Due to me being very important and having a lot of movies to watch and many cups of coffee to drink, I have not been able to actually sit down and write the report you are all waiting for: my trip to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s General Assembly 2009.
The genius of Presbyterianism is of course that it tries to be to some degree, a democratic church. Christ is LORD, but we create committees. General Assembly is the pinnacle of this noble and somewhat ill-fitting idea. Theoretically any crazy jackass can stand on the floor of the GA and address the house on how Jesus calls us to name all our children CharlesBronson or the real problem with Irish society is that people are using ballpoint pens and that destroys penmanship. Don’t worry, I argued both these points on Wednesday afternoon.
I know that this will be hard to believe, but sometimes GA can be boring. Even though 1200 Presbyterian ministers and elders are invited to one room to hear reports from committees and deliberate on motions, things still don’t end up getting sexy and raucous. Maybe the feng shui in Church House needs to be reconsidered.
In fact, previous trips to GA have been pretty dismal. Bad decisions, bad debate and bad spirit has been a common theme for the few short years I have been attending.
This year however was genuinely different. Keith and I came back home hyperactive with the glee of participating in debate and discussion that genuinely focused on the stuff that matters. Peace and reconciliation was on everyone’s lips. People spoke to each other with respect and more than that, love. Each year we appoint a moderator. A moderator is technically defined as a device that regulates the release of gas. Alot of gas has been written about this year’s moderator Stafford Carson because he is against female ordination. He may well be crazy on that one single issue, but the man served the role he was appointed to with real aplomb.
Fair play to him as well. Having a first name like Stafford.
Maybe I’ll call my first son after an English provincial city too. Ipswich Hargaden it is!
On Tuesday we had to debate the Presbyterian Mutual Society. PMS has caused a lot of pain over the last year. Maybe that is why Stafford opposes female ordination. HA HA HA!
I might write separately about the specifics of the PMS debacle but it is sufficient to say that in a room packed with angry investors who had lost a lot of money when the PMS folded last winter, the level of debate was astonishing. Delegate after delegate spoke with respect and love and concern for the people who were harmed by the policies of this institution. I was astonished to read the magnificently biased reports made by the former Presbyterian minister William Cawley on the BBC site.
Cool initiatives were passed so that we will now be training and licencing preachers who are gifted at giving a good sermon but who are not called to full time ministry. This is pretty ground breaking for us Presbies because we have been typically big fans of the professional clergy style approach. Moves are afoot to train evangelists in the same way. A former moderator and present legend, Dr. Ken Newell spoke compellingly that peacemaking and reconciliation should be “mainstreamed” into the church and actually be part of the Board of Mission in Ireland. Theologically, this is bold and brilliant thinking for a church that it seems is positioning itself to spend the 21st Century more than undoing the mistakes of the 20th. Dr. Trevor Morrow, in response to a very thoughtful submission from a theological working group on sharing Eucharist with children, spoke of the role of the sacrament in the lives of people with profound disability. So many wonderful streams of thought came together in this conversation that one can’t help but feel the church will be enriched by the conversation. Even the teenaged delegates from the “SPUD Assembly” impressed me. And I hate teenagers! I even got to contribute in the discussion about a new fund that would basically kill the part of the church I work in. And that new fund idea is superb.
When the GA got too hot, I went and had coffee with great friends. In the evening I ate dinner with great friends. At night, I went for pints with new friends. And in the whole time it didn’t rain once. Belfast is always overcast, but not this year.
I saw this piece of graffiti around the city repeatedly and it struck me as particularly delightful. Three words vaguely connected. I never could make out what was spelled inside the letters but I presume it is some maniacal ranting that threads lying with the Bible and the Koran. I am not sure if books can lie. But who cares? It’s Belfast. The city where crazy religious ideas rule. But in General Assembly 2009 I could breathe a sigh of relief because there was a deficit of crazy and a surplus of grace.
Your Correspondent, Thinks Belfast is Ireland’s ugly child, but we love ugly children too.