On the final day of the 2021 General Assembly, the Rev. Dr. Richard Topping preached on the stories in Hebrew 11 and the ordinary people who took a risk and changed their lives to follow God’s call. He saw a common denominator among God’s people through the ages—that they lived, worked, acted and spoke by faith. “My friends, let it be said that whatever the PCC does in this our time, we do it by faith.”
The Moderator, the Rev. Dr. Daniel D. Scott, called the Assembly to order and constituted the court with prayer. He offered some reflections on yesterday’s difficult and important decisions, recognized the hard work ahead and encouraged commissioners to fix their eyes on Jesus and “run with perseverance the race before us.”
Life and Mission Agency Committee
The Assembly adopted all 55 recommendations in the Life and Mission Agency (LMA) report, which brings together reports from numerous sub-committees. In doing so, the Assembly:
- Added a member appointed by the National Indigenous Ministry Council to the LMA Committee to help the church better walk in new ways with Indigenous people.
- Urged congregations and individuals to study and implement the Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
- Directed the Trustees Board to invest 5% of the PCC’s Consolidated Fund in the Indigenous economy over the next 3–5 years and explore the feasibility of investing 10% as an appropriate benchmark for the long term.
- Adopted a workplace harassment policy.
- Approved actions on poverty reduction, gun violence and systemic racism.
- Encouraged the church at all levels to write elected officials about the need for cutting carbon emissions, creating a sustainable economy, and meeting or surpassing the Paris Agreement targets and other measures to support climate justice.
- Adopted a workplace harassment policy for use in the courts and ministries of the PCC.
- Approved guidelines for ministry and mental health.
- Expressed gratitude for support of Presbyterians Sharing and Presbyterian World Service & Development.
- Encouraged people to learn about positive disciplinary alternatives to physical punishment of children and youth.
The Moderator will write letters to the Canadian government on justice-related issues including justice for Indigenous people, climate change, poverty reduction and gun violence.
The three theological colleges presented reports that included highlights from the past year and described how they adapted to deal with the impacts of the pandemic. The colleges mentioned that they incorporate environmental theology into their programs by integrating theological concerns for God’s creation into curriculum, guest lectures, publications and community life for faculty, staff and students.
Minutes of Appreciation were adopted for Dr. Nam Soon Song (Ewart Professor of Christian Education and Youth Ministry, Knox College), the Rev. Dr. Robert (Bob) Paul (Dean, St. Andrew’s Hall), the Rev. Dr. Dale Woods (Principal, Presbyterian College), and the Rev. Dr. Dan Shute (Librarian, Presbyterian College) upon their departure from their positions. The report also noted the retirement of the Rev. Dr. Pat Dutcher-Walls (Professor, Vancouver School of Theology).
Gratitude was expressed to the Rev. Dr. John Vissers for completing his service as Principal of Knox College and he was appointed as Professor of Historical Theology at Knox beginning July 2022. The General Assembly appointed the Rev. Dr. Roland De Vries as Principal of Presbyterian College for a five-year term and the Rev. Dr. Ross A. Lockhart as Dean of St. Andrew’s Hall.
The International Affairs Committee report raised awareness about multiple issues of international concern, including human migration, human trafficking, the global environmental crisis, the loss of biological diversity, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis and human rights issues in Israel/Palestine.
Letters will be written to the Canadian Government encouraging:
- Signing and ratifying UN and ILO conventions on migrant and domestic workers.
- Implementing key strategies to combat human trafficking.
- Acting on outstanding goals protecting biodiversity.
- Redoubling efforts to slow climate change and urging other governments to do the same.
- Acting to protect the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians, particularly children.
Congregations are urged to learn more about these issues, join in efforts to advocate governments at all levels and implement actions as they can. The Social Action Hub will provide decisions, resources and letters from the moderator to support advocacy efforts.
Imam Muneed Nasir, Co-chair, National Muslim Christian Liaison Committee
Imam Muneed Nasir, Co-chair, National Muslim Christian Liaison Committee (NMCLC), explained that the NMCLC is a forum for respectful dialogue on things of common interest between Canadian Muslims and Christians to which the PCC is a valued participant.
Imam Nasir pointed out that we are at a unique moment in history. The pandemic has revealed pre-existing inequities and injustices in our country and the world, such as the climate crisis, social and racial inequities, and human rights injustices. We are being called to provide a religious and moral perspective on these important issues and build a more just and equitable world.
“History tells us that when our faith communities best model our teachings, we have been the greatest force for common good in the world. The ability to come together and build shared solutions has never been more important than now. Our future lies tougher, rather than apart. Our future lies at understanding the differences that we acknowledge and appreciate about each other. Not the differences that divide us.”
The moderator told Imam Nasir that the General Assembly approved a motion yesterday to send a letter of condolence to the National Muslim-Christian Liaison Committee following the attack in London, Ont., of a Muslim family. “We are standing with you in these difficult times,” said the moderator.
Committee on History
The Assembly recognized the Rev. Peter Bush for having completed over 30 years as editor of Presbyterian History and awarded the following book prizes:
- Memoir: Pleasant Remembrances – A Memoir of the Mackays at Cap-a-l’aigle, by Mary M. Harvey (nee Mackay)
- Academic: A Short History of Berbice High School, the Canadian Mission Church in New Amsterdam, Guyana and the Bishops by Andrew Ranji Bishop
- Congregational History: St. Columba Presbyterian Church, Kirk Hill: Celebrating 200 Years, 1819–2019, Committee Chair: Audrey Nixon Crawford
- Honourable Mention: By Land, Sea and Air by Donna George
The Presbyterian Church Heritage Centre, formerly the National Presbyterian Museum, has relocated to Carlisle United Church in Carlisle, Ont., in the county of North Middlesex, and begun a national campaign has begun to support the Centre.
Women’s Missionary Society
The GA approved changes to the WMS’s constitution. The WMS reported that the 4th National Women’s Gathering is being organized for May 20–21, 2022. The WMS continues to give grants to various organizations and projects. In 2020, two new Together We Can! projects were started: Action Réfugiés Montréal and a new roof for the Graduate School for Nurses in Indore, India.
Committee on Church Doctrine
The Assembly passed the recommendations from the Church Doctrine committee. These included:
- Sending proposed versions of the preambles and edicts for the ordination and induction of ministers and elders across the church for consultation.
- Affirming Christians have the free-will to receive cannabis as a good gift from God and use it temperately with thanksgiving. However, as the principle of Liberty, License and Love states, Christians are not free to be immoderate or negatively impaired.
- That the congregation, presbyteries and agencies be encouraged to discuss possible change to the title, from “Physician Assisted Suicide,” to “Physician Assisted Suicide: Medical Assistance in Dying” and report comments by January 31, 2022.
- Affirming the seriousness and sanctity of the ordination/induction vows
The report highlighted efforts that ensured the ministries of the PCC continued during the COVID-19 pandemic and in light of the cancellation of the 2020 General Assembly. The Assembly approved their recommendations which included:
- National Indigenous Ministries Council becoming a standing committee of the General Assembly.
- Presenting a legal opinion related to adopting legislation about same-sex marriage.
- Defining the rights and responsibilities of Young Adult Representatives by granting them the right to move and second motions at General Assembly.
- Referring to a future Assembly overtures requesting the establishment of courts and structures based on theology (rather than geography) and a process for congregations that might wish to leave the denomination.
- Passing the audited financial statements and the 2021 and 2022 budgets. They received a three-year financial forecast showing that transfers from restricted funds are sustainable over a 3–5-year period to supplement gifts from congregations and individuals to Presbyterians Sharing.
- Suspending the national COLA rate to the stipend grid for 2021 and setting the increase at 0% in light of financial stresses felt by congregations and the denomination. The 2022 stipend increase will return to the usual policy.
Clerks of Assembly
The Clerks of Assembly report deals primarily with matters of church governance. There were 20 recommendations, 12 of which were overture responses.
The Assembly adopted new guidelines to facilitate the implementation of Remit B and Remit C, and both same-sex marriage and the ordination of married LGBTQI ministers.
The Assembly approved using online election tools to identify a nominee for moderator, providing alternative arrangements for presbyters unable to vote online. The nominee would be placed before the Assembly for the final election as usual.
Pension and Benefits Board
The Pension and Benefits Board reported the financial status of the pension plan, results from the Asset Liability Management Study, responses to overtures and petitions, and updates on congregational assessments in arrears, group benefits and communications.
The going concern funded status of the plan held strong over the past year and the solvency (wind-up) position of the plan improved slightly due to better than expected investment returns and a slight increase in discount rates for calculating wind-up liabilities.
In January 2022, the member pension contribution rate will be reduced to 8.0% of pensionable income, the pension plan congregational assessment rate be reduced to 4.5% of dollar base and the employer contribution rate be reduced to 11% of pensionable income.
The Assembly adopted a series of recommendations to help the church move toward and ensure greater gender pay equity locally and across the denomination.
The Trustee Board reported that the Pension Fund and the Consolidated Fund weathered the market volatility in 2020 well. Returns for the past four- and 10-years rolling have been: Pension Plan 8.5% and 8.6%; Consolidated Fund 9.9% and 8.8%. In 2020, a total of $2,934,059 was derived from the sale of assets of dissolved congregations. An aggregate of $1,862,628 from such sales has been allocated to the Pension Solvency Fund since 2017, approaching the $2 million cumulative limit for that allocation under the formula most-recently adopted by the General Assembly.
Atlantic Mission Society
The Atlantic Mission Society continued its ministry online during 2021–21. The Presbyterian Message was published nine times and financial support was given to Presbyterians Sharing, PWS&D, and local and regional mission work. They noted that while the way we do mission work is changing, we can continue to share God’s love with the world.
Presbyterian Church Building Corporation (PCBC)
PCBC’s mandate was expanded in 2020 to consider assisting with church operating costs and housing loans for ministers due to the challenges presented by the pandemic. PCBC is encouraged by congregations looking to not only sustain their buildings for worship and church activities, but to reposition and restructure their spaces to meet the needs of their communities.
Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee
The Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee reported on facilitating relationships between various national and international ecumenical councils and interfaith groups. An ecumenical highlight was the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Canadian Council of Churches with a special worship service in September 2019 and a cross-country online event in October 2020.
Young Adult Representatives
The Young Adult Representatives prayed for the Assembly in English, French and Arabic. They prayed for unity in a fragmented world, gave thanks to God for safety and guidance, and thanked commissioners for having the courage to share their stories. They challenged the church not to let the rift between theological differences divide it, and reminded the church that the people of Christ are stronger together as one unified church in body and mind, bringing glory to God.
Shirley Carleton of St. Andrew’s Hall/VST and Gerald Gallant of Knox College briefly shared their experiences and perspectives with General Assembly.
The General Assembly closed with worship.
Full details are found in the official minutes, available on the 2021 General Assembly web page.