With an expanded focus – and a new name reflecting its broader mission – the Assembly committee customarily charged with considering matters related to theological issues and institutions will now also encompass church growth and Christian education.
“The new name speaks to the needs of the church today, and how a focus on theological institutions is also a commitment to theological issues and church growth,” says the Rev. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director of funds development for the Theological Education Fund (TEF) at the Presbyterian Foundation. “If you care about congregations growing spiritually and numerically, then I would imagine you would want to support future ministers at our Presbyterian seminaries who will play key roles in that growth for generations.”
Hinson-Hasty says the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) is recommending the Assembly recognize two distinguished trailblazers in theological education and will be hosting the Assembly’s biennial Theological Education Awards Breakfast in their honor.
At the eagerly anticipated gathering of leaders and educators from across the church – to be held Thursday, June 21, at 7:30 a.m. – the Rev. Katie Geneva Cannon and the Rev. Douglas Oldenburg will receive the Award for Excellence in Theological Education. The award is the highest honor in the PC(USA) for those who teach, lead and support theological education.
Cannon, professor of theology and ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va., is the first African-American woman to be ordained in the former United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Oldenburg, a former president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., also served as moderator of the 210th General Assembly (1998).
“A new feature at the breakfast honoring these groundbreaking leaders will be the screening of two professionally produced tribute videos,” Hinson-Hasty notes, “a highlight that our commissioners, delegates and guests are sure to enjoy.”
Because a major focus at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) was on approving a revised Directory for Worship for the PC(USA), not surprisingly there are several overtures to this year’s Assembly seeking to revisit the document. The Directory – part of the denomination’s Constitution – gives standards and norms for the ordering of worship in PC(USA) congregations and councils. It also lays out the theology that underlies Presbyterian worship, “outlines appropriate forms for worship and highlights connections between worship and Christian life, witness and service.”
“The PC(USA) Directory for Worship is a living document, always being reformed according to God’s Word and Spirit,” says the Rev. David Gambrell, associate for worship for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA). “These overtures seek to clarify, refine and expand on our constitutional liturgical theology.”
The business before Committee 14 falls largely into the following categories, according to the Rev. Barry Ensign-George, associate for theology in the PMA’s Office of Theology and Worship:
- Worship: Proposed revisions to the Directory for Worship (Items 14-02, -03, and -04)
- Theological insight amid present national realities, especially systemic racism: Proposals regarding confessional and theological statements that address the PC(USA) and our present context in the United States (Items 14-01, -05)
- Christian education: The report of the Special Committee to Study the Reformed Perspective of Christian Education in the 21st Century (14-06)
- Theological education: A set of items related to COTE and to the seminaries in relationship with the PC(USA) through membership in COTE (Items 14-07, -08, -09, and -10, plus 14-A and 14-Info)
- Church growth: An update on developments in the 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative
The final item, COTE’s Self-Study – a report that doesn’t come to every Assembly – should be of particular interest to Assembly participants, Hinson-Hasty says. “It begins with the reminder that things are changing in the church, a call for us all to pay attention to our changing denominational landscape and context.”
The Rev. Emily Enders Odom is director of alumni relations for Union Theological Seminary in New York City and president of the Presbyterian Writers Guild. She is covering Assembly Committee 14 for the General Assembly News.