As an overview of this year's assembly, here's what we are dealing with this year. Besides a small mountain of regular business and reports, we have two major issues before the Assembly: the issue of the role of women in diaconal ministry and the PCA Strategic Plan. This year the Assembly elected Harry Reeder, the pastor of one of our largest churches, Briarwood Presbyterian (Birmingham), to be the moderator. So far he has done an admirable job with a humble spirit.
Last year the Assembly declined to erect a study committee to analyze the role of women and diaconal ministry from Scripture and church history. Currently there is a great deal of confusion regarding this issue. While our Book of Church Order restricts women from the ordained offices of Elder and Deacon, stating that according to Scripture these offices are open to men only, this has done little to settle the issue. Some churches are placing women in deacon's meetings as advisers and workers. Others “commission”, but not ordain, “deaconesses”. Redeemer in New York City has taken the bold move of erecting a diaconate where no one is ordained and women serve alongside men. Many have called into the question the pairing the issue of elders and deacons together. Biblical scholars are much more in agreement about women and the office of elder than the office of deacon.
This year several presbyteries have sent overtures to the Assembly to restrict these practices. At least one presbytery (ours) has proposed an overture to keep the status quo and maintain our current diversity of practices. The Strategic Plan, mostly from sociological arguments, supports an openness to women being involved with diaconal ministries.
Last year the Assembly approved a committee (which included many of our committee heads) to come up with a Strategic Plan for our denomination. The growth of our denomination has slowed and we have made precious little inroads outside of our white, Republican, middle class world. Since our country is looking less and less like the PCA, the intention was to come up with a plan to respond to our changing world so that our denomination does not fade into irrelevance.
I have several serious concerns about the Strategic Plan, but I'm going to reserve those for later.