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Archive for March, 2009

This page lists our postings from all of March

For an index to all our reports and analyses
on the 219th General Assembly

For links to all our archive pages, listed by months, click here.

3/31/09
Northern New York and Long Island presbyteries continue support for inclusion and justice

The Presbytery of Northern New York approved Amendment 08-B by voice vote today, following its pattern of support for ordination of LGBT Presbyterians in the past. 

Terry de la Vega, an Elder in First Presbyterian Church, Potsdam, NY, says:  "The votes were not counted, so we do not know the exact level of support, which was kind of anti-climactic for me. In any case, when we gave our voice vote, Yes was decidedly louder than No, which was good enough for our moderator to call it. I hope and pray the momentum keeps going until we reach 87 Yes presbyteries!"

To which we can only say Amen!

And the Presbytery of Long Island, also meeting today, voted by 78 to 29 to approve Amendment 08-B.

That leaves the tally of presbytery votes at 64 in favor of Amendment 08-B, and 81 opposed.

Thanks to Michael Adee of MLP, and Tricia Dykers Koenig
of Covenant Network, for these reports.

Click here for our earlier reports on Amendment 08-B, and links to many other sources.

3/30/09
GAC closes $9.92 million 2009 mission budget gap

Global economic crisis, strategic planning shape package of expense cuts, use of reserves

Net total of 44 positions are being eliminated

LOUISVILLE ― March 27, 2009 — The General Assembly Council (GAC) closed a $9.92 million shortfall in the 2009 General Assembly Mission Budget today (March 27), making budget reductions of $3.99 million and using unspent previous year revenue totaling $5.93 million.

In doing so, the council reduced the mission budget from $110,885,317 ― which it approved last September ― to $106,914,584. The overall 4 percent budget reduction includes a 16 percent decrease in unrestricted spending and a 1 percent increase in restricted expenditures.

The budget cuts announced today include the elimination of 14 incumbent positions and 19 vacant positions at the Presbyterian Center here.

Combined with personnel actions prior to this meeting which impact the 2009 budget, the GAC staff has been reduced by a net total of 44 positions, with 56 positions eliminated and 12 new ones created. The GAC staff now numbers just over 400, not including mission co-workers, conference center staff at Ghost Ranch and Stony Point and other GAC-related entities.

The full report from Presbyterian News Service >>

For a list of all positions being cut, and a few new ones being created >>

From National Health Ministries

A brief report from the Aging in America Conference – and thoughts on the impending dissolution of National Health Ministries

We recently received this report from Patricia K. Gleich (Pat), Associate for National Health Ministries of the PC (USA). As that program will be disappearing, we believe they should be heard from just one last time.

Pat's Patter

I started putting together this newsletter from the Aging in America Conference, which I was fortunate to attend as the Presbyterian delegate on the National Interfaith Council on Aging (NICA) and finish it now during a time of great uncertainty about the future of National Health Ministries. Decisions by the GAC this week - forced by budget difficulties - will impact future programming of the NHM office. [WebWeaver’s note: Pat Gleich’s fears seem to have been justified. According to the decisions taken by the GAC and announced on March 27, 2009, the National Health Ministries program area has been eliminated. We find this beyond comprehension in this time when health issues are so urgent for so many.] 

And so, I write this newsletter knowing it might be the last correspondence from the office and my last opportunity to let what has become a vibrant and vital e-community know how profoundly grateful I have been to work with you. During this past almost 8 years (my first day at the center was 9-11!) I have met and talked with many of you at conferences, or worked with you on committees or task forces, but for some, we have simply been e-correspondents. My life and work have been so very enriched by these varied encounters.

And, once more, I'd like to affirm, the crucial work related to health ministries in congregations. Congregational health ministry provides the connection of a community and demonstrates the compassion of that community like nothing else. 

I think our work is even more critical now, as people are losing jobs and homes, and sometimes even hope. If your health ministry does not include support groups for people who are struggling, please add one. Create a place of psychological safety for people to be appropriately angry or sad or simply to express and have validated whatever feelings surface. We read of situations where people who have experienced job loss are too embarrassed to reveal it and go to great lengths hide their situation. I would like to think that in our congregations we find ways to let these folks know that they will not be viewed as any less valuable or competent or worthy.

Substance abuse, domestic violence and other unhealthy coping rise during times of increased stress. Be certain to be vigilant with people who might turn to uncharacteristic behaviors as they struggle to cope. This is not to target them, or demean them, but to help them. In our congregational care teams, we already understand that asking for help is rarely easy. At this time, people may appreciate an unsolicited gesture of kindness or appreciation or a barely perceptible net of safety. 

Now – back on topic with highlights from the Aging in America Conference

NICA is getting ready to launch an interactive website that will make it very much easier for individuals and adults who are looking for ideas and best practices in older adult ministry to not only find resources, but to find "communities" for discussion or simply conversation. I'm pretty certain that there will be an announcement about the launch of the new website, so watch the regular NICA website at NCOA - http://www.ncoa.org/ for the update.  

One of the other highlights of this conference was my opportunity to present the results of the Presbyterian Engagement in Volunteering study we did through the Presbyterian Panel last year. Some of the highlights of that study are contained below and the PowerPoint will also be hosted on the Healthy Living website. I'd also like to congratulate POAMN for earning and receiving a NICA Best Practices Award for their "certification program" – during the conference. 

Thank you for all that you do and I hope to hear from you still.

peace & grace
Pat

More presbyteries shift to support inclusive ordination

Of the six presbyteries meeting on Saturday, March 28, all six voted to ratify Amendment 08-B, which would remove the explicit ban on ordination of LGBP Presbyterians as elders or ministers.

Grace Presbytery (in the Dallas-Ft.Worth area of Texas) was presented with a recommendation by Presbytery Council to take No Action; rejecting that recommendation, they voted for Amendment 08-B by 203 to182, with 6 abstentions.

The Presbytery of Philadelphia also supported ordination equality for the first time in an amendment vote, by 152 to 139.

The Presbytery of Western New York (including Buffalo) returned to the supportive column after having taken no action (which has the effect of a 'no') in 2002.  Their vote was 66 Yes to 48 No.

Continuing their support of an inclusive church, two Upstate New York presbyteries voted to approve 08-B: Genesee Valley Presbytery's vote was 93 Yes to 24 No, while the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley voted 59 Yes to 23 No. New York City Presbytery also voted to approve the amendment by 76 to 25.

In 2001-2, a total of 42 presbyteries voted for justice and to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the Presbyterian Church (USA). This year, 62 presbyteries have already approved Amendment 09-B, while 81 have rejected it. So 143 out of a total of 173 presbyteries have voted. With 30 presbyteries yet to vote, those who support a just and inclusive church will need to work hard, pray with passion, and urge their friends to reflect deeply on this matter, and vote for a church that will more faithfully reflect the inclusive, capacious grace of God.

 

Hans Cornelder, editor of the PresbyWeb site, whose reporting on the voting has tended to emphasize the odds (if that’s the right word for a Presbyterian enterprise such as his!) against passage of the amendment, yesterday posted this evaluation of the tally as the voting nears its end:

March 29, with 30 of 173 votes yet to come

The proposal might pass

Fidelity and Chastity requirement is hanging by a thread

By Hans Cornelder, editor

Looking at the 2001/2002 margins in the presbyteries that yet have to vote, it appears very likely that the end result will be closer than 76-97. As a matter of fact, I think it is not entirely impossible that the proposal will pass. Why? Most of them had margins before that are smaller than or comparable to presbyteries that have changed sides.

More Light Presbyterians speaks out for ... 

“Re-Imagining Marriage, Gender & Confronting the Religious Violence of Defending Marriage” 

More Light Presbyterians is wholeheartedly committed to spiritual, ordination and marriage equality. While we are fully engaged in the national ratification campaign for the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B which offers spiritual and ordination equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians, achievements toward marriage equality are being made in civil society.

In recent days, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to approve legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry by a 186-179 vote and the Vermont State Senate voted 26-4 to approve pro-marriage equality legislation.

The Presbyterian Church (USA)'s long-standing commitments to non-discrimination in civil society based upon sexual orientation in addition to our long history of social justice should indeed instruct and inspire support for marriage equality in civil society and cause us to re-think a characterization of marriage between "a man and woman" that does not match God's creation.

In addition to sending Ordination Amendment 08-B for ratification, the 218th General Assembly commended the study of marriage. Marriage, from both a church and state perspective, is a faith conversation that merits much more thoughtful and faithful attention than simply declaring that "marriage is between a man and a woman." Defending that narrow understanding and proscription of marriage is an act of spiritual violence and civil injustice.

To help all of us understand that "defending marriage" does not advance thoughtful or faithful conversations about love, sexual ethics and marriage and it actually results in spiritual or religious violence, I recommend Professor Jon Pahl's recent article from the website of the University of Chicago's Divinity School. Click here for his article >>   Jon Pahl is Professor of the History of Christianity in North America at The Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.

Michael J. Adee, M.Div., Ph.D., Executive Director & Field Organizer
More Light Presbyterians
(505) 820-7082, michaeladee@aol.com , www.mlp.org

3/26/09

Network News is here!

The Winter 2009 issue of Witherspoon's newsletter is finally ready.  It includes essays on John Calvin (whose 500th birthday we commemorate this year) by former Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick and Gene TeSelle, plus Douglas Ottati's reflections on the state of the society and the church in these troubled times, plus other thoughts and resources for dealing with the current economic crisis. 

For a higher quality PDF version of this issue, in case you want to print it and share it (and we hope you will!), click here.

For a brief list of the contents of this issue, in your PDF browser go to page 40 - the back cover.  Lean far to the left (yes, really), and maybe you can read it.

Click here for earlier issues
Adobe PDF  And click here to download (free!) Adobe Reader software to view this and all PDF files.

God vs. Gay – thoughts from Lisa Larges

Right after the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Pacific ruled (apparently) against her proceeding with her candidacy for ordination, Lisa Larges wrote a strong, passionate and insightful essay on the church’s continuing rejection of LGBT people. She writes for a gay audience in The Advocate, and urges them to pay attention to religion and churches, even if they find little to attract or help them there.

She begins:

Like a colonoscopy or head lice, the word Christian is a conversation killer among LGBTs. So I will admit up front that whatever it is you’re thinking right now about Christians – hypocritical, antigay, anti-sex, anti-women, anti-choice – you’ve got plenty of evidence to back you up. Let’s also say, while we’re still here in the first paragraph, that whatever the church or its representatives did to you – whatever abuse, whatever violation of trust, whatever was said to make you believe that you were not a child of God in your whole beautiful queer self, whatever the silence in which you did not hear how infinitely and immeasurably God loves you -- whatever drove you out of the church is simply inexcusable. But unless our community changes the “God vs. Gays” paradigm, we will never achieve full equality. Nor will it be possible for so many of us to live out our truths. My truth, strange as it may be, is a calling to ministry. It’s also the truth of a lot of fierce and beautiful gay people I know, whose stories aren’t told often enough.

And she closes:

My wish – OK, since I’ve come out this far, I’ll say “my prayer” – is that all who seek spiritual strength in the Christian church will find it, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. That all may freely worship. That all may freely serve. That is my prayer.

So, amen anyway.

Now see what’s in between >>

Presbyterian Outlook reports on the Synod PJC decision >>

Outlook also reports Lisa Larges' comments in response >>

Dr. Jack Rogers announces the soon-to-be published second edition of Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality

Rogers writes:

I am delighted to announce that today is the official publication day for the updated and expanded second edition of my book, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church!   More >>

3/25/09
Mixed decision handed down against Lisa Larges in her long pursuit of ordination

A ruling related to allegations that a regional church body acted improperly in considering the statement of conscience of Lisa Larges, an openly lesbian candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was announced earlier today by a regional commission of the church. In its eight page ruling, the commission rejected the procedural process used by the Presbytery of San Francisco to certify its applicants for ministry for candidacy for ordination in the Church. In ruling on the procedural issue, the church commission effectively set aside the certification of Lisa Larges. Certification would have allowed Larges to be examined for ordination.   More >>

Ecumenical Advocacy Days focuses on climate change

100 Presbyterians join 700 in Washington for education, advocacy

Presbyterian News Service reports on this year’s Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C., which centered on the theme of Christians’ responsibility to keep Earth from harm and to ensure that there is "Enough for All Creation."

 Fr. Sean McDonagh, a Columban Missionary priest and opening worship speaker for the March 13-17 conference, emphasized this call – "We must protect this planet, which is God's gift for us," he said. "Churches and religions can play a vital role in supplying consciousness."

Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community that works to strengthen the Christian voice and to advocate for a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues. Participants gather for a weekend of worship, theological reflection and education.

On the concluding Monday, some met with their state's senators and representatives to advocate for policies related to the theme of the conference.  The full report >>

3/21/09
Three more presbyteries shift to support inclusive ordination

Three more presbyteries voted on Saturday, March 21, to support Amendment 08-B, reversing their past rejections of inclusive ordination.

bulletThe Presbytery of Mackinac in Northern Michigan approved Amendment B by a vote of 44-32.
bulletNewark Presbytery voted by 42 to 8 in favor of the new Amendment B.
bulletThe Presbytery of West Virginia from 92-114-4, in 2001-02, to a very convincing 93-56-2.

In addition to these three that shifted to support change, the Presbytery of Grand Canyon (Arizona, including Phoenix) continued its support, in spite of an official committee recommendation against approval.

There were also presbyteries continuing their rejection of the change: The Western Pennsylvania presbyteries of Redstone and Northumberland voted 'no' today, as did Abingdon (Western Virginia) and Olympia (Washington) on Thursday.

Thanks to Steven Hammond, Pastor of Alpena (Michigan) Presbyterian Church, John Shuck of First Presbyterian Church, Elizabethton, Tenn., and Tricia Dykers-Koenig of Covenant Network, for these reports.

John Shuck concludes his report: 

Score? 51-79. We need a hero. We actually need 36 heroic presbyteries to go blue.

For more Witherspoon reports on the voting on 08-B, and links to other sources >>

We welcome your reports and comments
on voting in other presbyteries. 
Just send a note!

3/18/09
US endorses UN gay rights text

The Associated Press reports that earlier today (Wednesday, March 18) the Obama administration formally endorsed a U.N. statement calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality, a measure that former President George W. Bush had refused to sign.

The move was the administration's latest in reversing Bush-era decisions that have been heavily criticized by human rights and other groups. The United States was the only western nation not to sign onto the declaration when it came up at the U.N. General Assembly in December.

"The United States supports the U.N.'s statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity and is pleased to join the other 66 U.N. member states who have declared their support of the statement," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

"The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world," Wood told reporters. "As such, we join with other supporters of this statement, and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora."

More >>

Thanks to Paul Capetz for this welcome bit of news.

3/17/09

Join Christian Peace Witness for Iraq in Washington, D.C.!

Register now!

WORSHIP & WITNESS

Wednesday, April 29

National City Christian Church

12:30-1:30 p.m Opening Convocation

Diana Butler Bass - Episcopalian, author, and Senior Fellow at the Cathedral College of Washington National Cathedral
Noah Baker Merrill
- Quaker, Cofounder of Direct Aid Iraq, a humanitarian and peacebuilding effort working with Iraqi refugees

2:00 p.m Nonviolence training
2:00 p.m Advocacy training
4:30 Legal Briefing for Nonviolent Direct Action
7:00 p.m. Worship

Washington Convention Center

Featured Preachers & Speakers include:

Tony Campolo — Author, pastor, social activist, sociologist, and passionate follower of Jesus

Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. — Minister, community activist, president of the Hip Hop Caucus, and U.S. Air Force Reserve Veteran

Sr. Dianna Ortiz — U.S. born survivor of torture in Guatemala, Founder of Torture Abolition and Survivors' Support Coalition International

Elizabeth McAlister — Peace activist and co-founder of Jonah House

Daniel Berrigan — Catholic priest, poet, peace activist

Worship continues with candlelight procession to White House
Rev. Raphael Warnock – Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, the spiritual home of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, April 30, 9:00 a.m.

Witness and Nonviolent Action at the Capitol

Kathy Kelly – Catholic, Kelly has been to Iraq 24 times and lived in Baghdad throughout the “shock and awe” bombardment of March 2003

For more information, and to register >>!

More voting on Amendment 08-B

No big surprises in last weekend’s presbytery votes

Just in -- another happy surprise:

The Presbytery of West Jersey, meeting today, switched from its 2001-02 vote to support Amendment 08-B, by 88 for to 80 against.

Thanks to Sonnie Swentson

Recent presbytery votes have pretty much followed their patterns in past votes, with presbyteries that have supported inclusive ordination continuing to do so, and opponents remaining opposed.

The votes for the Amendment 08-B came in these presbyteries:

bulletNorthern New England: 57-30
bulletTwin Cities Area: 138-54-10
bulletCascades: 150-48

Presbyteries voting against the amendment all did so by a narrower margin than in the past – except for San Juan (Puerto Rico) which acted by a voice vote. The other presbyteries were:

bulletPittsburgh:105-206-1
bulletMuskingum Valley: 44-70-2
bulletProvidence (North Central South Carolina): 39-48-4.
bulletHanmi (a non-geographic Korean presbytery, in the Synod of Southern California and Hawai'i): 1-30. Somebody had real courage there!

This leaves the total vote count at 46 for the amendment, and 74 opposed. But a number of presbyteries that have been supportive of inclusive ordination have yet to vote, so it’s not over!

Michael Adee, of More Light Presbyterians, offers some helpful reflections on “where we’re at” right now.  See the next item below.

Thanks to Tricia Dykers-Koenig of Covenant Network,
and many others, for providing helpful information.

Concerned about 08-B? Vote Tally: Fear Not. Have Faith. Continue Praying. And Keep Working.

Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians writes:

A recent story from the Presbyterian News Service suggested that "the signs" in the ratification voting process on 08-B so far indicate two things: incredible shifts toward LGBT equality are clear since 2001-2 across our Church and in many surprising places as indicated in the number of presbyteries that have "flipped" from opposition then to support now; and that the current voting tally clearly shows that our Church will not ratify the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B.

I agree wholeheartedly with the first sign which is obvious — that our Church is opening up to God's Spirit and leading us away from discrimination against our LGBT sisters and brothers; and there is much to disagree with the "foregone conclusion" of the second, that 08-B cannot be passed now.

A surface read of the current 08-B tally of 43 YES - 73 NO with 116 presbyteries having voted might lead one to such a conclusion that 08-B cannot be passed now. But I invite all of us to look beneath the surface. Bruce Hahne, Elder, First Presbyterian Church, Palo Alto, CA and a recent MLP Board member, has been crunching the numbers, doing thoughtful analysis, looking at trends, etc., and he reports that there is much more story to be told, beneath the surface. Hahne's analysis from today gives us more accurate information than a surface read of the tally or a foregone conclusion that 08-B cannot pass now.

More >>

Lisa Larges going to court (church court, that is) again

Lisa Larges, who has been a candidate for ministry for over 20 years, and who remains convinced of her call to ministry, is still being challenged by another judicial proceeding which will come before the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Pacific very shortly.

Ray Bagnuolo, an ordained Presbyterian minister who is also an out gay man, has written a strong and loving affirmation of Lisa and her cause. Andhe invites us all to join in prayer with and for her in these days.

More on Bagnuolo’s blog >>

Added later:

Lisa's Synod of the Pacific PJC trial is this Friday, March 20.  That All May Freely Serve has more about this >>   Prayers for Lisa and the process are invited!

3/14/09
More presbyteries vote on Amendment 08-B

Twin Cities Area says Yes – again

Witherspoon member Peter Soulen reports that the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, meeting today at Faith Presbyterian Church, Minnetonka, Minn. approved Amendment 08-B by a vote of 138 Yes, to 54 No, with 10 abstentions. [So Amendment B received 71.9% of the Yes votes. The 2001-02 vote for inclusion was by a margin of 63.8%.]

Muskingum Valley again says No to inclusion

This report comes to us from Witherspooner Gordon Shull:

You may have learned that Muskingum Valley Presbytery defeated Amendment 08-B, today, by a vote of 44-70.  The debate was conducted fairly, with two minutes allowed per speaker, and rigorously enforced; all who wished to speak were heard. I attach the talk I gave.

Opposition arguments were almost entirely based on simplistic interpretations of scripture. Supporting arguments dealt with scripture, experiences with gay family and parishioners, and the merits of some features of Amendment B. One opponent urged us to give the PUP proposal a try. Another was all in a tizzy over the Amendment's reference to transgendered and bisexual people - as if they require separate treatment.

My own assessment is that people came with their minds made up. I doubt that more than a few minds were changed by our eloquence. But I wish that supporters had lined up a series of 2-minuters on the scriptural issues.

This report comes to us from Witherspooner Gordon Shull

[So we note that in Muskingum Valley, Amendment B received 38.6% of the votes as affirmative; in 2001-02, it received just 30.4% of the votes.]

For more Witherspoon reports on the voting on 08-B, and links to other sources >>

We welcome your reports and comments
on voting in other presbyteries. 
Just send a note!

Membership named to Belhar Confession panel

from Sharon Youngs, OGA Communications Coordinator (March 11, 2009)

The individuals who will serve on the Special Committee to Consider Amending the Confessional Documents of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to Include the Belhar Confession in The Book of Confessions have been announced.

The 218th General Assembly (2008) of the PC(USA) took action to initiate the process to consider including the Belhar Confession in the church's confessional documents by appointing a committee to study the possible addition.  More >>

Presidential elections to be held Sunday in El Salvador

Here’s a look at expectations for change and the challenges ahead

Salvadorans will go to the polls tomorrow to elect a new president in what many expect to be a close race, increasing tensions in the country and the possibility of conflict. A helpful and informative memo from the Washington Office on Latin America analyzes the current political panorama, the electoral process and mechanisms for observation, the platforms and positions of the two candidates, and coming challenges in electoral reform for Sunday’s victorious candidate.

For the full memo >>

Sheriff Arpaio object of Justice Department probe

MSNBC reports, based on a report from the East Valley Tribune, that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff's Department over allegations of discriminatory practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures.

In a letter dated Tuesday to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the department's Civil Rights Division said investigators will focus on alleged patterns of discriminatory police practices and on allegations of discrimination based on a person's national origin.

As we reported on Feb. 10, Arpaio has gained national notoriety for several controversial practices, including ongoing efforts to arrest and humiliate undocumented immigrants in the Phoenix area.

Michelle Obama visits Presbyterian homeless feeding program in DC
 
First Lady Michelle Obama serves food with volunteers at Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.
Presbyterian News Service reports:

As First Lady, one of Michelle Obama's priority issues is nutrition. On March 5 she visited and served meals at Miriam's Kitchen for the Homeless at Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.

She praised the program as a model for its emphasis on creating a menu that severely limits sugar intake while emphasizing the use of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole wheat baked goods. She noted there is a high incidence of diabetes among the poor. Serving the poor food loaded with sugar and high fat content simply exacerbates existing health problems.          

Since 1983, Miriam's Kitchen has been serving over 200 homeless people daily at Western Church. In 1994, neighbors attempted to shut the program down citing the zoning code. However, citing the First Amendment Constitutional right to practice religious beliefs, a U.S. federal court issued a permanent injunction barring the city from interfering with the congregation's work with the homeless.           

The chef at Miriam's Kitchen, Steve Badt, worked at a high-end restaurant in New York City prior to making his commitment to improve the nutritional health of the homeless. Badt's work at Miriam's Kitchen has been recognized in People Magazine, The Washington Post, The Today Show, the Food Network, CNN and elsewhere.

Register for the Big Tent

"and the Word became flesh . . ."
June 11-13, 2009
Hyatt Regency Downtown · Atlanta, Georgia

 
Big TentThe Psalmist looks toward the day when love and faithfulness meet, justice and peace will embrace (Psalm 85:10).
 
Bring your hopes and yearnings for peace and justice to Atlanta and network with Presbyterians at the Big Tent - a first ever gathering of 10 PC(USA) conferences. The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Presbyterian Health, Education & Welfare Association will each host one of the conferences. (Note: Early-bird registration has been extended through March 30.)
 
The Presbyterian Health, Education & Welfare Association's Biennial Social Justice Conference moves from January to June to be part of the celebration at the Big Tent. Since 1956, PHEWA has been a prophetic arm of the PC(USA) working with marginalized communities and those who serve those communities. Come to learn and share. Come and discover a community of support. Come to pray, sing and show that justice is alive and vibrant in the PC(USA). Download a schedule for the Social Justice Biennial Conference. [PDF]
 
Jesus calls and empowers us to make peace with our neighbors around the corner and across God's world. Peacemaking Conference participants will have the opportunity to visit significant sites in metropolitan Atlanta where peacemaking is taking place, share stories from our own neighborhoods, and engage in public witness, small group discussions and conversations on current issues as we explore how to do justice and seek peace. Download a printer-friendly [PDF] flier about the 2009 Peacemaking Conference and a bulletin insert [PDF] to promote the conference.
 
Register now and join us at the Big Tent.

From Mark Koenig of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program

3/11/09
More votes on Amendment 08-B

Two more presbyteries shift to support change

Again yesterday (Tuesday, March 10) two presbyteries shifted from opposing an inclusive church to supporting Amendment 08-B, which would take the Presbyterian Church one more step toward making “ordination standards” a matter of faith and life, and not of sexual identity.

The Presbytery of Transylvania voted by 84 to 61 to approve the amendment, having voted by 50 to 83 against change in 2001-02. And Eastminster voted for the change by 60 to 39, with two abstentions, where they voted 54 to 65 against the 2001 proposed amendment.

Peter Smith, of the Louisville Courier-Journal, reports on the action of Transylvania Presbytery, which is in Eastern Kentucky.

Not leaving well enough alone, Smith also reports that the percentage of Presbyterian (USA) pastors who are obese has risen from 14 to 27 percent since 1991, and those of normal weight are down from 44 to 31 percent.  That's thanks to a recent study by the PC(USA) Research Offices.

[3-12-09]

Lake Michigan Presbytery and New Brunswick both continued their support for change.

One presbytery – Riverside – rejected the change, but by a much narrower margin (45-53) than in 2001-02 (18-94).

San Gabriel voted to reject the amendment, and Nevada rejected it by a wider margin than before

So the total presbytery vote tally now stands at 42 approving the amendment, and 69 rejecting it.

Presbyterian News Service’s latest report on the voting, from Jerry Van Marter, portrays the amendment as “trailing,” but describes the voting as “closer than last time.”

Blogger John Shuck analyzes the voting and concludes that in numerous presbyteries the margin by which the amendment has been rejected have been very close (and in three the vote has been tied, which counts as a defeat that would have been reversed by one vote). So a few more votes could be making a big difference.

Shuck also notes the most recent report on The Layman’s website, which views with alarm the trend toward change.

You want more??  Here are links to some of the sites that are providing tallies of the voting:

Presbyweb
Presbyterian Welcome
Covenant Network
Bruce Hahne
Layman
Presbyterian Coalition
Florida governor will meet with Immokalee Workers

On Monday, March 9th at the State Capitol Building in Tallahassee, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their allies held a dramatic press conference and delivered over 39,000 signatures on letters to Gov. Crist, calling on him to meet with the CIW to address modern-day slavery in the fields. We endeavored, in the famous words of the prophet Habakkuk, to make the vision plain.

We've just learned that Governor Crist has agreed to meet with the CIW on March 25th in Tallahassee.

Your efforts in signing and circulating the Religious Community Letter to Gov. Crist played a critical role in gaining this meeting. Thank you! We'll keep you posted on the outcome of the meeting and any other important news.   More >>

From Campaign for Fair Food, PC(USA)
 

3/9/09
An update from PC(USA) Campaign for Fair Food

The Rev. Noelle Damico, of the Presbyterian Campaign for Fair Food, reports on the ongoing efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to end modern-day slavery in the fields of Florida.

CIW is holding a press conference today (Monday, March 9, 2009) on the capital steps in Tallahassee, urging Gov. Crist to meet with them and to deal with their concerns about the enslavement of farmworkers in Florida.

More >>

How are congregations responding to the urgent needs of people in this time of economic crisis?

Steve Thorngate, assistant editor and Web editor of The Christian Century, contributes a brief blog to the Century’s “Theolog” in which he raises the question and mentions a few responses. You may want to check in on the conversation and add ideas and experiences of your own.   More >>

3/5/09
Capetz restoration case sent back to synod PJC

Test case on ‘scrupling’ must be tried, GAPJC rules

Presbyterian News Service reports that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s highest court has remanded back to a lower church court a case that will decide whether a former minister who refuses to promise that he will live in celibacy may be restored to active ministry.

The case revolves around Paul Capetz, a former PC(USA) minister and seminary professor who was ordained in 1991 but in 2000 set aside his ordination because of his conscientious objection to G-6.0106b of the church’s Book of Order, which requires of church officers “fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”  The rest of the story >>

Rick Ufford-Chase reflects on Israel’s attack on Gaza

Now serving as Executive Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the former Moderator of the PC(USA) has recently shared these thoughts in a email note to PPF members.

He begins:

I expect that I am not alone in my bewilderment about how to respond to the violence of Israel’s attack on Gaza in December and January. The roots of this conflict are deep, and it is difficult to understand the complexities of the many players in this struggle. For me, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s consistent commitment to nonviolence offers the only viable path to develop a grounded response to the ongoing conflict.

That commitment means we can be clear that the violence of the oppressive occupation of Gaza and the West Bank by the State of Israel must come to an end. ...

The violence of illegal land seizures beyond the 1967 boundaries for the establishment of Settlements in the West Bank must also come to an end. ...

The full note >>

Another important note from Rick and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship:

Join us for the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq in Washington D.C. on April 28 and 29!

Events will begin with the Opening Convocation at National City Church on the afternoon of the 28th, followed by the worship service and candlelight procession that evening at the Convention Center.

Speakers will include Tony Campolo, Sr. Dianna Ortiz, Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., Elizabeth McAlister and Daniel Berrigan.

The following morning, Thursday the 29th, there will be a nonviolent action to lift up our continuing commitment to see the war in Iraq brought to an end.

Registration is now open for the event at www.christianpeacewitness.org .

Also, please contact us at ppfwitness@presbyvoicesforjustice.org if you are interested in sharing floorspace with us at a church near a metro stop.

School of the Americas Watch announces delegations to Latin America for 2009

Lisa Sullivan, who serves as SOA Watch’s Latin America Coordinator, sends the latest information on SOA Watch delegations to Latin America during 2009.     More >>

Immigrant busts faulted

We recently reported on the abusive and humiliating treatment of undocumented immigrants by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Arizona's Maricopa County. The Wall Street Journal (yes, really) reports on anti-immigrant campaign as an outgrowth of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that trains local police to arrest illegal immigrants suspected of committing serious crimes. According to the Journal, this so-called 287g program, which has been seen as a symbol of the Bush administration's crackdown on illegal immigration, “has expanded without appropriate oversight, leading to the arrest of thousands for minor infractions, according to a study scheduled to be released Wednesday.”

The full story is posted on Truthout.org >>
Or read it directly on the Wall Street Journal website >>

3/3/09
Another presbytery shifts to support inclusive ordination

Yellowstone Presbytery voted earlier today in favor of Amendment 08-B by a vote of 25 yes, 23 no, 1 abstain.

This is another major shift, for a presbytery which has voted consistently against equality in the past.

The total tally now stands at 37 yes – 57 no.

Thanks to John Shuck for this good news

Click here for a full page of reports and commentary on this major concern in the PC(USA) >>

Witherspooner Bill Coop has shared with us his message to Leon Howell’s widow, Barbara
3/2/09
Presbytery voting on Amendment 08-B continues

The past week was not a good one for those seeking a welcoming, inclusive church.

Thirteen presbyteries voted during the past week on the constitutional amendments proposed by the 2008 General Assembly. Of those, ten have been clearly opposed to removing the effective ban on ordination for lgbt Presbyterians which was added to the Book of Order a few years ago in the form of provision G-6.0106b.

Proponents of the new pro-inclusion amendment had some hope that one presbytery, Indian Nations, might well shift this year to supporting the change, since its last vote, in 2001-02, was split 52 to 52 on a pro-inclusion amendment. That tie vote was counted as a rejection of the proposed change, but it was pretty close. This year, though, opponents of change were ready to resist.

They moved that the vote should be taken on 08-B without presentations or discussion. Their motion was passed, in a clear rejection of the call by the 2008 General Assembly for a careful process of discernment throughout the church.

So the week ended with 11 presbyteries rejecting the amendment, and 2 (Hudson River and Milwaukee) continuing their strong support for change – both by even higher margins than in 2001-02. As Bruce Hahne notes, though, most of those rejecting the amendment still saw an increase in the number of commissioners supporting it. The tide is clearly turning!

That leaves the total tally so far at 36 presbyteries approving the amendment, and 57 rejecting it.

Bruce Hahne, who is keeping a careful tally of the voting, complete with analysis and commentary, offers a list of four tactics that appear to be used in various situations by opponents of Amendment 08-B:

Here are some popular tactics that can be used by anti-equality groups to game the voting system so that pro-equality overtures have a reduced probability of success at the presbytery level:
 
bullet"Stifle the Spirit" tactic: Don't allow discussion of the equality overture, just go directly to a vote. Variation: schedule only a token time interval for discussion.
bullet"Public intimidation" tactic: Don't use secret ballots -- make people stand up in the middle of presbytery meeting to have their vote counted. Works particularly well in presbyteries with a strong majority on either side.
bullet"Endurance test" tactic: Schedule the vote on the overture at the end of a 7-hour meeting so that younger voters with kids at home have to leave before the vote.
bullet"Consent calendar" tactic: Put a "no" vote on the overture onto the consent calendar to try to sneak it through. Even if pro-equality supporters catch this trick, they then have to go through procedural hoops on the floor of presbytery to get the item removed from the consent calendar.

For more information and comment:

bullet A full page on this Witherspoon site >>
bulletMore Light Presbyterians >>
bullet John Shuck’s blog, Shuck & Jive >>
bullet Bruce Hahne’s vote tracking and commentary >>

WITNESS IN WASHINGTON WEEKLY
The Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
March 2, 2009

This week's messages are--- 

•           Protect Women Around the World – Support the International Violence Against Women Act

•           President Releases Fiscal Year 2010 Budget

This section on the proposed federal budget includes brief, very helpful comments specifically on the proposals dealing with health care reform, climate change, and "everything else" -- plus a nice clarification of the deficit spending question. 

And as is often done in the Washington Office communications, there is a useful listing of relevant General Assembly statements from recent years.

•           Urge the Administration and Congress to Ban Cluster Bombs

•           Psalm 119:73-80 -- The Glories of God's Law

Interfaith Worker Justice urges an end to continuing raids on immigrant workers

Their message:

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor. We commend President Obama's choice of Ms. Solis, a Congresswoman from Los Angeles who is the daughter of immigrant workers and is a longtime fighter for the rights of workers. Well done, Mr. President!

Yesterday there was also the first workplace immigration raid under the Obama administration at a factory in Bellingham, Washington, that rebuilds Japanese car engines and transmissions. Immigration authorities arrested and chained 28 workers, including three mothers.

Workplace raids hurt our communities, businesses, and all workers. With the economic crisis, this is a terrible time for raids.

Call the White House today: 202-456-1414

Or e-mail the White House here http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Or fax a letter to 202-456-2461

Tell President Obama 

•           Thanks for the wonderful appointment of Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor

•           Thanks for your leadership in facing the economic crisis, passing the stimulus and working to create jobs in our communities.

•           Stop all workplace raids and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Please e-mail me at tsmukler@iwj.org to let us know that you called or wrote a letter.

In Peace and Justice,

Ted Smukler
Public Policy Director
Interfaith Worker Justice
www.iwj.org

More on immigration issues from Witherspoon >>

Evolution Weekend 2009 shows growth in participation and media coverage    

We have reported before on the continuing effort of TheClergyLetterProject.org to encourage reasonable discussion on the perceived tensions between science and faith – especially the efforts of various conservative religious groups to require the teaching of “creation science” in the schools.

Michael Zimmerman, of Butler University, reports on recent observances of “Evolution Weekend,” and a couple related matters.

Zimmerman’s note to members of the group:

Now that Evolution Weekend 2009 has successfully passed, it seems a good time to catch up on events – as well as to present a fair bit of additional news.

I think it is fair to say that the success of Evolution Weekend 2009 exceeded even my most optimistic expectations. Our latest count shows that 1,045 congregations from 15 countries participated (www.evolutionweekend.org). Because the media coverage was so extensive, with reports ranging from NPR to Fox News, we reached a huge number of folks. Most importantly, because of your efforts, the nature of the discussion about the relationship between religion and science has begun to change. Please check out some of the media coverage on our web site (http://www.butler.edu/clergyproject/Resources/Related_news.htm). If you have links to reports that are not listed there, please send them to me.

More >>

Leon Howell – former editor of Christianity & Crisis and a very good friend of Witherspoon – has died

We received word last week of the death of Leon Howell, journalist and leading thinking in the progressive wing of U.S. Christianity. His family said that Leon died at home in his sleep early Thursday, February 26, in Silver Spring, Maryland.

A memorial service will be held at 11:00 am on Tuesday, March 3 at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, One Chevy Chase Circle NW, Washington DC 20015.     More >>

A Witherspoon comment:

Jane Hanna, former president of the Witherspoon Society, has worked with Leon over the past few years as he has frequently led summer seminars at Ghost Ranch, which featured Leon in conversation and debate with various informed guests, on moral and ethical issues confronting our society today.

Jane wrote of Leon Howell:  “Frank [her husband] and I truly mourn his passing as we loved him greatly and just felt the week of ‘Discerning the Signs of Times’ seminar each summer to be one of each year's highlights. We will miss him greatly and although plans are already underway to continue the seminars into the future, his absence will very much be felt. Leon leaves as many friends from around the world as anyone I know. There is a lot of sadness with his passing.”

For an index to all our reports and analyses
on the 219th General Assembly

For links to all our archive pages, listed by months, click here.

 

GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.
 

If you like what you find here,
we hope you'll help us keep Voices for Justice going ... and growing!

Please consider making a special contribution -- large or small -- to help us continue and improve this service.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.

 

Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.

 

John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.

 

John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

 

Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!

 

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