Sensitive pastoral resources and guidance approved

5.10.2021 | General Assembly, Church in Society, Church Life, Resources

This afternoon, members of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), meeting in Belfast today discussed and approved resources for local congregations on a number of sensitive areas.

The resources - ‘Credible profession of faith and admission to the sacraments: A framework for discussion for Kirk Sessions’ and ‘Guidance for pastoral care of same-sex attracted people and their families’ – were subject to the widest and most comprehensive consultations within the Church in recent times and approved today by Members of Assembly from PCI’s 500-plus congregations.

Produced by the General Council’s Implementation Task Group, it was established in 2018 to address the remit given to it by that year’s General Assembly that, ‘appropriate training be offered to kirk sessions on the theology and practice of the Church’s understanding of a ‘credible profession of faith’ and the pastoral guidelines on homosexuality.’

The Task Group was appointed and directed to put together a resource with a clear pastoral tone to be used by kirk sessions. This remit was broadened by the General Council to include training on a general approach to ‘a credible profession of faith’ as well as lifestyle issues. Two groups were therefore formed to look at the issues of ‘Credible Profession’ and ‘Guidance for pastoral care’. The draft resources were sent down to PCI’s19 regional presbyteries for discussion and comment, which has informed the resources that the General Assembly approved this afternoon.

The Framework states from the outset, ‘One of the joys of church life is accompanying individuals on a journey to exploring, experiencing and expressing faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord.’ That journey can lead ultimately to an individual seeking membership of the Church or baptism. The report discussed by the General Assembly seeks to support kirk sessions in that journey focussing, as the report also states, on ‘…the role and responsibility for ministers and ruling elders to guide and shepherd the flock and to do so in a way that is loving…’

During the work of the Task Group some common themes also emerged, relating to bringing young people and adults with additional needs into membership of the Church. The General Assembly agreed to a resolution to establish a Task Group on this.

The ‘Guidance for pastoral care’, with particular reference to people with same-sex attraction, also aimed at kirk sessions and those who provide pastoral care within congregations, was also approved by the General Assembly. As the guidance states ‘It is not meant to be exhaustive but to offer some practical help in this sensitive area.’

In the autumn of 2017, the General Council also established the Human Identity Task Group as a means of seeking a Biblical and pastoral response to the complex and often difficult issues facing PCI members, families, ministers, congregations and wider society, in relation to gender identity.

From the outset, the Task Group was conscious of the urgent need to resource PCI in order to, as the report states, ‘…help it navigate this publicly contested, highly nuanced and rapidly developing debate around gender identity. These issues are important but in congregational life what matters most is that those who struggle, and those close to them, receive good pastoral care that is full of God’s love and truth.’

The resource is intended to help equip those who provide pastoral care rather than to be given to those in need of pastoral care. With Presbyteries having been consulted on the framework, this was the first time that gender identity had been discussed on the floor of the General Assembly.

Following the debate, the resource, ‘A Biblical Framework and Guidance for Pastoral Care of People who Struggle with Gender Identity’, was approved, with one small amendment to the section entitled ‘Practical guidance for being a caring fellowship’.

The General Council, which produced the recourses, is the most senior of the General Assembly’s councils and commissions. In agreeing the order of business, on Monday the General Assembly decided that item 9 of the General Council's Report (Section 2), which included the reports of the Implementation Task Group and Human Identity Task Group, should be taken in private session.

The General Assembly will meet in Assembly Buildings until the afternoon of Wednesday, 6 October. Business also took place on Monday evening and will take place on Tuesday evening. For full details visit the General Assembly Overview page here.   As in previous years, throughout the General Assembly there will be a live Twitter feed. You can follow preceedings via @pciassembly hashtag #PCIGA21.

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