The Assembly Council met for its semi-annual meeting at Crieff Hills Retreat and Conference Centre from November 24-26 with members coming from across the country to work together and ensure that the work of the church is carried out efficiently and effectively within the policies established by the General Assembly. The Assembly Council opened and closed in worship each day and pauses occasionally throughout the day for prayer and singing.
The Assembly Council is a coordinating body within the church, providing oversight and leadership in the work of the various national agencies and committees between meetings of the Assembly. It also responds to overtures, petitions and other matters assigned to it by the Assembly. The members of the Council represent a diversity of gender, race, age, geographic region, clergy and lay, and brings that diversity of experience in the church to the work of the Council as it seeks to be faithful in discerning the leading of the Spirit in the work that comes before it.
Using the consensus decision-making model first adopted at the March 2018 meetings, Assembly Council sought to align its discussion and decision-making with God’s will for the Church through reflective conversation.
The Assembly Council:
- Were advised that the National Presbyterian Museum will be renamed the Presbyterian Church Heritage Centre when it reopens in Carlisle, Ontario in early 2021.
- Welcomed Bob Faris and Sue Senior, co-conveners of the Rainbow Communion, and heard an update on their work of listening to LGBTQI people and others tell stories of harm done and grace received within and by the church. The Rainbow Communion’s full report and recommendations will be presented to the 2020 General Assembly.
- Affirmed the recommendation that the National Indigenous Ministries Council (NIMC) become a standing committee and that the $200,000 added to the annual budget for the committee through to 2029 be reviewed by General Assembly, through the Assembly Council, at any time, as needed.
- Heard and discussed the report from the General Assembly Design Team around the planning of the 2020 GA with the theme of “Visionary Leadership – Do Not Fear, I am with you,” based upon Isaiah 43:5. The Rev. Dr. Richard Topping, principal of Vancouver School of Theology, will be the preacher through the Assembly and worship will be supported by musician Glen Soderhom and liturgist Janet Ryu–Chan. The Design Team suggests foregoing the consensus-building process this year.
- Council affirmed the acceptance of the invitation of the Presbytery of Halifax & Lunenburg to host the General Assembly in 2021.
- Approved next steps in pursuing a Memorandum of Understanding that could lead to a relocation of the national office to shared facilities with The United Church of Canada at 300 Bloor Street in Toronto.
- Heard progress report from the fact-finding Gracious Dismissal Committee, who will report further in March.
- Welcomed the Rev.Charles Fensham, Professor of Systematic Theology at Knox College, who led the Council in the use of Church Doctrine Committee study document Living in God’s Mission Today.
- Affirmed the appointments of Dr. Allyson Carr as Associate Secretary of Justice Ministries and the Rev. Tim Purvis as the Associate Secretary of Ministry and Church Vocations. Council was encouraged that both have already made positive innovations to the work of their departments and significant contributions to the larger work of the church.
- Heard updates for many of the Life and Mission Agency programs that help congregations with growth and renewal:
- Canada Youth is in the planning stages for 2020 with the theme 20/20: No End in Sight!” (Ephesians 1:18).
- Cyclical PCC is a church planting initiative that has already gathered 34 leaders who are discerning a call to starting or are in the early stages of gathering a new worshipping community.
- Evangelism network is providing tools and coaching support necessary to create a culture of faith-sharing within their community
- Transform, the PCC’s stewardship and leadership conference, is being held in Orillia, Ontario, November 5–8, 2020.
- New resources include a Presbyterians Sharing Worship Resource, Legacy Sunday Worship Resource, Presbyterians Sharing annual resources, Gifts of Change catalogue and Stories of Mission study.
- Stewardship and Planning Giving Development Manager, Jim MacDonald, is providing support to congregations looking to incorporate digital giving.
- Presbyterian Connection newspaper shares the good news stories of congregations, ministries and the denomination as a whole. Currently, over 16,600 copies of each issue are distributed four times each year.
- Shared highlights of mission trips, including to: Guatemala, Israel and Palestine, ministries with Canadian Indigenous Peoples, Taiwan, Romania and Hungary.
- Heard about the process of garnering feedback from those affected by the remits to express their concerns, views and pain in a safe environment. Feedback was received through an online submission portal and an in-person listening process. The Life and Mission Agency Committee created an advisory committee that will review all submissions and oversee the creation of a complete and succinct report for the 2020 General Assembly.
- Approved recommendation to establish an effective cybersecurity policy to strengthen control and reduce the risk for IT systems and the use of technology within the national office of the PCC.
- Reviewed financials to date. The Assembly Council is grateful to God for all of the generous contributions from Presbyterians across the country. Their generosity enables the denomination to carry on its mission and ministry throughout Canada and around the world.
- Approved as policy the guidelines for the Amalgamation or Dissolution of Congregations, a resource for congregations and presbyteries that are considering or facilitating the amalgamation or dissolutions of congregations.
- Received an update from the Benevolence Committee who reported that $80,000 in the Student Bursaries Fund would be distributed to students at the three theological colleges in the following way:$23,000 to The Presbyterian College, $34,000 to Knox College and $23,000 to the Vancouver School of Theology. In addition, two individuals received grants from the Cameron Doctoral Bursary and 32 ministers and 62 children received gifts from the Fund of Ministerial Assistance.
- Welcomed Anne Phillips, Convener of the Human Resources Policy Committee, who shared highlights of the revisions to the Human Resources Policy Handbook.
- Provided feedback on the policy and procedures to address harassment in the church, which has been sent to Sessions, ministry boards, presbyteries, synods, camps, colleges and standing committees for study and report.
- Affirmed that working toward the goals of reconciliation has no time limit and that the needs and opportunities of ministry with Indigenous Peoples is both of central strategic importance and a long-term commitment of the denomination.
- Welcomed the Rev. Amanda Currie, Moderator of 2019 General Assembly, who shared about her experience as Moderator so far, including pictures of her visits to congregations, missions and ecumenical gatherings. Her travels included a visit to the Reformed Churches of Hungary and Romania in September. Amanda’s focus is on ecumenism so she has prioritized opportunities to visit ecumenical shared ministries and ecumenical partners, as well as sharing her experience about interchurch families. Connecting with Indigenous congregations and missions within the PCC is also important to her.
- Heard an update on the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, a process that aims to bring closure to the legacy of Indian Residential Schools and a renewal of the relationships between Indigenous Peoples who attended these schools, their families and communities, and all Canadians.
- Encouraged one another in prayer and song.
The next meeting of the Assembly Council is scheduled in March 2020, at Crieff Hills Community in Puslinch, Ontario.