In several of the reports received by the Assembly on Sunday we were asked to compare the situation today with some time in the past, like 1983, when the current configuration of the denomination was founded. The Special Committee on the Review of Biennial Assemblies entertained us for a while with clips from that year, including a news report about the reunion General Assembly in Atlanta. The point being: Yo, we live in a different world now; should we maybe change the way we do things? Who but a collector wants an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, the most popular car from that period?
The Special Committee to Review the Preparation for Ministry Process and Standard Ordination Exams is another case in point. (And I use the full, official, bureaucratic titles of these groups on purpose.) Presbyteries have known for years that there is almost no such thing as a “normal” candidate, one for whom our rules were written in the 1960’s and 1970’s. So, completely and inevitably on the fly, we have to force-evolve this system and others so they work today… which will certainly mean changing our definition of what it means for a system to “work.”
This is all quite exasperating for a Stated Clerk. And it’s easy to blame the world for deliberately messing with our neat categories and systems. And do procedural acrobatics trying to make people fit into our ways of doing things.
The future is going to be very fluid and situational; things are going to have to be taken on a case-by-case basis, with no one-size-fits-all answers to just about anything. But this will require a whole lot more attention to the very basic things that ground us. And a denomination like ours has often taken this stuff for granted and thus lost our connection to it, relying and focusing so much on superficial things like procedures. (And pronouncements. I’ll get to that later in the meeting.)
What troubles me about a meeting like this is not that the future is post-denominational; it is that the present is post-denominational and we don’t know it. It’s not that our “brand” is in crisis; the very idea of brands at all is crumbling. In the end we (the General Assembly) are a gathering of gatherings of gatherings of people seeking to follow, and help each other follow, Jesus Christ, in wildly different contexts and situations.
As for us “rules guys” we’re going to have to be less like trip planners relying on lots of maps, and more like trackers, finding the best way through unfamiliar terrain. We need tools suited to that kind of task.