to take all overtures seriously and to give serious answers to them. But our church is also very cautious and deliberative especially when it comes to considering any sort of change. So it was absolutely
understood that this year’s Assembly would not be able to answer the overtures that had come to it. Two standing committees of the National Church – the Doctrine Committee and the Justice Committee will be working on preparing an answer to these overtures to bring to a future assembly. They have said that their goal is to have a report for next June.
So the Assembly wasn’t in a position to make any definitive decisions. Nevertheless, we found that it was very important for us to start to engage in a conversation on these issues. During the Assembly, we spent a fair bit of time talking in small table groups and sharing our points of view among people who didn’t necessarily agree with each another. It was a very
respectful and helpful conversation where we were able to focus on the things that are important to us and the things that we agree about and also able to understand people who see things differently from ourselves. It is my hope that the spirit that was in those table groups could continue throughout the church in the year to come and beyond.
The Assembly decided to expand the conversation begun in those table groups to the wider church and so it has asked the Congregations and Sessions and Presbyteries of our church to engage in a conversation about the place of LGBTQ people within the life of our church. In addition, they have given to the Congregations and Sessions and Presbyteries the opportunity to share their reflections and their concerns with the Doctrine and Justice committees as they seek to find a way for us all to move forward in unity and understanding as a church.
The session of St. Andrew’s will do its best to lead the congregation through those discussions. In addition, some study materials will be available from the Doctrine and Justice Committees by late October. In the meantime, we would ask you all to pray the prayer that came to David during our discussions in Vancouver: “God, may we all be open to hearing your will. Your will be done.”