The Assembly Council met from November 21–23 in a hybrid format that had some members joining by video conference and others attending the meeting in person at national offices of the PCC in Toronto, Ont.
The meeting opened with worship prepared and led by Carol Stymiest, who represents the Atlantic Mission Society at Council meetings and Cathy Reid, who represents the Women’s Missionary Society. It was acknowledged that The Presbyterian Church in Canada and its members live, worship and work on this historic territory of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples of this land. As a church, we take seriously the challenge of reconciliation, to deepen bonds of friendship and solidarity, to strive to “Walk together” in the present and future, and to live with integrity the words of Our Confession to Indigenous Peoples from 1994.
The Council expressed a strong preference for the next General Assembly (June 5–8, 2022) to be in person and held at Wilfrid Laurier University. That is where the last two in-person Assemblies met. The General Assembly Office is working with the university to determine, by mid-January, if it will be able to host the Assembly. If the university cannot commit to hosting by mid-January, Assembly Council will reconvene to consider other options.
The courts, agencies, colleges, and camps of the church are to review and update their policies, procedures and practices this year to ensure they reflect the full inclusion of all people. The Assembly Council has completed the review of its own policies.
Representatives of the theological colleges, the Atlantic Mission Society and the Women’s Missionary Society are members of the Assembly Council. During the meeting, the Council heard updates from representatives about the ministries of these bodies in the church.
The Council heard updates from the following Assembly Council working groups:
- The Council provided input to the working group that is preparing a response to overtures that seek a way for congregations to leave the denomination and ask for an alternative form of governance to be developed. The working group, comprising of Peter Kinch, Barb Sargent, Linda Shaw, John-Peter Smit, Henry Han, Brenda Butler, Jeffrey Murray (with the Clerks of Assembly) presented a framework for its work, and noted that it has so far met twice. Members of the working group have been reviewing the Clerks’ response from 2018, the report of Assembly Council’s Gracious Dismissal Committee, and all the relevant overtures. Council met in breakout rooms and groups twice during the meeting and discussed the Committee’s interim work in plenary. The working group reiterated its desire to have a final report ready for Council at the March meeting.
- Work continues on the referral about gender pay equity and discrimination.
- A response to an overture requesting legal indemnity for those who exercise liberty of conscience related to remits B and C, 2019, is in process and will be considered at the March meeting.
- Council approved a response regarding the legal implications of the remits about ordination and marriage.
- A working group presented a response to an overture requesting that the church establish a national registry of congregations and ministers that are willing to celebrate same-sex weddings. The response to the overture proposes that such a registry be created and maintained by the General Assembly Office. Participation in the registry would be voluntary and the information would be made available on the PCC website and through other appropriate avenues. The final report will be submitted to the General Assembly in 2022.
Understanding that the adoption of the remits about marriage and ordination presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the PCC to explore the Bible’s vision of God’s welcome of diversity, the Assembly Council engaged in a workshop called “How will we live together?” led by the Rev. Dr. Pat Dutcher-Walls. All the texts that were studied show a situation in ancient Israel or the early church where the household of God were asked to live together with a diversity of identities and a diversity of theological understandings (Joshua 9:1–27, Ruth 1:1–22, 2 Kings 5:1–19, Mark 1:40–45, Mark 5:24–34, Mathew 15:21–28, Acts 8:26–39 and Acts 10:1–48). The Council considered the following questions based on what they read in the texts:
- God is a god who…
- The household of God valued diversity by…
- Congregations today can draw an analogy to this story to understand diversity in the household of God as…
The Rev. Dr. Pat Dutcher-Walls also spoke on behalf of the General Assembly Design Team. She noted that the team will study the summary of commissioner evaluations of the 2021 Assembly, and she invited feedback on how the team could better support commissioners in preparing for and participating effectively at future Assemblies.
The Council welcomed Marilyn Repchuck and Ian Mason from the Presbyterian Church Heritage Centre to give an update on the Centre’s work.
Healing and Reconciliation is an important part of the Council’s focus. The Council heard an update on some of the work being done in the church in this regard. Information about the church’s work in this area can be found on the Indigenous Justice page of the Social Action Hub. Staff of the Life and Mission Agency will attend a future meeting to update the Council on the church’s response to the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. During the meeting, the Council approved terms of reference for the Honouring the Children: Reconciliation and Residential Schools Fund. This fund will support initiatives associated with searches for unmarked burial sites in communities where schools were operated by The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
The Council provided funds to support psychotherapy/counselling for those who have experienced harm done by homophobia, hypocrisy, transphobia and heterosexism in the denomination.
Barb Summers, Associate Secretary for the Communications department of the PCC, will resign from her position at the end of February 2022. Fortunately, Barb will remain the editor of the Presbyterian Connection newspaper. The Council approved a process by which the next Associate Secretary for Communications will be appointed and expressed thanks for Barb’s extraordinary work for the church.
The Rev. Jinsook Khang and the Rev. Cherie Inksetter were named to the Assembly Council Executive.
The Principal Clerk position description was modified to include responsibility for representing the church in initiatives supporting relationships with Indigenous peoples.
Closing worship was led by the Rev. Dr. Ross Lockhart, Dean of St. Andrew’s Hall at the University of British Columbia.
Assembly Council Meeting Summary – November 2021