It was a very long, historic, and emotional day in Portland on Wednesday as the General Assembly began taking actions on the actions presented to them by the committees.
The day began with numerous breakfast gatherings. Pam, Scott, and I attended the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation /Congregational Ministries Publishing, where our guest speaker was Jack Haberer, pastor of Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church in Naples, Florida, writer, and former editor of The Presbyterian Outlook. Jack shared insights from his latest book, It's Complicated: A Guide to Faithful Decision-making. He presented some interesting thoughts for us to ponder, and then of course, he invited us to buy the book!
The traditional ecumenical worship service followed the breakfast gatherings. Once again, incredible music set the tone. This time it was the Overtones from Gresham High School. This amazing group of young people gave up a morning of their summer to share their gifts with us. It was stunning, and they even did their own rendition of "Joyful, Joyful," a la "Sister Act II."
Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church brought the morning's proclamation, "Crisis of Conflicting Voices," using I Kings 22:1-14 as his text. Bishop Jackson asked, "how do we resolve the conflicting voices of our religious leaders and traditions?" and then offered three suggestions - these come from Deb Hess' notes:
- Each of us must remain faithful . . . and that includes having a strong prayer life.
- Don't be fooled by the numbers. Don't go along in order to get along. (If you read the scripture, you will get the gist of what the bishop meant.) He also reminded us that "if you argue with a fool long enough, eventually you will have two fools."
- Live like you know God, and stand on God's Word.
I recorded the sermon, we will see how it comes out!
Following the Ruling Elder and Seminary Luncheons, the Assembly convened to begin its deliberations. Two sessions surrounded a dinner celebration of the ministry of retiring Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons. In the afternoon session, the Assembly, by voice vote, approved a revised Directory for Worship. The Directory was amended twice by the body before it was approved. The presbyteries will get a chance to consider it in the coming year.
During the evening session our denomination once again made history in Portland. Fifty years ago, in this city, the General Assembly approved what we have come to know as "The Confession of 1967," one of the staples in our Book of Confessions. Tonight, by a vote of 540-33, the Assembly approved the "Belhar Confession," making it the newest part of our Book of Confessions. Following the vote, the body erupted in applause and song. Two representatives of the South African faith community, including the Rev. Dr. Alan Boesak, spoke to the General Assembly, offering their thanks and prayers for what had just taken place. There weren't many dry eyes in the convention center.
The day ended with the Assembly voting to approve a "Presbyterian Church (USA) Child/Youth/Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy. Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons then offered an apology to a young man - and all those - who suffered abuse while participating in a Presbyterian Church-sponsored youth event. A subsequent prayer by one of the Young Adult Advisory Delegates brought this long, historic, and emotional day to its end, for me, sixteen hours after it began.
Taking a page from the very eloquent Andy Davis, "Rick is very tired" . . . and I hurt! Only three days to go, and it is not going to get easier!
Until our next report, from all of us here in Oregon . . .