Since this was my first time as a commissioner, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But as it turns out, the experience was much like a presbytery meeting but on a much larger scale, with more attention given to the formalities of the court and significantly more food.
I have to admit I enjoyed it far more than I expected to and I was encouraged by what I saw and experienced.
There were a number of highlights for me.
First, celebrating Dr. Paul McLean’s translation of the Bible into Hakka, a dialect of Chinese spoken in Taiwan. McLean and his team of translators have been working on this for 26 years, and I’m encouraged to see the Presbyterian Church in Canada is a part of such evangelistic endeavors.
Second, learning more about the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba from the moderator Rev. Daniel Izquierdo Hernandez and discovering that the Cuban Church is thriving in spite of many challenges.
And finally, hearing about the commitment and conviction which the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, Canada’s first indigenous bishop in the Anglican Church, has for integrating the gospel of Christ into First Nation cultures in a sensitive, respectful and redemptive manner.
General Assembly was also a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and people I hadn’t seen for years and share with them the joys and challenges of ministry.
It was inspiring to meet new people from across the country and discover what Christ is doing in their ministry. It was particularly enjoyable to be geographically close enough to participate in some of the Renewal Fellowship’s activities.
Another encouraging experience was being lead in worship by some really good praise bands. Who knew that Presbyterians could rock out for Christ?! It was nice to discover there are more and more churches ministering in this way and reaching out to their communities.
I found Rev. Dr. Clyde Ervine’s call for a focus on congregations to be a validation of sentiments of a similar nature expressed by Bill Easum, the featured speaker at the Emmaus Project in 2010.
It’s been my experience that in the PCC we’ve traditionally viewed our church courts—at all levels—to be the central focus. We expect our congregations to orient themselves towards them and identify with them.
Instead I believe our courts need to orient themselves toward our congregations and become the means by which our local churches can be given the supportive oversight and encouragement they need to become healthy and thriving missional congregations.
In other words, I’m convinced that the heart of our national church needs to be about what’s occurring in our local congregations as they share the gospel of Jesus Christ with their neighbours in words and actions.
I’m hopeful the committee that has been given the task of distilling a slogan for our church from the massive vision statement presented at this year’s assembly might see this as a means to help narrow it down.
I also found this General Assembly gave me a good deal of reassurance that in spite of the wide spectrum of theological positions represented among us, it seems that we are committed to remain an orthodox—in the most generous sense of the word—Christ-centred denomination in the Reformed tradition.
However, even though my experience of General Assembly was better than I expected it to be, I do have a suggestion I think could help strengthen General Assembly and assist commissioners to make more informed decisions in the future.
This comes because I was struck by the fact that the issues which generated the most conversation and debate were issues that we as commissioners were the least qualified to deal with—for example, environmental issues and pension plans.
I have a hunch that in the future commissioners will be called upon more and more to make decisions regarding issues for which they have no formal training and no experience in scripturally and theologically evaluating information about these issues.
I would be interested to know what Christian economic theorists think about our pension situation and what our response should be? What do Christian biologists and ecologists think about climate change and the science being used to support or deny it? What do Christian political scientists think about the situation in Israel and the Middle East and how it could be addressed?
Perhaps future guest speakers at our assemblies might include some excellent scholars from Reformed institutions. Three who come to mind, all from Redeemer College University, are political scientist Dr. David Koyzis, biologist Dr. Gary Chiang or business professor Susan Van Weelden. I’m sure there are many others.
I know that I would certainly benefit as a commissioner from being advised by Christian scholars whose expertise and commitment to integrating the Christian faith into their respective disciplines can help us determine how we can respond with an intentionally Christian and biblical worldview to the increasingly complex issues in our world.
So, General Assembly … how would I summarize my first time experience? I went there somewhat hesitant, standing on the edge, observing … and what I saw God doing among us has convinced me that it’s a good thing to take a step forward and get my feet wet.