GA: Part 1
Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
By the time the 225th General Assembly ended (early!) on Saturday, I was, and continue to be, overwhelmed with all that was decided, and the way it was done. I will just touch on part of the “how” it was conducted, and we will later read the thoughts of at least a couple of others who were much more involved than I. Ally Lee was our Teaching Elder Commissioner, and Steve Salyards wrote no less than 13(!) articles on GA for Presbyterian Outlook. And, of course, we will get a report at our September 13th Presbytery meeting from Ally, Ruling Elder Commissioner Joshua Marmol (Knox), and YAAD Joseline Gonzalez (Puente de Esperanza). They have the formidable task of summarizing the many actions taken, including the amendments to the Constitution which we will be voting on in coming months.
I think you know that this GA was held with a hybrid format, with the committees coming in, a few at a time, to deliberate in person in Louisville, ending last week, with five days of plenary sessions held by Zoom (with a couple hundred of us watching the livestream). And you must have heard that our own Ruth Santana-Grace is now a co-moderator! She and her partner Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis did an amazing job facilitating the meeting, through long hours, a stunning diversity of subjects, and more than a few technical glitches. You can be sure we will be inviting Ruth back home to speak with us!
Because the 224th GA fell in the midst of COVID confusion, nearly all the business from the last four years was considered during this GA. And, of course, the world has not stayed constant during these last four years, so some additional issues are much more critical now, and some perspectives have evolved since our last in-person GA. So old controversies like Israel-Palestine relations, divestment from fossil fuels, immigrants’ rights, gun violence prevention, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and the relationship between OGA and PMA (Office of the General Assembly and Presbyterian Mission Agency) were all dealt with much more decisively than in the past. There are many videos giving highlights of different actions at https://ga-pcusa.org/.
The worship services were pre-recorded so you can find the worship services and bulletins at https://ga-pcusa.org/worship-info/. The services were a special delight for me, and maybe some kind of act of reconciliation, because the person who wrote all the liturgies for the services was Rev. Ruth Takiko West, who happens to be Assistant Dean of SFTS. She was joined in the planning with Rev. Tasha Iwalani Hicks McCray, a classmate of Ruth (they graduated a little after Dongwoo Lee, when I was still on staff at SFTS). They invited over a dozen SFTS alums (including Mary Ellen Azada) to lead in worship. Though their affiliations were not listed, it was not lost on some of us that these wonderful, creative, and faithful folk manifested some of the blessings of the relationship between the PC(USA) and SFTS, which was quietly restored at this GA. By the way, the GA also received news of Bear Ride’s role on the SFTS Board of Directors, and enthusiastically reelected SFTS alum Diane Givens Moffett as Presbyterian Mission Agency president and executive director.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this GA was the way they attempted to reform their practices to increase inclusivity, especially of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). You may remember that in our presbytery, we had a very productive group last year to review ways we have been more or less inclusive in our presbytery meetings and practices, and this GA offered some interesting resources that I hope we study for potential future use.
Every once in a while, the co-moderators or Stated Clerk or a commissioner or YAAD would mention “Equity Primes.” This was a practice from a community arts organization called DreamYard that seeks to ensure that decisions they make include the voices that need to be included. So rather than barrel through decisions based on habit and judged by speed, participants were asked to consider:
- Why are we trying to make the decision now?
- Do we have enough information to make an equitable/inclusive decision?
- Have we heard directly from those who will be most impacted?
- Have we thought through the impact to the whole church?
- What additional voices/information do we need to make an equitable/inclusive decision?
- What information would lead to more equity?
This and many other intriguing suggestions come in a beautiful and useful toolkit called Creating Cultures and Practices for Racial Equity, from an arts- and justice-based organization called Race Forward (https://www.raceforward.org/). While the resource is said to be designed for arts organizations, GA proved that the practices can be adjusted for any group, including the church!
There was enough intentional work done in the first day of last week’s plenary sessions that one of my colleagues asked if this means the answer for the church today is to focus on dismantling systemic racism. But the rest of the week showed, in unmistakable clarity and complexity, that there is no one answer; there are many ways our world is broken, and many ways we are called and blessed to respond with self-giving and faithful energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.
My sense is that this GA presented many bold and faithful decisions, and how we will live into them will provide opportunity for challenge and renewal for years to come. I applaud the discernment and bold obedience of the commissioners, advisory delegates, co-moderators, volunteers, and staff, and pray that God will do wonderful things through the actions taken. May we seek to be clear channels of God’s love, mercy, justice, and peace, in all we are, say, and do.
In Christ’s Peace,