Every two years Presbyterian Elders and Pastors, youth, young adults, volunteers, activists and lay people gather for our denomination’s General Assembly. This year’s assembly took place last week in St. Louis, Missouri, as the church gathered to discuss issues related to fossil fuels, immigration, mission partners living and working all over the world, ongoing issues in Israel and Palestine, issues of inclusion and justice across our nation, Christian education and evangelism, and even restructuring our national church and local churches to put their best foot forward for the future.
For the past eight years, I have had the privilege of attending the General Assembly as a volunteer staff person. It is very much “seeing how the sausage gets made” kind of work, as my fellow volunteers and I seek to ensure that every voice in a debate is heard, as we navigate new conversations in the church as well as walk with folks who have been having the same big church disagreements for a generation, and as we try to maintain the values of doing things decently and in order, in the face of quite a bit of chaos in the world.
If you are especially interested in knowing what actions the General Assembly took this year, the best place to find that information is on the Presbyterian News Service website, where there are a variety of stories on the different committees and plenary decisions.
Overall it was a fairly uneventful assembly, with only rare moments of contention between different groups of Presbyterians. After many assemblies in a row where specific issues felt like they were tearing people apart, this was certainly an assembly that showed how closely we have come together around issues of justice, reconciliation and inclusion.
A very close friend and colleague from my seminary days roomed with me at the assembly, which meant that we had even more time together to process the business and the culture of the General Assembly. She had last been a Commissioner in 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
In her reflections on what made this Assembly seem like a new moment in the life of the church was her awareness of how many people of color had been selected to be in leadership at this General Assembly. She was not imagining things - indeed the General Assembly leadership intentionally prioritizes full representation in how we as Presbyterians do our business.
The PC (USA) General Assembly has an entire entity within it to reflect on and encourage the church to be bold when it comes to representation in our churches.
The General Assembly Committee on Representation (GACOR) advises, consults with, and guides the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Synods, Presbyteries and congregations on matters of inclusion, participation and representation at all levels of church leadership and decision making.
Its mission supports the mandate of the Book of Order (G-3.0103):
The councils of the church shall give full expression to the rich diversity of the church’s membership and shall provide for full participation and access to representation in decision-making and employment practices (F-1.0403). In fulfilling this commitment, councils shall give due consideration to both the gifts and requirements for ministry (G-2.0104) and the right of people in congregations and councils to elect their officers (F-3.0106).
The diversity we witnessed at this year’s General Assembly certainly represents our aspirations for the diversity that all Presbyterian churches might reflect, not just in leadership, but in membership.
This Sunday, Rachel Pedersen and I will be leading us in our next topic for our Navigating the News Adult Education series after worship. This week’s topic: Issues of Race and Diversity.
We will have space to process some of the most troubling current events in the news lately - some all too close to home here in Philadelphia, examine how scripture guides us on these issues, reflect on the inclusion of the Behlhar Confession in our Presbyterian Book of Order, which was written by Christians in the midst of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and learn about what we already are doing and consider what else we should be doing to address issues of race as a community of faith.