As I write this brief reflection to you, one image comes to mind – the image of wind. I imagine the rush of the wind experienced at Pentecost in the second chapter of the Book of Acts – as faithful disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the church in a way that was relevant to the world in which they lived. I also imagine the great windstorm in Mark 4:35-41 as the wind blew upon the waters causing the disciples to experience fear, as their ship was rocked by the waves.
There is no question that today as the 221st General Assembly gathered in Detroit, the winds were experienced. For many, it was that Pentecost moment – when the wind birthed the hope of something new. For others, it was like the moment at sea when the waves seemed to be threatening the existence of what has been.
Like many in the hall, I was struck by the silence of the assembly after the vote on both the Authoritative Interpretation and the redefinition of marriage. There was no applause, rather the loud silence of an assembly that understood they had done something significant and historic.
By now, many of you have heard or seen in writing the decision and recommendation of this Assembly. The Authoritative Interpretation will take effect on June 21st at the close of the Assembly, allowing discretion and freedom of conscience to pastors/teaching elders to officiate at same gender marriages in states where same gender marriage is legal.
The recommended redefinition of marriage defines marriages as between “two persons, traditionally a man and a woman.” This recommendation will now go to the presbyteries for their consideration and vote. It will take a majority of the 172 presbyteries for this recommended amendment to become part of our constitution. The outcome of this vote will take about one year.
Additional language has been included stating that “Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.”
It is likely that these decisions and recommendations will be at the center of conversations in the weeks and months ahead. Know I have already scheduled initial gatherings with pastors serving our congregations – in an effort to listen to, and understand, where we are as a larger community of faith.
As the Assembly continues to consider other significant questions in the next day and a half, I ask that we continue to lift up one another in prayer. I ask that we reaffirm our awareness that we – in our sameness and differences – are bound together in Christ.
It is my deep conviction that it is indeed together – that we have been called to serve the Church of Jesus Christ at this time – in this place. May we do so, trusting that the Lord our God is with us always.
See you soon in Philadelphia.
Blessings and peace,