General Assembly – Portland 2016 – Monday

21 06 2016

For the next five days, business at GA will begin as it should – with Bible Study. The material created for our time here in Portland is titled “Messy Tables, Messy Mission,” and will focus on the duplicity of our walks with God.  Like David, a despicably broken man, who at the same time was a person after God’s own heart, so too do we seek to balance our identity as both sinner and saint.

Following Bible Study, committee meetings begin! And for those not familiar with the work of the assembly, Monday and Tuesday are always about the work of the various GA committees. Each is considering a variety of recommendations to be discussed in plenary meetings that will begin again on Wednesday. Committees will make their recommendations at that time, and commissioners will then vote.

Since I was assigned to Theological Issues and Institutions, this is where my focus will be; and after two days of nothing but ‘hope’ and ‘love,’ today was all about polity – more specifically, our Directory for Worship.

For the past several years a group in the church has been working on re-writing the guidelines for how we worship as Presbyterians. The goal was to shorten the Directory, while at the same time making it easier to understand and giving church leaders a greater degree of flexibility in planning and leading. The result is a beautiful document that reduces the number of “shalls” (things we MUST do!) from over 100, to less than 25.

One of the most important changes we’ve been asked to consider involves access to the Lord’s Supper.  Recognizing that Jesus broke bread with sinners and saints alike, the recommendation is that the church formally open the table to anyone seeking the opportunity to commune with Christ and with one another. Continuing to affirm that “eating and drinking with Christ is not a right bestowed upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love,” our committee has been asked to affirm that “all who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding.” No longer is the invitation to ‘taste and see’ given only to those who have been baptized in the Christian faith; but rather, in the spirit of the inclusiveness of Jesus, the invitation is to all! Jesus invites everyone to commune, and “if some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended.” But there will be no . . . fencing of the table!

Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of the long and tedious discussions that were had today is the role of the Young Adult Advisory Delegates, and the number of Elders from 1001 Worshipping Communities. These millennials, and Church leaders intentionally seeking to minister to younger generations, bring a perspective to the work of our committee that is invaluable. On several occasions we were cautioned about being tied to old ways of thinking and ‘doing’ church, as well as our allowing our commitment to our traditions to blind us to the need for relevance as we seek to reach the growing number of NONES in America today.

Polity is NOT a dirty word! And this is particularly true when it comes to the worship life of the PC(USA). Like the old directory, the one currently being proposed makes it clear that the goal of polity in worship is not about creating a rigidly fixed way of gathering for corporate worship, but rather to suggest possibilities, invite development, and encourage ongoing reform. The proposed revision of the Directory for Worship will serve the church well in the coming years, and once again, I remain excited about the conversations that are taking place.

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