(Rev James Reese, 90 yrs old (in photo above), was with Dr King in Washington for his ‘I have a dream’ speech. Quote of the day was his comment, “I may have at times felt ignored, unheard and marginalized, but I never left the table.” (speaking about racial issues.) He received a standing ovation after that comment, and again at the end of his speech.)
At the close of the meeting last night I was packing up my materials and not really paying attention to the music playing faintly in the background. After several minutes it slowly dawned on this very tired commissioner that I was humming along to the Jackson Five! Nice postlude to the meeting! We are in Motown after all, and the music of Motown plays everywhere on the streets here, but imagine that postlude in church or at the end of a Session meeting:)
Throughout the afternoon, we were given previews of upcoming overtures that we will be discussing and voting on later in the week. Some of them were very well done, with creative uses of videos, skits, etc. I have tried to summarize a couple of them, but, honestly, they were more inspiring in person.
We received a report from the Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, Minn. Rev. Hart-Andersen’s church was challenged by Hunder Farrel, Director of Presbyterian World Mission to make a one million dollar gift to a project in Sudan whose goals are to provide education for young women in that country.
Westminster Church took a year to study the history and culture of Sudan and even sent a fact finding team to Sudan to talk with leaders in churches there. Their church committed to make the one million dollar gift to this project. They also challenged other churches in the denomination to join them as partners on this project. Together with Fourth Presbyterian church in Chicago and First Church in Indianapolis 1.6 million dollars has been pledged to this project.
These are obviously large, wealthy churches, but we were challenged to dream new ministries in partnership with other churches in our presbyteries and communities, no matter what size church we belong to.
At the 220th GA (2012) an overture was brought to the floor that Middle Governing bodies (synods) be eliminated. The 220th GA referred it to a commission which would further study the proposal. They would study the effectiveness of synods and look at alternative models of Middle Governing bodies. Similar recommendations have been made at several General Assemblys in the past.
The commission, appointed in 2012, will report later this week and recommend against eliminating synods, but to instead reconfigure and repurpose them. The commission will recommend a two year process of creating the new alternative model for synods, including reducing the number to as few as eight synods across the PC (USA). There are currently about 14 (I don’t have the exact number in front of me.).
Revitalization, not simply reduction, is the goal, with particular attention to enhancing Synod collaboration with General Assembly in order to increase support of the mission and ministry of local churches within synods.
After dinner we met with our committees for the first time. I am on “General Assembly Procedures” Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Our first meetings business was to approve the agenda for our meetings, do some group building, and review of Roberts Rules of Order, and develop a covenant for our time together.
You can also follow the GA proceedings on Facebook. Search for “Spirit of GA”.
(Top Photo: The General Assembly gathering. Bottom Photo: John Wilkinson, of Third Presbyterian Church, speaking to the Assembly)
After an overnight delay in my flight plans I finally arrived in Detroit about 11:30am Saturday morning. My wife is a saint, as she got up at 4:00am two days in a row to get me to the airport.
General Assembly is taking place in downtown Detroit at the COBO center, an enormous convention center that sits on the edge of the Detroit River. Canada is directly across the river with a number of large casinos in view, but alas, I did not bring my passport:)
There is an overwhelming amount of business that comes before the General Assembly and it’s committees. It would be impossible to report on everything, so I’ll try to include a couple of actions each day that will hopefully be of interest to you. I’ll also throw in some random observations, quotes, statistics, and really bad puns.
The size of this gathering is overwhelming. There are approximately one thousand commissioners, Youth Advisory Delegates and observers from every presbytery across the country. As you can imagine, it takes a small army of people to make this event happen. The Committee on Local Arrangements includes 1600 volunteers and has been working for two years to prepare for GA.
The Saturday afternoon Plenary session began with group building. A video of parts of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at the march on Washington in 1963 was presented. Following the video we broke into groups of 3-4 and discussed the following question. “How do Dr Kings words hold up a mirror to you of how racism has affected your life?”
My answer to this question was that even as a young child, I was fascinated by Dr. King. It was his words and the way he spoke. He captivated me. As I hung on his delivery of every word, his words affected me like no one else did. Even as a child I understood that our diversity of color and culture was not a reason for division. And he inspired me with his way of acknowledging our diversity, but moving beyond it to a higher spiritual, moral, and ethical vision of unity of all people as human beings. His words have been a mirror for me throughout my life, held up to to my behavior, my attitudes, my words, and my faith.
Most of the afternoon session was spent on house keeping items that will help the meetings flow smoothly, passing consent agendas, and hearing reports from special ministries of Presbyterian churches around the world. For the first time, delegates at this GA will use our cell phones or computer to vote. Imagine getting approximately 700 people set up on their phones or computers to vote! It didn’t take long, actually. It wasn’t all business, however. We were frequently reminded of the Spirit of God, on which we are dependent as we deliberate the many, many issues (overtures) before us.
After dinner we returned to the most anticipated event of the day, the election of a new moderator. John Wilkinson, pastor at Third Presbyterian Church was one of the candidates. There were three candidates. The process of election allowed each candidate five minutes to talk about their skills, experience, and readiness to become the next moderator. After each candidate had an opportunity to speak, there was a 45 minute question and answer period, in which commissioners were given the chance to ask a question. Each candidate was given time to respond to the question. Then we voted. Candidate Heath Rada won on the first vote (winner needs 50% of the votes). Heath is a native of Richmond, Virginia. He has served at all levels of the PC(USA), and currently serves on the boards of the Presbyterian mission Agency of the GA; the Montreat Conference Center and the Presbyterian Homes of North Carolina. He brings extensive experience that will make him an excellent moderator. From his speech I noted that he has a passion for bringing people together in conflictual situations and addressing issues of justice. Personally, I was disappointed at the obvious lack of discernment skills on the part of the assembly in not electing the brilliant John Wilkinson. I may be a little biased.
The music has been very good today, with a variety of choirs and music groups leading us with hymns from the new hymnal “Glory to God” as well as a number of contemporary hymns. Each commissioner was given a copy of the new hymnal, which I’ll lend to Henry to get his opinion.
We ended our day at 11:30, so I’m of to bed.
General Assembly will have to wait a day for me. I arrived at the Rochester airport bright and early this morning, at 5:00am, only to be told there was a ‘major’ delay in the first leg of my trip from Rochester to Washington. This meant that I would miss my connecting flight from Washington to Detroit. After a lengthy search for another flight, the attendant said that the best she could do is a flight that would have me arriving in Washington at 11:30am, but not leaving Washington until 5:30. It seemed a waste of a day, so in the end I booked that same flight schedule for Saturday morning. I will miss a couple of forums I wanted to attend on issues being dealt with during GA, but I won’t miss the official start of GA. Stay tuned.