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A Second Day in the Life of General Assembly

A Day in the Life of the General Assembly

Dear Friends,

Today was a most interesting day! The constraints of this current Assembly are always on our mind, putting a fence around what we can do, how much time we have, and so much more.

We had to cover a lot of territory today, with 14 business items to be approved. We started the day with 85% of the business left and about 56% of the time left. Whew! However, we worked the best we could, shortened breaks, and tried to keep focused. I thought I could handle Zoom all day, but at times I found myself distracted.

We began with the task of electing our Stated Clerk. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II has served for four years and stood for re-election. In my opinion, he is a humble and conscientious leader, listening and understanding, yet also guiding our church into places we need to go. His vision continues to carry us forward along that path, and it is clear that he sees great hope for our church, because there are new pathways to walk that may not look like they have in the past decades, but will focus on how we support healthy churches in whatever form they might take, reaching out in their communities. His wife (also a pastor), her mother, and his daughter were present with him as he was installed, and his wife prayed for him, which was a powerful moment for me.

Three of our commissioners have spoken on the floor of the Assembly, and two of us made motions today. TEC Amy Carlson moved changes that were approved on the PCUSA Child/Youth/Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy, and I moved changes, one approved, to the Bylaws of the A Corporation, just established for our denomination two years ago at the 223rd General Assembly. We also handled approving schools and seminaries related to our denomination, amended some standing rules to reflect our structural changes, received and approved the report of an Administrative Commission designed to help a Synod with internal challenges. We spent some time talking about special committees, teams, and task forces who were asked to do specific work and were supposed to report to this General Assembly. Since we had such a different Assembly, they were not able to report. So we extended their call and moved their reports to the 225th General Assembly.

It is really important for ALL of our churches to review items that were docketed for the General Assembly this year and see what we can get started on RIGHT NOW! There is so much that cannot afford to be ignored! I view it as my job as a commissioner to help us both dissect this and figure out ways to take some action and witness to the tremendous work done by these groups over the last several years. We cannot wait two years to make a difference, and I hope to see progress that we can share.

We received a presentation on the budget from the various groups who are now presenting a unified budget, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) A Corporation Board, and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. It was inspiring to see how our staff are working to reduce expenses, ensure continuity for our employees, and keep the vision of the church in front of us. They secured a Payroll Protection Plan loan and have altered the budget for the next two years reflecting the reality of challenging times in all of our churches.

On the other hand, we heard a wonderful presentation on how our budget reflects our current emphasis on becoming a Matthew 25 denomination, with three foci: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism, and eradicating systemic poverty. The presentation was inspiring and helped me catch anew the vision of how our denomination is trying to lead all of our churches out of our buildings and into the community. J. Herbert Nelson, our Stated Clerk, had already reminded us that Jesus was thrown out of so many churches, and we’re discovering how much we can do ministry without our buildings right now! Another quote I loved was from the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, who called us to ‘be love with skin on it!’ We have experienced lament of all kinds, and yet there is always hope in the world, in the reconciling work of our Lord Jesus Christ!

As the afternoon moved on, we faced a very interesting challenge. Normally the General Assembly approves the budgets for the next 2 years and the apportionment of per capita (which helps support all of these really important things our denomination does). We did do that, but part of the budget motion was to allow our leadership groups to change their budgets in either direction depending on how the financial circumstances go. Should we give our power as commissioners to our leaders or should we meet again by Zoom to work on any changes needed? When it was announced that a meeting like this costs $200K, that put a lot into perspective. Although many of us struggled with not doing our duties, ultimately it felt responsible to trust our leaders and not spend money in a difficult financial time. In all of our votes, we added costs of 3 cents to the apportionment. Otherwise, per capita remains the same for the next two years.

Then we took some very poignant and important time to pray for black women and girls, who are suffering deeply and have throughout our history, and then to spend 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silence, remembering George Floyd and repenting of all the times when we have participated in discrimination, stood by while discrimination happened, and turned our backs instead of standing for what was right. I hope that each of our churches will be engaging in grace-filled discussion of what we can do about racial justice.

We closed in worship, with wonderful music, deep prayer, and inspirational challenge. Now it’s up to all of us – the people of the PCUSA – to take the baton and move forward in some of the most challenging times we’ll ever face. But we can, because there is always hope, and God’s power and love are always greater than anything this world can bring. This to me is the gift of a General Assembly – a renewed faith in God and in each other, to go out in hope to re-present (present again) Jesus Christ in our words, actions, and witness. May it be so!

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