By now you have undoubtedly heard news of the “big” issues at GA this summer. If you were at the presbytery meeting on Tuesday, you also heard from our commissioners and YAAD how faithfully our assembly worked around all of the decisions. Let me, then, give a summation of the major issues and attach some and other help around both the marriage (see korean and spanish) and divestment decisions.
After some frustrations with the electronic voting system, Ruling Elder Heath Rada was elected as moderator of the 221st General Assembly by paper ballot on the first vote. Our Vice-Moderator is the Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia. Larissa, as you may recall, was working with the Mannasquan church for a short time last year and directed our Sandy Youth mission trip last summer. She is now pastor in Queens.
The assembly took action on two confessions this year. They approved the changes in translation to the Heidelberg confession that was approved in 2012 and by more than 67% of our presbyteries. Therefore, the new translation is now finalized and will be included in the next printing of the Book of Confessions. The assembly also approved that the Belhar Confession be added to our Book of Confessions. It, too, was approved by the 220th assembly in 2012, but was not affirmed by the supermajority of presbyteries. It will be sent to presbyteries again this year for approval, and if approved by 2/3 of the presbyteries and the 222nd assembly in Portland, will be added to the Book of Confessions.
By a margin of 7 votes, the assembly voted to divest from Motorola, Caterpillar, and Hewlett Packard because they are allegedly involved in “non-peaceful pursuits” in Israel and Palestine. At the same time, the assembly noted that we have a long term investment in peace in the middle east. We value our relationship with our Jewish sisters and brothers, and we are, as we have been, in favor of a two state solution in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The fossil fuel divestment overture has been referred to MRTI (Mission Responsibility Through Investment) committee.
Three decisions were made regarding same gender marriage. First, the assembly approved (61%) an Authorative Interpretation allowing pastors and congregations to use pastoral discretion in doing same sex weddings in states where it is legal (such as New Jersey). Secondly, they approved a change to the directory for worship that will be sent to the presbyteries for ratification that changes the definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” This will need to be affirmed by a majority of presbyteries over the next year to take affect. And thirdly, the assembly overwhelming approved an action that the national staff devise a way to visit each presbytery in order to help in reconciliation in the church.
The Mid Council Report was approved which calls for a consolidation of synods over the next few years to between 10 and 12 synods.
Many other decisions were made; 132 were made on a consent agenda presented early on Wednesday. Included in the consent agenda was the report of the nominating committee. Among many others, I was elected to the class of 2018 of the board of Directors of the Board of Pensions.
There are good news reports from the Presbyterian News Service here (http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga221/).
If you have any questions about action of the General Assembly, please contact me or Carl or any of our commissioners. Any one of us, too, are willing to meet with your congregation or your session to help interpret the actions of the assembly and talk about the implications for us and ministry in our congregations here in central New Jersey.