Two weeks from now I will be in the steamy south of Mobile, AL attending my first ever General Assembly of the PCA. I’ve never been to Alabaman before, so I’m looking forward to the visit, and a little nervous about exploring new places. In addition to the fact that I will be away from the family for a week, rebounding from this trip to a week at Church Camp, I have some trepidation about going to GA. Let me try to explain.
My experience with General Assembly meetings in the PCUSA have not gone well in the past. I first attended General Assembly back in 1994 when it was in Wichita, KS. I was working that summer at a church camp in S.E. Kansas, and because GA was in Wichita, the High School camp ended early, and we bussed the kids to GA for the opening worship service and an overnight lock-in with other PCUSA students from around the nation. The lock-in was frustrating: there was no Biblical teaching, just a long night of dodge-ball, movies, and food. Everything a kid would want, but nothing that they needed. I saw it as a wasted opportunity to equip the students, who one elder said were “the future of the church” to grow in their understanding and love of God in Jesus Christ and to become engaged in the evangelism and outreach of the church.
Fast forward almost 18 years. I was serving as a PCUSA pastor in NE Iowa, and the denomination was again contemplating changing its ordination standards to allow for the ordination of practicing, unrepentant, homosexuals as Teaching and Ruling Elders and Deacons. My session had approved a motion requesting a moratorium on the ordination issue, calling for a time of prayer and discernment. The motion was approved by the presbytery, and I was asked to present the motion to the General Assembly.
This was my Daniel in the Lion’s Den moment. I walked into the conference center, and was immediately greeted by other commissioners bedecked with Rainbow Stoles, making clear where they stood on the matter of ordination. Any hope for an open-minded reception was gone. The opening worship service for the Assembly included 12 foot puppets, dancing through the congregation during the “blessing of the four directions.” The motion I presented was laughed at in the committee hearing (by the open-minded-stole-wearing-delegates), and the motion to change the standards of ordination were passed by the GA and eventually by a majority of presbyteries.
So I head to the PCA General Assembly wary of the political nature of such gatherings, but also optimistically hopeful about what may come. Next week, I will share some of the business that we will be discussing at General Assembly, but today, I simply offer my prayers for what I will experience.
My prayers for General Assembly:
- Fewer Shenanigans. I don’t want to see puppets, milk and honey ceremonies, Rainbow Stoles or Naked Cowboys in worship. That should go without saying. Still, there are temptations for large scale gatherings to push boundaries and make waves, for no other reason than to push boundaries and make waves. I guess what I’m hoping for here is just that we can be a gathering of the Church, where we come together to hear God’s word, to pray with and for one another, and to work for the peace and purity of the body of Christ.
- Biblical Teaching and Worship. We have some fantastic Biblical scholars in the PCA, and at one time, the name Presbyterian was synonymous with solid, reformed Biblical teaching. I would hope that we could use our national gathering to lift up Biblical teaching and the application of Scripture to our current context in an increasingly “post-Christian” America.
How we proclaim the Good News, and how we Worship according to the authority of God’s Word, can have a transforming effect on our world today. I pray that this is happening in my own congregation, and would love to see it at our General Assembly as well.
- Prayerful and Biblical Discussion on Important Matters. There are a lot of important and very difficult issues that the church faces today, and we need to have profound and meaningful conversations and debates on these matters. Yet I pray that we can learn how to have these conversations, how to disagree with one another, and still love one another and strive to maintain the bond of peace and unity in Christ.
- Genuine Fellowship as the Body of Christ. Ultimately, I guess what I’m hoping for as I prepare for General Assembly is that I will be going to Church, called by Christ to be with my Fathers and Brothers who have also been called by Christ, to be a Church that lives for the glory of God.
Be praying for me, for the Presbyterian Church in America, as we come together for our General Assembly (June 20-24, 2016). I’ll be trying to post updates while at GA, so keep checking in here at the blog.
I think you’ll find a much different kind of meeting down in AL. May God encourage you as you navigate the PCA. Say “hello” to the Serge guys for me.