Standing Commission meets to carry on GA's work

5.6.2020 | General Assembly, Moderator, Church in Society, Church Life

The body appointed to take decisions on behalf of the cancelled General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has expressed its sympathy to all who have lost loved ones during the Covid 19 crisis.

The 25 member 2020 Standing Commission of the General Assembly met by video conference on Monday evening to elect Dr David Bruce as Moderator for the year, in a livestreamed installation service from Assembly Buildings in Belfast. It continued to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, again via video conference, to fulfil its remit by conducting much of the business that would normally be dealt with by the General Assembly each June. As he would have chaired the General Assembly, the Moderator chaired the Standing Commission.

Talking about the work of the Commission, the Clerk of the General Assembly and PCI’s General Secretary, Rev Trevor Gribben said, “The reason why we had to cancel our General Assembly and meet virtually as a Standing Commission was because of the Covid 19 emergency. Given that, and the impact that Coronavirus has had on our families, friends and fellow citizens across Ireland, it was important that we expressed our sympathy to all who have suffered and lost loved ones.”

In its resolution, the Standing Commission expressed on behalf of the whole Church, ‘its sympathy to all who have lost loved ones during the Covid 19 crisis, particularly where they have not been able to be with them in their final hours, nor to gather to share memories and support at the time of funerals.’

The Commission also expressed the denomination’s appreciation ‘to all those in both jurisdictions whose committed and dedicated service over these past months, both in the frontline and behind the scenes, has helped to save and protect lives and has ensured that many essential services have been maintained’ and thanked ‘those who have given leadership, both as elected politicians and in wider society, in what have been, and remain, exceptionally challenging times.’

Before the Standing Commission were Reports from PCI’s Councils and Commissions which detailed the work of the Church since the 2019 General Assembly and over 70 related resolutions that would enable that work to continue.

“The General Assembly has never delegated this kind of authority to a single group before, which shows just how unprecedented these times are. Given the responsibility given to them, members of the Standing Commission were intensely aware of the need to act wisely and responsibly as they tried to prayerfully sense the mind of the Church, and more importantly, the will of the Lord, in the decisions that it took,” Mr Gribben explained.

He also said that over a busy two-day period, the Standing Commission took a series of routine non-controversial, but necessary decisions that needed to be taken on behalf of the General Assembly. These included, for example, the acceptance of six candidates as students for the Ordained Ministry, nominations to various committees along with a range of other important, but non-contentious decisions.

It also remitted to a Special Meeting of the General Assembly for its consideration, when it is able to meet again as a large gathering, almost all resolutions which were establishing new policy. For instance, resolutions regarding decision making and dissent within the Presbyterian Church were remitted for consideration at a full General Assembly meeting.

The Commission also sent down two reports to the Church’s 19 regional Presbyteries for discussion and comment: the draft resource on ‘credible profession’ along with the draft updated pastoral guidelines on same sex attraction, and the draft pastoral guidelines for pastoral care of those who struggle with gender identity, and their families. The work on these reports had begun at earlier General Assemblies, and the final decision on them will be made at the 2021 General Assembly.

Mr Gribben said that the Standing Commission did take some significant decisions on behalf of the General Assembly that were time sensitive. These included the adoption of a new and exciting ‘Vision for Union Theological College’ (UTC), the approval of a new undergraduate partnership between UTC and St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and the appointment of the Rev Professor Gordon Campbell as Principal of Union Theological College, for a three-year term, commencing on 1 January 2021. The Commission also appointed Rev Dr David Allen as Deputy Clerk of the General Assembly, which again will take effect from 1 January 2021.

Mr Gribben concluded by saying, “As a Church, when we come together in General Assembly, we do so in an accountable and transparent manner. In that spirit, so that all Ministers and Kirk Sessions are kept as fully informed as possible, the Moderator and I have written to ministers today detailing the work of the Standing Commission. The letter also included a separate document that gives a comprehensive report from the Standing Commission detailing all of the decisions taken over these last few days.”

The Clerk of the General Assembly also said that a full and comprehensive ‘Blue Book’ would be published and distributed to all members of Assembly in advance of an anticipated Special Assembly – hopefully in the autumn of this year, or spring of 2021, depending on government guidance on meetings. The Blue Book would contain a report of the Standing Commission and the decisions that it took and the reports of the Church’s Council’s and Commissions, all of which would be debated and discussed.

Photos (1) Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and PCI’s General Secretary, reporting the results of the nominations for Moderator and proposing the name of  Rev Dr David Bruce at the Opening Night of the 2020 Standing Commission of the General Assembly, which was held on Monday evening (2) The Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, addressing the Standing Commission - and the wider Church - via video conference.

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