Starting this week and for the next month my brain is slowly going to be moving to the mindset of the denomination. As Presbyterians, contrary to some people’s thoughts, we are a connectional body, meaning that none of our churches are independent; rather, we are connected to the whole church.
Locally we are part of the San Jose Presbytery, which include 4 counties: Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey. Though we make most of the decisions about the daily operation, worship, and congregational activities, the presbytery gives us guidance and has some oversight. For instance, our session records were just checked by the presbytery (BTW they came back with a great report! Thanks Dave). Importantly, as a connectional body, we are part of the presbytery, so we have a say in what happens at presbytery. As I have told elders before, if you do not like what is happening at presbytery go to a meeting.
The same thing goes for general assembly. As small as we are as a church we are part of that body through our presbytery, and the General Assembly often deals with issues that impact the local congregation. This year at the General Assembly they will be spending a great deal of time working on issues from environment to the Middle East and even the definition of marriage for Presbyterians. In addition, they will be looking at proposals that may impact the way our presbytery and church operate.
What most people don’t know (or they forget) about General Assembly is that all the issues that come before it in the form of an overture start their life in a congregation. A Session somewhere felt that this particular issue was so important that we needed to change or redirect our denomination. From the session, it goes to a presbytery and they have to approve it as well. But even with the Presbyteries approval, it still needs another Presbytery to concur and then the action is brought before the committee and deliberations happen. Like congress, what comes out of committee may and very likely will, look different. It may also be combined with other overtures.
Whenever it looks like when it comes out of committee is brought to the floor of the General Assembly, debated, and either passed or not. If it is passed, it still has to go back to all of the Presbyteries to be ratified. It is a long process! But this process works in that it gives time for the spirit and understanding.
In this General Assembly the two issues that will garner the most media attention will be the Middle East issues and the Definition of Marriage. I will write about Marriage this week in my Friday Article and the Middle East issues next week. However, in short, the Middle East committee, which I have been assigned, will be looking at the Israeli-Palestine conflict to ask how we can best witness. The Marriage debate has to do with whether or not we will officially allow Presbyterian Clergy to officiate Gay marriages; for the record, in New Jersey I did performed legal gay civil unions. For more on that, read my Friday Letter.
But beyond the two topics that will garner the most attention, there is a lot that will impact us as a congregation in terms of how we do things from mission to Christian education to how the pension program for clergy is set up and, most importantly, how we be the church of Jesus Christ. While I am in Detroit I will try to add a daily blog post to my blog http://www.yatt.org/blog.html. And look for my letter in July where I will review and analyze all that happened.
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen