Friday Evening Plenary

By Keith Brokaw and Betsy Bostwick

We had a long session last night, if I may state the obvious.
We worked through the General Assembly Procedures, Church Polity, and Ordered Ministry Overtures. Some of these Overtures generated a lot of debate and amendment. The Family Leave policy was referred to committee for further discussion, although Synods, Presbyteries, and Sessions were strongly urged to take action.
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The last committee to present its overtures was Middle East Issues. There was a lot of discussion around the amendments and language as several believed that Israel was being cited as creating some of the issues, especially when a motion was made that was to remove mention of Hammas. One overture On Urging RE/MAX to Stop Facilitating the Sale of Property in Israeli Settlement Colonies was addressed where the US and many other countries do not recognize the ownership of these Colonies by Israel. Rob Trawick spoke eloquently when asked to answer several questions from the floor. The plenary meeting ended around 12:00 and the GA Procedures discussed and approved in committee the per capita to be voted on at tomorrow mornings plenary. That committee retired at 1:30 after much discernment.

We have worked very hard here this week, but now the real work begins. It is certainly wonderful to approve Overtures, but the implementation and follow-up on the decisions are just beginning. Let’s all learn about what our church has promised to do and get to work in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Jarvie Overtures

by Gavin Meek

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A fund was established in 1925 by a wealthy, lifelong Presbyterian, James N. Jarvie, to provide support to older adult Presbyterians in the NYC area who are “without sufficient means of support.” (This area includes southern Westchester county.) In recent years, the fund of approximately $90 million was transferred from the Presbyterian Mission Agency to the Presbyterian Foundation. When that happened, the local committee that oversaw its use was dissolved. Both New York and Long Island presbyteries and their leaders had concerns and questions which were supposed to be answered by the Foundation as directed by the previous 222nd (2016) General Assembly (GA). However, that did not happen to any level of satisfaction to those presbyteries and leaders.

HRP concurred with two overtures which requested an Administrative Commission be established by this 223rd (2018) GA. Advocates of those overtures and six speakers at an open hearing, myself being one of them, cited concerns about a lack of openness, accountability and compliance with donor intentions on the part of the Presbyterian Foundation.

Our HRP Young Adult Advisory Delegate, Austin Kim, from our Salem church served on this committee that dealt with the Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, Presbyterian Publishing House and Presbyterian Foundation.

The GA committee recommended to the GA,almost unanimously, a substitute motion directing the 223rdGA co-moderators form a team to identify and engage all parties in a peacemaking and reconciliation process and report back to the 224th GA. That recommendation was included in the consent agenda and adopted.

 

Fossil Fuel Divestment

by Kathy Dean

On Monday the Fossil Fuel divestment overture came before the Environmental Committee. This was a contentious overture throughout the national church as some people want the church to continue working with the fossil fuel companies and others want full divestment.  The Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Foundation, MRTI and a lot of other people favor continued engagement with fossil fuel. Hudson River Presbytery passed the overture to divest from Fossil Fuels and 39 Presbyteries concurred. Of those 40 Presbyteries there were about 20 overture advocates at GA.

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Here is what I had to say regarding continued divestment:

I Commend the Committee on Mission Responsibility through Investment for doing what we asked them to do but I am terrified by the proposal to continue that engagement,

We don’t have time: For me and others in my Presbytery the institutional church is ignoring catastrophe—not one that is going to happen, but one that is happening right now. WE and all creation are facing mass destruction while the Presbyterian Church is recommending a “middle road” approach of continued engagement with the fossil fuel companies

M-R-T-I insists that Exxon and other fossil fuel companies might change. But how could they? Fossil fuel companies are about fossil fuels – they may budge a bit in response to public pressure, but they are not able to change their stripe, since it is the very nature of that industry to promote fossil fuels.

I am a grandmother and more than anything I want my grandchildren to have a future. I don’t expect that they will know all of the beauty of the natural world that I have known—- We are already losing that day by day—- but I would like them to experience some of the beauty I have known in my life.

And that is why I am so opposed to continued engagement. We need to take many actions worldwide to save the planet, continued engagement will not help my grandchildren.

THE OVERTURE DID NOT PASS. THE PCUSA WILL CONTINUE TO ENGAGE WITH THE FOSSIL FUEL COMPANIES. Every part of my being tells me this is the wrong approach. I mourn what we have done to the earth and how it will impact future generations.

Committee 10 Work

by Keith Brokaw

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Being my first time at GA I was not sure what to expect from committee work but being able to sit down with 50+ other Presbyterians including Youth Adult Advisor Delegates, Theologian Student Advisory Delegates, and Commissioners (Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders). We took out time as we moved through the various overtures deciding how best to proceed and then vote on them. To that point I was surprised by the instances where overtures that I expected a lot of comments both for and against had nobody show up to give their view points. We voted on where the 2024 GA would be held (yet to be approved by this GA) hint Utah. The budget/per capita had no outside discussion but we discerned over it for a while and have submitted our recommendation. We reviewed other groups minutes and then reviewed the new statistical report being presented by the Office of the General Assembly. One of the most interesting was giving the YAADs and TSADs voting rights and this is something that needs to be addressed through our Office of General Assembly as change to the Book of Order would need to take place. Currently now only Ruling Elders or Teaching Elders may vote for the Moderator.

While this does not cover all the items we discussed in committee I was given the chance to learn from others and about church polity. The opportunity to form friendships and openly discuss issues was most important and I look forward to seeing these people at future meetings and assembly’s.

Plenary Sessions

by Austin Kim

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The 233rd general assembly has been eventful. From the small committee meetings which pass overtures over to the plenary session for review in front of a large and well represented body of advisory delegates and commissioners in order to perfect as well as vote for or against it. General Assembly (GA) carries out multiple days which each day has most of the time, more than one plenary session. These plenary sessions consists of mission reports, prayers, worship services, and business procedures. The majority of the plenary sessions typically revolve around church business and procedures. With the 14 unique committees submitting a variety of overtures to the assembly, a number of overtures are selected from each committee which would then be processed through the entire GA. When it comes to the time to process the overtures, the overtures are processed in groups depending on the committee of origin. The typical overture would be voted first by all the advisory delegates for the commissioners reference on how some think about the topic/overture which have been presented in front of GA. While the faster overtures will jump straight to voting, some overtures may bring conflicting view points between commissioners and advisory delegates. This may lead to some time being used to amend the overture to perfect the wording or even change the intent of the the overture. In addition to the perfection of overtures/movements, some may even volunteer to advocate or even go against the proposed action presented in front of the General Assembly. Due to such a variety of different perspectives viewing the same movement/overture. Debate is common on most of the overtures. This process which has been explained is the general overview of how plenary sessions at the General Assembly of the PC(USA) operates.

Friday Afternoon Plenary

by Betsy Bostwick

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Being a commissioner at GA is like being on a rollercoaster. During plenary (about 600 hours/day), you go slowly up the hill of motion on motion on motion going on and on and on, speaking for and against, calling the question, and then you are at the top of the hill waiting for the plunge – the vote.

I didn’t scream during any of the votes, but I could have.

Following along on Keith’s blog from this morning—right after lunch, we went back into the discussion of the competing overtures – 08-01 vs. 08-08.  This went on for several more hours. I kept hearing things I liked – first on one overture then on the other. When it finally came time for the vote, I was sure of my decision.

The assembly voted to substitute motion 08-08 for the divestment motion 08-01. Our overture was defeated. When I walked out of the hall on the way to dinner, there were people lying on the floor. These were the people who had been singing and leading prayer every day when we left the meeting. They looked like they were dead – and I believe that was the intention. This group had put their hearts and souls into this overture to Divest from Fossil Fuel. Many of them had walked from Louisville to St. Louis to save our lives and our futures. There was heartbreak and there were tears.

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The work of the committee on Environmental Issues ended and the work on the Social Justice Issues committee began. The Overtures from this group were emotional and often controversial. We approved overtures Advocating for the Citizens of Puerto Rico, Calling for an Immediate Moratorium on all Executions, On Sexual Misconduct in the PC(USA), and On Praying for a Movement of the Spirit to Engage Presbyterian Congregations in Nation-Wide Action to Prevent Gun Violence. We disapproved the overture On Appointing a Commission to Consider Social Impact of Automation.

During discussion, some people at the microphones shared stories filled with pain. A few people made rude and hurtful comments. Some people made very interesting language modifications. We were brought back together with prayer and song. There were limericks and hashtags.

I have to tell you – this GA experience has been eye-opening and mostly encouraging. Our denomination is NOT dying, it is reforming.

Word is that there will be coffee for tonight’s meeting – we will probably be here all night. Great.

 

Friday Morning Plenary

by Keith Brokaw

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Good morning and welcome to the next to last day of GA223. I will attempt to give a heathy description of the actions but may not be as insightful as my learned fellow commissioners.

We opened today with the beautiful music of Chip and his band as has been the custom every day.

Ecumenical guests greeted us thanked us for the time here, Carola Tron, EAD shared what is happening in Latin America especially all the natural disasters of late, also human rights in their respective lands. Carol feels more supported by the actions happening by PCUSA.

Assembly Committee on Bills and Overtures voted the docket and moved committee 3 to this afternoon. Assembly Committee on General Assembly Procedures (Financial Implications) the Assembly was informed that we have approved for 2019 – $499,490 and $390,030 for 2020 -$390,030. Pending is $197,259 and $151,959 for the years 2019 and 2020.

Assembly Committee on Mission Coordination (Financial Implications) the Assembly was informed that we have approved for 2019 – $1,004,978 and $857,805 for 2020. Pending is $106,040 and $96,540 for the years 2019 and 2020.

Environmental Issues (08) First was the issue of Environmental Racism and what is happening to the earth’s environment discussion ensued and vote was taken the overture passed 452 to 34. The next overture followed closely with similar concerns as the previous item. Vote was taken and passed 482 to 10. The Committee brought their motion on divestiture to the assembly and at the same time a minority report was also presented as even the committee had a hard time working through this sensitive issue. One major concern would be that there could be tax implications to the investment portfolio (not clear) and ultimately the investors in the fund. This is in direct contrast with how we save the earth with divesting from the fossil fuel industry. Money vs the world! The minority report presented by Sam MacGregor TEC, Jacqueline Cummings REC, and Kerri Allen they proposed through MRTI we continue our investments which keeps us at the table discussing the issues with all the fossil fuel company’s as shareholders. An example was given that Exxon/Mobile would like to buy back the stock we are in and not have to hear from the investing stakeholders. To continue with the MRTI reports and their follow up. Discussion ensued first regarding the perfecting the main motion and the minority motion, including amendments to the main motion. The main motion was perfected, and we continued to perfect the minority motion and discuss amendments to it. The minority motion (08-08) was perfected, then we started to discuss if it would replace the main motion (08-01) with the minority motion.

Bills and overtures moved to arrest the report and continue after lunch and worship service the motion was defeated with consequences that people who were here to lead worship

We are now back to deciding the substitution of the minority report for the main motion. The was a lot of discussion early on around the substitute motion and little was allowed regarding the Presbyterians desire of divestment. Many commissioners have spoken both for and against the substitution. It was then asked by motion to reconsider worship and lunch, motion passed and another motion by overtures was made and approved to arrest proceedings and move to worship followed by lunch.

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Call to Worship was led by David Oates RE followed by Hymns of Praise and Prayers of Confession and the Assurance of Forgiveness by Rev. Karl Hauser. The Rev. Don Meeks, Greenwich Presbyterian Church, gave an inspiring Sermon around Cultivating Unity in the Church. How do we pursue unity in the body of Christ? We all had cards distributed at our seats titled My Covenant for Pursuing Unity in times of Disagreement. (photo attached) Service continued with the invitation to the table and a chance to dip our hands in the Baptismal Font , the blessing and the charge to the assembly,