Janie Spahr GAPJC Appeal Notes

Posted February 17, 2012 by heysonnie
Categories: Marriage Equality, Presbyterian

Tags: , ,

Since there is no transmission allowed from today’s General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission session I’m taking notes. These would otherwise be livetweet and Facebook updates, so I’ll just post — without any editing.:-)

[Of course I have plenty of opinion (and snark) but I’ll share those separately.]

Rules, parties and charges have been explained beginning promptly at 1:30. Up to two hours has been allowed. GAPJC = General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (denominational “supreme court”)  Members are introducing themselves. Each synod (regional governing body) has one commissioner; there are 17 synods. One is absent, and no one has recused him- or herself.

Janie’s first co-counsel Sara Taylor* is up first. She’s talking about this case compared to the earlier one against Janie: the previous case involved holy unions, this time it includes legal civil marriages.

Reference to John Calvin Marriage Covenant of 1542, laying out the modern definition of marriage as background.

Sara served as counsel for the Rev. Jean Southard when she had similar charges filed against her.

In describing the marriages, Sara is introducing the couples who are here — and they are standing — and are telling the commission what marriage means to each of them.

Sara is now reminding the commission that the denomination has led the way in so many historical issues. So far this has not been the case with marriage. She is talking about the freedom of Teaching Elders to perform the duties of their roles as they are led by the Spirit.

We cannot legislate into being a standard based on a precident with completely different circumstances.

Co-counsel Scott Clark steps to the podium to continue. Describing the California Supreme Court decision in 2008 throwing out the prohibition of same sex couples to marry.

Couples wanting to marry legally turned to Janie as their pastor to officiate at their weddings. It was far more than the ceremony, but incorporating the pastor into this critical life transition time. Scott continues, outlining the mixed and “anguished decision” by Redwoods Presbytery in their verdict – that Janie did the right thing, but that it was narrowly against the Book of Order (church constitution). He describes the inconsistencies in the BoO.

Now Scott is talking about the movement in the civil realm, with seven states now having legal marriage and more to come, and how pastors are being prohibited from performing their pastoral duties to same sex couples.

Next up is JoAn Blackstone, counsel for the anonymous party who brought the charges against Janie. [Note: in listening to her in the past trials, I find her hard to follow.]

Blackstone holds that the version of the BoO that was in effect at the time of the “infraction” is what should be used in the commission’s discernment.

She next outlines an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) issued in which ministers are prohibited from participating in ceremonies purporting that holy unions, etc are substantively the same as marriages.

She continues to say that the prior Spahr decision can and should be used as a precident. She says that nothing has been changed by two General Assemblies since the 2008 Spahr decision, so it should hold.

We are bound by AIs until they are otherwise rescinded. We agree in our polity to go through the process of changing AIs. There is no restrictions on membership of LGBT people. However, this does not mean that everyone has access to everything in the church.

These were clearly ecclesiastical marriages in Rev. Spahr’s mind, but they were prohibited under the rules of our denomination. She is not free to perform the duties of a Teaching Elder as she perceives it and her conscience; she must follow the rules.

Scott Clark had only 15 seconds for rebuttal.:-)

Time for Q&A.

Commissioner asks about marriage under California law and clergy standing. No disagreement that these are “absolutely legal” marriages.

Another commissioner asks about if Janie had participated in the services but not signed the certificates, would that be allowed. Blackstone says it depends on the kind of participation. Clark says it’s problematic: ecclesiastical marriage including pre-marital counseling, use of church property, etc, has been interpreted to be “the same as” but there is no clear-cut written standard. He refers to Janie’s requirement of a full year of premarital counseling as a faithful act. Taylor reminds the commission about the definition of Authoritative Interpretations in the Book of Order. Discussion of AIs, the constitution, and the fluidity of civil law.

Another commissioner asks Blackstone if there is any circumstance under which a PCUSA pastor could officiate at a marriage of a same sex couples. Not under the current definition. [Expansion that I lost. Sorry.]

Commissioner asks about marriages and man-and-woman language. Scott Clark refers them back to Blackstone’s argument. He continues that this section of the constitution is a beautiful theological narrative, not a legal, regulatory standard. The language was written before the current circumstances. Historically changes begin with church court decisions, and subsequently conversations and decisions take place at the General Assembly itself.

Question if the GAPJC can make a decision one way, why can’t they then decide another way? Blackstone says it’s possible but inconsistent.

Constitution vests discretion with the pastor, says Taylor.

Was there such a prohibition prior to the 2008 Spahr decision? Blackstone: no express prohibition.

Hearing is concluded with prayer by the moderator at 3:05pm.

The commission must deliberate on this and the other two cases they heard and render a decision. It gets mailed out, which means it will go out on Tuesday (Monday being Presidents Day). We will likely know on Wednesday.

Your faithful servant,

* Sara and her wife Sherry are one of the couples who were married by the Rev. Janie Spahr.

Life… and death

Posted January 31, 2012 by heysonnie
Categories: Blogroll, Death, Life

Tags: ,

I’ve lost two friends recently, people who were significantly older, people who I count as dear friends–but as spiritual mentors and guides and role models as well. Neither of their deaths was a surprise… but I’ve been hit more deeply than I could have anticipated. My life was enriched by each of these people, Bill and Margaret; their deaths have left that hollow empty place in my soul.

My friend Donna posted on Facebook today about the death of one of her students–the first of her students to die. Donna wrote:

The first of my former students passed away yesterday: Kirby Capen ’07. She successfully petitioned the Engineering Program to allow her to take ASL as her foreign language. Between graduating and taking an engineering job in the field of energy efficiency, she won a grant from Projects for Peace to teach beading to teenage girls in Ghana, working to create relationships of understanding across deaf and hearing communities and across religious backgrounds. May her memory be for a blessing.

Some people life a far longer lifespan and accomplish far less than this. Indeed, Kirby’s memory, even though I never met her, blessed me today.

And so I looked at the link that Donna posted, to KirbyStrong, a blog-diary on the life-and-death struggle written by the family…

One post in particular struck me. It’s called “Kodesh.”


24 Jan 2012
By Robert

When my mother died in 1994, we sat Shiva for 6 days. At some point Owen, 5 years old, said to Joel’s mother on the phone, “Nanny died and we have been having a party ever since.”

This past weekend we were overwhelmed, in the best sort of way, by a flood of Kirby’s friends from all her walks of life. Burgundy Farm Country Day School first through third grade; CHDS, fourth through eighth grade; School Without Walls (SWW), high school; Smith, Engineering, Morrow House, Hillel, signing table; PowerCon; New York City; Capitol Hill; Temple Micah; and blood relatives. (With overlaps: Smith/NYC, CHDS/Capitol Hill, Temple Micah/Capitol Hill etc. etc.

Our neighbors opened their houses and hosted Kirby’s visitors, we filled beds on A Street and 9th Street. P, B and J played guitars and harp all day Saturday, filling the house with music. We ate, we drank, we washed dishes and cleaned up then started all over again. People came to Kirby’s bedside as individuals and in groups, singing to her, reading poetry to her, telling stories, reminiscing, showing her pictures, praying for her, crying, and sometimes just holding her hand as she appeared to sleep. We shared Shabbat dinner and Havdalah (end of Sabbath) services together, surrounding Kirby and embracing each other as we recited the prayers and performed the rituals.

As the Rabbi was leaving I shared my observation and concern that it was like an awake wake. Was this the right thing to be doing? He replied:

“The two words are
“Kodesh and chol
“This is the Havdalah prayer—we separate kodesh (holy) from chol (ordinary).
“The Hebrew word chol, besides meaning ordinary\secular\profane—also means sand. Sand is what flows right through your fingers. No grain of sand sticks to any other. This is chol—a totally unconnected world.
“Kodesh is the opposite—Kodesh is cleaving together—adhering—community. This is why the Hebrew word for marriage is Kiddushin—the married couple is bound together in the most unique way. Kodesh\holiness is in community.”

Kirby recently described herself as a networker, a connector, someone who brings others together. She has brought us all together in a community of holiness.

Life and death, the ordinary and the holy, separateness and sticking together, the bitter and the sweet. It’s all intertwined–sometimes messily, sometimes more cleanly. I pray comfort for the family and friends of Kirby. I wish that everyone had such a loving family and friends. (My friends Bill and Margaret did too.)

May we all work to be blessings to each other and to the whole world. May be all be brought together in a community of holiness.

SynchroBlog: Hope

Posted January 18, 2012 by heysonnie
Categories: Blogroll

Hope in the promise of yet another spring to come
is what keeps us from chopping down the firewood
of the apparently dead trees of winter.


A Christmas Message from Sister Joan Chittister

Posted December 19, 2011 by heysonnie
Categories: Blogroll

Tags: , , ,

I’ve said it before: if the Catholic Church had the vision to ordain women to the priesthood, Joan Chittister would be the Pope. Here’s her Christmas message that I got in today’s email. You can find more or sign up for her emails at benetvision.org.

Now and here bells everywhere are ringing again. The gift boxes are heaping up. Everybody’s saying it: “Christmas Blessings… God bless you at Christmas time… Christmas Peace to you and yours… Merry Christmas.” But is there any truth at all to any of this manufactured joy? Or is this, at best, nothing more than an exercise in auto-suggestion: Say it often enough and you’ll think it’s true, whatever the facts to the contrary.

Christians, after all, at least from one perspective, live a very schizophrenic life. As Paul puts it in one of his letters to the fragile communities of the early church, “Your standards should be different than those around you.” But at Christmas time, those standards can get terribly confusing. The Christian standard says that Christ, our Peace, has been born. But look around you. The other standard, the real public norm, the front page of our daily newspapers, says that there is no such thing as peace anywhere.

So, are we simply kidding ourselves when we put up manger scenes in our parks, and weigh our churches down with bark-covered, life-size crèches, and decorate the crib sets under our Christmas trees? Will the world ever really come to peace? In fact, is there really any such thing as peace? And, most of all, what do we have to do with it? What are we singing about? (It depends, I believe, on what you think “peace” means.)

One kind of peace is a state of life that is free from chaos and turbulence, from violence and institutionally legitimated death. That kind of peace happens often enough in history to show us that such a thing is possible. But don’t be fooled: that kind of peace can be achieved as easily through force as well as through justice. In the latter, little is gained by it.

But there is another kind of peace. This kind of peace does not come either from the denial of evil or the acceptance of oppression. This kind comes from the center of us and flows through us like a conduit to the world around us.

This kind of peace is the peace of those who know truth and proclaim it, who recognize oppression and refuse to accept it, who understand God’s will for the world and pursue it. This kind of peace comes with the realization that it is our obligation to birth it for the rest of the world so that what the mangers and crèches and crib sets of the world point to can become real in us—and because of us—in our own time.

The award-winning foreign film “Joyeux Noël” reminds us of another Christmas Eve. This one in Europe during the bloodiest period in WWI. Knee deep in wet snow and ice that jammed their weapons and froze their souls, two armies—one French and Scottish, one German—faced one another across a barbed-wired field. Hundreds of fallen soldiers had already died on both sides of the rough and blood-soaked land. Then suddenly, the Christmas truce began. The men put down their weapons, ceased for awhile to be soldiers, and bowed their heads while they listened to the other side sing Christmas carols.

That is the kind of peace—disarmed, foreign to hate, and receiving of the other—that was born in the manger we remember at Christmas time. That is the kind of Christmas peace we must ourselves seek to be. Then “Merry Christmas” will really mean something.

Bill Hopper follow-up (from his family)

Posted December 18, 2011 by heysonnie
Categories: Blogroll

Tags: , , ,

Dear Friends of Bill (and Mollie) Hopper,

We are sorry to have to tell you that our father died this past Monday, December 12th, nine days before his 86th birthday on December 21st.

Many of you know that he had been suffering from COPD for several years, and often his breathing was quite difficult. He contracted pneumonia after he had been taken to the hospital for an unrelated health problem a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately he had seen each of his three daughters very recently. Laura and Katie were with him on Thanksgiving, Jane was able to see him for a couple of days after he was moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility, and Mary Ann and Mark arrived to see him the day before he died.

Our parents had many friends and we know that their friendships with all of you gave them great joy and comfort. Bill and Mollie loved to keep in touch with all of you and to visit (and be visited) whenever they could.

There will be a memorial service for our dad on Saturday, January 21st at 3:00 p.m. at Westminster Gardens in Duarte, California. There will also be a second memorial service at Louisville Seminary in early February when his ashes are interred with our mom’s in the seminary’s memorial garden.

In lieu of flowers, we would appreciate memorial gifts to any of three organizations that our dad valued very highly – Louisville Seminary, the overseas mission of the Presbyterian Church, or Westminster Gardens, the wonderful community where Bill and Mollie lived for 15 years following their retirement.

The addresses are listed below.

Thank you all very much for your friendship with our parents. They were always very grateful for the part that you played in their lives.  There is a recent photo of our mom and dad at the end of this email, with the photo file attached.

Mary Ann Kearns
Jane Adamson
Laura Hopper

Memorials may be sent to:

  • Louisville Seminary
    Mr. Dale Melton
    1044 Alta Vista Rd.
    Louisville, KY   40205
  • PC(USA)
    PO Box 643700
    Pittsburgh, PA   15264-3700
    make the check out to PC(USA) and write on the memo line E864015-World Missions
  • Westminster Gardens
    Judy Thorndyke
    1420 Santo Domingo Ave.
    Duarte, CA  91010

William H. Hopper, Jr. – 1925 – 2011
Mollie Brown Hopper – 1925 – 2010

In Memoriam: William H. (Bill) Hopper, Jr.

Posted December 12, 2011 by heysonnie
Categories: Blogroll

Tags: , , , , ,

A dear friend of mine died this morning.

From San Gabriel Executive Presbyter Ruth Santana Grace:

It is with deep sadness that I share the news that the Rev. Bill Hopper has passed away. He died early this morning. As you know, Bill dedicated his life to the ministry of the Church of Jesus Christ as a missionary, executive, pastor, leader and much more. He will be deeply missed. I am confident that the heavens opened to receive him as he crossed over from this life to the next; I am equally confident that God’s voice was heard echoing, saying “This is my servant and son, in whom I am well pleased.” We will let you know of plans for his memorial service once we have them. Please pray for his family as they make this journey – may they experience the hope of the resurrection and the love of Christ through friends and family.

I got to know Bill a number of years ago when I was working at Westminster Gardens, a local retirement community which was then exclusively for those who had served the Presbyterian church as missionaries, ministers, or some other capacity under the denominational Board of Pensions. Bill was the president of the Residents’ Association then and I was serving as the Director of Communications, so we worked together on several projects. As we got to know each other, I shared with him that I am a lesbian; he shared with me that one of his and his wife Mollie’s three daughters is also a lesbian. Since then I have spent quite a lot of time with Bill. Despite the fact that Melinda and I are the age of Bill’s daughters, and Bill was of an unknown-to-me age at least as old as my own parents, I always felt that we were friends. Check that: I knew that we were friends.

When Melinda and I legally married in 2008, it was in our church, and Bill and Mollie (who preceded him in death) were among those who gathered to witness the occasion and to rejoice with us. This meant and still means a lot to us.

Always a gentleman, Bill was born and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. His father was a Presbyterian minister who was an eloquent preacher. Bill was a PK–a preacher’s kid–so there were certain expectations of him, some by his family, others by his friends. Many PKs rebel in some way: Bill’s way was in a socially acceptable one; Bill loved baseball.

As a kid, Bill would listen to the Birmingham Barons on the radio. He was a big fan of his home team. The radio announcer for the Barons was Bull Connor–who would later become in many ways the face of the racist, segregationist, Jim Crow South. I don’t know what Bill’s father’s theology and politics were, but when Bill found out about Bull Connor and what he stood for he stopped listening to the broadcasts. (I’m no Dodgers fan, but I’ve listened to the voice of the Dodgers, Vin Scully, for much of my life. It would be hard to say, “No more,” and turn off that voice forever.) Bill’s love of baseball continued, however–something that he and I shared. But his love for justice and equality and all things progressive were far greater–something else we shared.

Bill served as a missionary in Iran and Pakistan. Although the political leaders of those countries have changed since then, much of what we read now was true then. The three daughters lived their formative years in Iran, with one of them having been born there–they express remorse that they can never return to the land of their childhood. Bill contracted a powerful form of malaria in Iran, which cut their service short in order for him to return to the United States for medical treatment. He served the church in other ways for a few years, but he and Mollie felt like they needed to return to the mission field, so they got and assignment in Pakistan; they served there until his malaria returned. As Ruth said above, he served the church at every possible level: from the mission field to the local church to presbytery, synod and General Assembly. For a number of years he led the commissioner training prior to each year’s GA–something vital to the success of our then-annual conventions.

Well into his retirement, Bill and former PC(USA) Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick–a colleague, neighbor, close friend and tennis partner–decided they would write a book together. I played a small part in creating that book, What Unites Presbyterians: Common Ground for Troubled Times, so I know that Bill did much of the heavy lifting, while Cliff read the chapters and made suggestions and corrections. It was a good collaboration, and one they enjoyed, so they wrote several other books together after that. Something special about Bill, though, was that he wasn’t one who only associated with people who held the same theological and/or political views. Bill was a friend to many people regardless. Bill was the embodiment of grace.

Bill was active in the Witherspoon Society (now part of Presbyterians for Justice), More Light Presbyterians, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and was a supporter of That All May Freely Serve. He encouraged me, prodded me, helped me, and occasionally gently guided and tempered me in my work with those groups and for those same causes. Bill was an ardent supporter of women’s ordination and service, of racial and ethnic civil rights, and of many other causes. I don’t know if anyone will ever know his full effect on the world though, because he was so modest about his own contributions.

At the same time, he had a great dry sense of humor, and was a wonderful conversationalist and story-teller. He had a deep, somewhat gravelly voice and that Alabama-Kentucky accent which was so easy to listen to. He delighted in sharing stories about his children and grandchildren in way that I loved to hear.

Even though I know that he’s now rejoined with his life and life-ever-after partner Mollie and other friends and family members in the presence of the Christ who he served and loved in life, I will miss him a lot. I am proud that he was both a friend and a mentor, and I am a better person for having known him. Thanks, and God bless you, Bill Hopper.

* * * * * * * * * *

I forgot to say something important! Bill was one of the few people I know who liked fruitcake. A long-time tea-totaller, he even liked the booze-soaked ones. Every year someone would likely give me a fruitcake for Christmas (or I’d rescue one from someone else), and I’d make sure that it went to Bill. He’d have a tiny sliver every day for months–and would enjoy it immensely. If someone gives me a fruitcake this year I’ll make sure to have a tiny slice and think of him.


Posted November 23, 2011 by heysonnie
Categories: Presbyterian

Tags: , , , , ,

Melinda and I were out running errands last Saturday afternoon. Because of traffic on the freeway, we took a route that we don’t usually take, and we drove past a church where a friend of ours serves as the pastor. Like at many churches, they have a sign, a marquee out front. This one had the sermon title and the hour of the service, as is typical–but we both noticed that the pastor’s name wasn’t included.

I think that Melinda was upset a little bit, but I was delighted. I told her why: so many churches proclaim the name of the pastor, but that’s not who it’s about. She immediately got it. Good for our friend!

Then this week I pulled out a book of little ditties called Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner, an author and a Presbyterian minister. I love Fred Buechner, and this is one of those well-worn volumes in my library. Flipping through this book, I stopped to read what Buechner had to say about revelation. Right after that was the topic “Reverend.”


     A title of respect to be used only in the third person, if then. Speak about the Reverend Samuel Smith if you have to, but never go up to him and say, “That’s telling them, Reverend!” any more than you’d go up to a Congressman and say, “How are things in Washington, Honorable?”
Reverend means to be revered. A minister is not to be revered for who he is in himself, but for who it is he represents, just as the British Ambassador is seated at the hostess’s right not because of his beaux yeux but because he represents the Queen.

     (See also MINISTER)

+ + + + +

[Okay, so there’s that little problem of non-inclusive language. It grates at me, sure, but in the first place, Buechner was born in 1926; when he went to seminary and then was ordained, all ministers were male. In the second place, this book was published in 1973. And finally, Buechner is a tremendous advocate for inclusivity–for women, for LGBT folks, for everyone. He preached in 1997 at the PC(USA)’s General Assembly, the national church convention, in 1997, talking about how he had experienced God more at a lesbian wedding–a service officiated by a female minister) than he had in church for a long time.]

But I digress

I live and am an elder in San Gabriel Presbytery. Southern California isn’t like the rest of the country in most ways, and our version of presbyterianism is no different. Teaching Elders (as ministers are now called) and Ruling Elders (elected congregational leaders) both serve as voting commissioners to the presbytery (regional governing body); historically they differ in function only, as they (along with Deacons) take the same ordination vows with the exception of one question having to do with responsibilities. But here the presbytery moderator (elected for one year as vice-moderator who then becomes the moderator of presbytery, and then the moderator of presbytery council) seems to be a job for male ministers, since we have just elected our fourth male minister in a row. At least this most recent one, unlike the previous three, is non-European American… And all of the committee chairs–the ones who have presentation roles at our presbytery meetings–are ministers. There are only three elders on the presbytery council: two at-large, and one the chair of a “minor” committee (ironically, the presbytery’s Committee on Representation). Worship at presbytery meetings almost always features a sermon or message from the pastor of the host church, and prayers and other parts of the service are almost always given by “Rev. So-and-So” as listed in the worship bulletin. We rarely see the names of nor hear the voices of ruling elders, either in the church’s work or it it’s worship.

Yep. Clergy-centric. This is sad. It’s certainly not the church of our founder John Calvin (who himself was probably not ordained). And it’s certainly not the church that professes to dislike the idea of having bishops or popes.

+ + + + +

And, in case you’re curious, here’s what Buechner says about “minister”–and remember: 1973… also that he also wrote a book called Son of Laughter:

There are three basic views:

1.  A minister is a Nice Guy. He’ll take a drink if you offer him one, and when it comes to racy stories, he can tell a few right along with the best of them. He preaches a good sermon, but he’s not one of these religious fanatics who thinks he’s got to say a prayer every time he pays a call. When it comes to raising money, he’s nobody’s fool and has all the rich old ladies eating out of his hand. He has bridged the generation gap by introducing things like a rock group at the eleven o’clock service and what he calls rap sessions on subjects like drugs and sex instead of Sunday school. At the same time he admits privately that though the kids have a lot going for them, he wishes they’d cut their hair. He’s big on things like civil rights, peace, and encounter groups. He sends his children to private school. He makes people feel comfortable in his presence by showing them that he’s got his feet on the ground like everybody else. He reassures them that religion is something you should take seriously but not go overboard with.
2.  A minister has his head in the clouds which is just where a man should have it whose mind is on higher things. His morals are unimpeachable, and if you should ever happen to use bad language in his presence, you apologize. He has a lovely sense of humor and gets a kick out of it every time you ask him if he can’t do something about this rainy weather we’ve been having. He keeps things like sex, politics, race and alcoholism out of his sermons. His specialty is religion, and he’s wise enough to leave other matters to people who know what they’re talking about.
3.  A minister is as much an anachronism as an alchemist or a chimney sweep. Like Tiffany glass of the Queen of England, he is a camp figure whose function is primarily decorative. Although their various perspectives are admittedly limited, Maharishis, Communists, homosexuals, drug addicts, and the like are all to be listened to for their special insights. The perspective of ministers, on the other hand, is so hopelessly distorted and biased that there is no point in listening to them unless you happen to share it.

     The first minsters were the twelve disciples. There is no evidence that Jesus chose them because they were brighter or nicer than other people. In fact the New Testament record suggests that they were continually missing the point, jockeying for position and, when the chips were down, interested in nothing so much as saving their own skins. Their sold qualification seems to have been their initial willingness to rise to their feet when Jesus said, “Follow me.” As St. Paul put it later, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)
When Jesus sent the twelve out into the world, his instructions were simple. He told them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal (Luke 9:2) with the implication that to do either right was in effect to do both. (see HEALING) Fortunately for the world in general and the church in particular, the ability to do them is not dependent on either moral character or I.Q. To do them in the name of Christ is to be a minister. In the name of Christ not to do them is to be a bad joke.

     (see also REVEREND)

And under VOCATION, Buechner say in part, “The place God calls us to is the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Amen.

Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.
Copyright 1973 by Frederick Buechner.
Harper & Row.


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