General Assembly, Part 12
Paige, Lucy and I are at General Assembly this week in Nashville. As you might know, our polity is such that church government functions at three levels. The elders meet monthly in a local session, handling the business of a local church. Regionally, we are organized into Presbyteries which meet quarterly (New City is a member of the Ohio Valley Presbytery). And then annually, the whole denomination gets together for General Assembly. Presbyteries rotate hosting GA, and this year th Nashville Presbytery is playing host.
Paige, Lucy and I left late Monday morning. Lucy's not a huge fan of her car seat, so we were not quite sure what to expect on the way down. All in all, she did great. We only made one stop, she took two sizable naps, and we learned a new soothing technique - she loves when we sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." Unfortunately, it's not a very long song, and after 4-5 repeats we get bored enough to actually prefer listening to her cry over hearing ourselves sing about buying peanuts and Cracker Jack.
We are staying at the Renaissance Hotel right in the heart of the downtown. Our room is great, and with an infant we are already appreciating staying in the hotel attached to the conference center. The less walking the better. After we checked in, we tried to take Lucy to the pool for her first swim experience, only to be told the pool was temporarily closed because of lighting (though the pool was indoors). Lucy was wiped so we stayed in Monday night and got some much needed rest.
Tuesday morning we had breakfast with William and Lauren Plott. They were on staff with us at North Cincinnati and they left to plant Valley Presbyterian Church in Madison, Alabama at just the same time we left to plant New City. It was great to compare notes about church planting and generally enjoy catching up. At breakfast we bumped into Randy Pope, pastor of Perimeter Church in Atlanta. Perimeter has planted dozens of churches, including NCCC, which makes New City a granddaughter church in relation to Perimeter. Randy looks a lot like a really in shape version of Alan Thicke.
I served on the Committee of Commissioners for Covenant Theological Seminary (our denominational Seminary). Since the Seminary is an agency of the PCA, General Assembly reviews both the budget for the Seminary and the minutes from their quarterly board meetings. I contributed very little. But it was good to be there just to hear the encouraging report about the school. A few noteworthy items:
- During a difficult economy, the Seminary has been richly blessed. In the last few years Covenant has had record enrollment, record giving, and the total elimination of debt.
- Covenant just completed a major building project that effectively doubles their classroom space.
- They now post (for free) hundreds of hours of Seminary courses through their Worldwide Classroom. They are helping to train church leaders from 192 countries in robust, Reformed evangelical theology.
- In an effort to make a Seminary education more accessible, they are offering 50% scholarships to all PCA students.
- 1/4 of their graduates plant a church within five years of graduation.
Most of our afternoon was free, so we went and visited with Paige's college roommate and her husband. We got to tour around Franklin (a historic Nashville suburb) and Lucy did make her swimming debut (though the jury is still out on how much she liked it).
We made it back to the hotel just in time for the opening worship service. It really great to worship the Lord with thousands of other men and women serving the church around the country. The service started with a sweet bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace (we are Presbyterians after all!). Most of the music was led by Greg Wilbur, the worship leader at Parish Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN. He's written a biography of Bach and has a new worship album out (My Cry Ascends: New Parish Psalms). Mark Davis, the pastor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, preached a challenging sermon from Psalm 145. The theme was meditating on the greatness of God. The most challenging thought for me was that anxiety is also a kind of meditation - rehearsing over and over again what might go wrong. We also celebrated communion together, while the suffering servant passages in Isaiah were read aloud. Very moving.
After the worship service, we elected are moderator for the upcoming year - Harry Reeder (pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL). When asked how he feels about being elected moderator, Reeder said, “It’s a very humbling concept. In 27 years of going to General Assembly, I’ve been every year but I’ve never spoken from the floor. There are a lot of people smarter than I am. I’ve been hesitant to serve, but I felt like if the church leadership and the body wanted me to serve, I’m willing.” Reeder is optimistic about the future of the PCA. “Our best days are ahead of us,” Reeder said. “I believe we’re at a crucial time in the denomination. The 40- to 80-year mark in a movement is a critical time where there is either a rebirth of the church or one begins to drift either to the left or the right. We have great influence but we need to focus on spiritual vitality to reproduce and to strengthen our churches. We need leadership who are committed to the message, faithful to the mission, and committed to the biblical method of reaching people.”
That's it for tonight. Most of the real GA business begins tomorrow. If you're a super nerd and you want to watch some of General Assembly live, I think it is possible to webstream it (but I'm honestly not sure how).