12 July 2010

General Assembly Reflections, Again from the Airport on the Way Home, July 9, 2010

I’ve started this reflection a few times now. These are my opening line options thus far:

“It feels good to sit in the sunlight – particularly after many hours in the chill of the Assembly Hall. Or were those just Spirit-stirred goosebumps?” (A little too sentimental.)

“The week isn’t done yet – there are still several issues to challenge us, and several hopes to reckon with – a wonder after all the significant actions of the 219th Assembly.” (A little too bland.)

“I like Chipotle. It’s fast, easy, tasty, and they aim to be socially responsible.” (A little too hungry.)

“Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ – a gentle suggestion: get your hands off God’s Church. It’s not yours to begin with. It’s time. Now. Let go and get out of the way. I’ll even be nice and say please.” (A wee bit abrupt.)

But I’m not going to start with any of those. Instead, I’ll just wonder at the fact that I’m sitting at the airport, heading home early, while a voice on the loudspeaker keeps saying, “Would the passenger who lost something at G-6 please come and reclaim your item.” Most anyone in the PC(USA) knows that G-6 (G-6.0106b, that is) has been at the center of our conversations for some time now. Whatever your perspective, I suspect most of us feel that we’ve lost something at G-6, and we’d like to get on with our journey.

Among its many actions, the 219th General Assembly is sending us back, once again, to G-6. New language has been recommended to the presbyteries, inviting us to set aside the much disputed language of “fidelity and chastity” for words that invite us to “submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.”

This won’t be the only headline, however. Through a curious web of parliamentary process, the Assembly took no action on requests for amendment to the constitutional definition of marriage. At the same time, a motion was approved to allow non-ordained church employees to enroll same-gender domestic partners with the Board of Pensions.

The Middle East Task Force report was perhaps the most hotly challenged item going into the Assembly. Through a process of discernment, cross-passionate collaboration, and prayer, a report has been approved that seems to have been received well by all sides in the debate. Many folks have called this coming-together a miracle of the Spirit. No one is completely happy, mind you – and none of it is easy. (Take, for example, the somewhat confusing actions in a companion proposal, that on the one hand denounce the Caterpillar Corporation for its continued business relationship with Israel, yet on the other hand refuse to divest our holdings in the company.)

Measures were also adopted to speak out on gun violence, immigration reform, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. An entirely new Form of Government has been recommended. The Decade of the Child was reaffirmed. New ecumenical relationships have been endorsed. Committees have been reviewed. The Budget is being written.

God’s sustaining Spirit is always on display at GA. Commissioners and Advisory Delegates are carried through volumes of work in just a week’s time. In the thick of it, we see the best and worst of the Church. The politicking is real – witness the minister commissioner who was clearly working the floor with every controversial vote, going from mic to mic and person to person. The compassion is real, too – see the Young Adult Advisory Delegate crying after a vote, and being comforted by a nearby Elder.

There will be much discomfort in the Church because of this Assembly. More politicking. More crying. More nail-biting moments as we await the results of all the votes to come.

There will also be many opportunities to remember who we are as Presbyterians: people of forbearance, lovers of Scripture, students of Jesus and seekers of God’s will.

It isn’t our Church after all. I know I wasn’t going to mention that, but it’s true. The more tightly we grip the reins of the Church the more we struggle.

I am convinced that the Spirit is at work in the Church – and that none of the Assembly’s actions is outside of God’s ongoing work. I got a few too many goosebumps this week, and not just from the incessant air-conditioning.

Chipotle is good.
God is way better.
And we may yet find what we’ve lost.

Rev. Chris Shelton
Hudson River Presbytery

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