Thursday at General Assembly -- "Mission Trip T-Shirt Day," as declared by outgoing Moderator Heath Rada - was a good day to be inside. It was rainy and cool, and gave the assembled body a chance to do significant work.
The wheels are turning, slowly, but they are turning; and with luck, the General Assembly may complete its work by mid-day on Saturday. Some of the Commissioners are doing their very best to confound and confuse our Co-Moderators and the Stated Clerk's Office with amendments and motions that sometimes get couched in negative language, but there always seems to be someone who figures things out and gets the Assembly back on track.
Each plenary session not only includes discussion and action on the many recommendations that are coming to the Assembly, but each gathering also includes special recognitions and reports that help us all get a greater sense of what it is that we are doing as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). One of those special moments today was the commissioning of our Mission Co-Workers and others serving in the mission field on our behalf, including the Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs). Once again, this special moment included the commissioning of our own Mindy Vande Brake as she continues her Young Adult Volunteer service in New Orleans.
The morning's worship focused on the story of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke. Our preacher was the Rev. Alice Ridgill, pastor of the New Faith Presbyterian Church in Greenwood, South Carolina. Her message was entitled "Difference Makers" and it focused on today's Gospel lesson from the perspective of the man who was beaten and robbed on the Jericho Road. She observed that the traveler:
- Assessed his plight - he was left for dead, but nonetheless, he was still alive, in trouble, and as he still breathed, he believed that help would come;
- Arrested his pride - being overlooked and failed by those who should have helped him was deflating, but he let go of his ego and opened himself to whatever help would come; he knew that God would take care of him;
- Accepted this person, the Samaritan, who recognized what they held in common - their personhood and that was significant; the Samaritan gave no thought about his ego - he saw a person in need and responded, very much concerned about what would happen if he did not act; and,
- Aligned his passion with that of the Samaritan - they found a common ground and became knit together.
In seeking to apply this to us, we were reminded that, as the PCUSA, we are wounded, but we are not dead . . . and we will not die. She suggested, very strongly, that this is time to let go of our egos. She called upon us to accept those who may not be like us, by recognizing what we hold in common, beginning with our personhood. She challenged us to align our passions and move forward, knit together.
We were encouraged "not to give up, give out, or give in. This is not the time to lose hope, but work with resolve to keep hope alive." She asked us "What kind of footprint will we leave behind?"
The afternoon and evening sessions considered reports from the Mid-Councils Committee and the Way Forward Committee, as well as two others - Mission Coordination and Social Justice.
The Mid-Councils Committee recommended, and the Assembly concurred, to rescind the restructuring of synods. The vote was 73%-27%. This means that for the foreseeable future the boundaries of all synods in the denomination will remain as they are currently configured.
Acting on recommendations from the "Way Forward Committee," the Assembly first approved the establishment of a "2020 Vision Team" of fifteen people to develop a guiding statement for the denomination and make a plan for its implementation with all deliberate speed. The process of developing such a guiding statement will help us to name and claim our denominational identity as we seek to follow the Spirit into the future. Following that, the Assembly approved naming a Way Forward Commission to study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly agencies of the PC(USA).
As I write this, it has just passed 10:00 p.m. on the Pacific Coast. The Assembly continues to meet, working on the report of the Social Justice Issues Committee. If the work is not done by 11:30, we will call it a night and begin again in the morning. If you wish to see more complete reports about actions taken, please check the General Assembly News, as well as the reports from the Outlook.
On Friday morning, we will elect a new Stated Clerk for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Please keep the Assembly in your prayers as they take this significant action.
Until our next report, from all of us here in Oregon . . .