The third day of the 2021 General Assembly began with worship. The Rev. Dr. Richard Topping, President and Vice Chancellor of Vancouver School of Theology, preached on the themes of fear, grace and accepting God’s call. He reflected on Mary’s encounter with the angel, Gabriel. Despite her fear and bewilderment, Mary responded, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.” Dr. Topping went on to say that God meets us in our meekness, weakness and inadequacy, and that sometimes, when we are most fearful, God is calling us into service, into something greater than ourselves.
The Rev. Dr. Daniel D. Scott, Moderator of the 2021 General Assembly, called the Assembly to order and opened in prayer. He thanked the worship team and the Young Adult Representatives. He reminded commissioners to use language of respect as they discussed the difficult issues before them. He encouraged those reticent to speak to share their thoughts.
The moderator also acknowledged the horrifying tragedy that took place Sunday in London, Ont., where a family of five was viciously and deliberately attacked, targeted for their Muslim faith.
The Rev. Marijke Strong, Executive Secretary, Regional Synod of Canada, Reformed Church in America, brought a message of welcome and encouragement to commissioners . She pointed out that the PCC and the Reformed Church in America share a deep and rich heritage. Along with the Christian Reformed Church, we are all members of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, working for a restoration of justice and renewal of all things to God’s design.
The Rev. Marijke Strong pointed out that together we share mission in the face of a changing world and participate in church life in the changing landscape of Canadian society. While some churches have been shrinking, others are being revitalized and new expressions of church are rising. “The body of Christ is alive and well, it just looks and behaves differently than it did 50 or 100 years ago.” She encouraged the church to provide adaptive leadership, leading people through transformation in the face of change. “God is doing a new thing, not only through us, but in us, too.”
She asked the PCC to keep the Reformed Church in America in prayer as they will have many similar discussions and decisions to make at their Synod in the fall.
Reflection from Moderator of 2019 General Assembly
The moderator introduced the Rev. Amanda Currie, Moderator of the 2019 General Assembly, as the longest-serving moderator in the history of the PCC. He thanked her for her gracious and generous leadership as we figured out how to be God’s people during a global pandemic.
The Rev. Currie offered a glimpse into her two years as moderator. During her first year, she focused on ecumenical engagement, visiting several ecumenical shared ministries, preaching and leading workshops related to ecumenism, and participating in ecumenical gatherings. “Even as we struggle with internal unity, our denomination continues to benefit from ecumenical relationships at every level.” She also connected with Indigenous ministries, acknowledging that there is still much work to be done to move toward justice, healing and reconciliation. The Rev. Currie travelled with her husband, Nicholas Jesson, to Hungary and Romania, where they visited ministries, bishops, congregations and mission staff of the Reformed Church.
During the pandemic, the Rev. Currie learned how to fulfill a pastoral role in the church during difficult times. She hosted Advent, Lent and Easter events on Zoom, and invited congregations to walk and pray with her throughout the summer months. She was able to connect virtually with many more communities than she could have reached in person.
The Rev. Currie expressed thanks to national office staff and thanked her congregation, First Presbyterian Church in Regina, Sask., for their support, and her husband Nicholas for his faithful love and partnership. “May God give us discernment and love for one another. Trusting that we belong to God, let us not be afraid.”
Committee on Remits
Lengthy discussion dominated the meetings on Tuesday regarding Remit B and C on the Committee on Remits report. After years of prayerful debate and study, and much passionate and heartfelt discussion, The Presbyterian Church in Canada agreed to make changes to its theology and practice regarding marriage, permitting people to choose to define marriage as either as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or a covenant relationship between two adult people. These decisions provide Presbyterian ministers with liberty of conscience and the freedom to choose to officiate or not officiate at the marriages of same-sex couples.
Additionally, the church agreed that LGBTQI people (whether married or single) can be ordained and are welcome to serve as ministers and ruling elders.
These decisions accompany other resolutions about policies and programs that will help the church include LGBTQI people more fully in all aspects of ministry. The church will also prepare a confession to all individuals and congregations that have been harmed by the church’s exclusion of LGBTQI.
Letter of Condolence
In light of the recent directed attack against a Muslim family in London, Ont., killing four family members and critically injuring a fifth, and understanding it to be a visible sign of underlying evil, the moderator will write to the National Muslim-Christian Liaison Committee offering condolence and encouraging the Committee’s ongoing dialogue and work. Recognizing that we have not spoken up against all acts of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, gender-based violence, homophobia, and transphobia within and outside of our own church, all levels of the church are encouraged to actively and deliberately reach out to build communities that are life-giving and liberating for all through dialogue and community work.
The Rev. Dr. Blair Bertrand, PCC mission staff to Malawi since 2017, introduced the Rev. Dr. Takuze Chitsulo, Principal of Zomba Theological College (ZTC) in Malawi. The Rev. Chitsulo brought a message of gratitude to commissioners , thanking The Presbyterian Church in Canada for their long-time friendship and partnership. “Because of our partnership with the PCC, we have one of the best theological libraries in Malawi.”
He mentioned that grants provided by the PCC allow those who work at the college to pay bills and keep doing their good work. He also thanked the Women’s Missionary Society for their ongoing support and praised the work of the Rev. Dr. Blair Bertrand to launch new initiatives, like online learning, even while Blair is back in Canada due to the pandemic.
“I give thanks to God for the partnership between the PCC and Zomba Theological College. God has done great things through our living connection. I look forward to that continuing into the future…know that your brothers and sisters at ZTC pray for you.”
The Rev. Chitsulo explained that the pandemic has impacted the College and the synods that support them in many ways, but “the Lord is keeping us going and we trust that he will continue to do that.” They are moving to online teaching, which they hope to be able to implement in the next year, and are grateful to the PCC for helping them move library resources and courses online.