A call to action: reflections on GA 138.
I have experienced General Assembly as a student representative, twice as a commissioner, twice as a one-day visitor and this year as part of the local arrangements committee. Each gives you a unique perspective. Each has its advantages.
Because my responsibilities included staying close to our local arrangements table for most of assembly, rather than experiencing the sederunts myself, I got more of a feel of how commissioners were responding. It seemed they began the week on somewhat of a high after the opening worship and the banquet. This continued into morning worship. (The text of Rev. Dr. Emily Bisset's message can be found at presbyterian.ca/webfm_send/7063.)
There seemed, however, lower expectations going into the weekday sederunts. I saw experienced commissioners attempting to temper first-timers' expectations. Monday and Tuesday there were certainly mixed responses to the business conducted. Some seemed disappointed by the debate and others by some of the decisions. There was however an overall quiet expectation--a modest hope that something would yet be accomplished of a significant nature.
On Wednesday afternoon, just as the Life and Mission Agency's report was coming to a close, Rev. Dr. Clyde Ervine rose to make an additional motion. He gave a stirring and passionate preamble and then presented his motion (you can read it in the minutes of assembly: presbyterian.ca/webfm_send/7076). It is important to note that Ervine did not speak in criticism of the LMA and its report. Rather, he expressed a desire for there to be a radical focus shift towards congregations that are the actual life and heart of Canadian Presbyterianism.
There was an immediate response. First, there was no dissent observed to the motion. Second, there was a buzz and an energy created that has lasted beyond General Assembly. I have personally experienced widespread discussion and an almost viral spreading of the message of the preamble and motion.
Here is the problem: It is just too easy for a motion like this to have no greater life than its place in the Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly (also known as "the Blue Book"). My hope and prayer is much greater than this. Could we begin an era dedicated to the encouragement and renewal of our congregations? Could our energy and resources be partially redirected to rebuilding the backbone of our denomination--the local church?
While we continue to struggle for a vision and mission statement for the Church, can we have a strategy for the turnaround needed locally? Our work outside our congregations is important. Our call in Micah 6:8 continues to inform us: "He has shown you, 0 mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
The call, I believe, is not to criticize or regret what we have been doing, but rather to look forward, and strategize and prioritize for a vibrant future. This gives me great hope and I am not alone. One of the benefits I experience through the Renewal Fellowship is meeting and communicating with congregations, through ministers and laity across the country. I want all of you to know that it would be hard to overstate the amount of dialogue and excitement I am hearing.
I am sure that there will be a variety of ideas about what should happen next. Some will believe that nothing should be changed. That option is not possible as General Assembly has spoken. Some would call for study and report and committees and more reports.
This is a call to action. One of the first actions is to call together a national summit of congregational leaders, both ministers and laity, and to hear from them how we as the church can work together and give congregations the assistance and encouragement they identify as needed.
Let's pray for and work for congregational revitalization and renewal all across this land. And let's not be distracted or diverted away from this call.
Let's pray and work for congregational revitalization and renewal all across this land
Rev. Fred Stewart is executive director of Renewal Fellowship within the Presbyterian Church in Canada.