General Assembly 2016: The Hope in Our Calling


2016 GA Update

by Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Business as usual? Hardly so. Not at this General Assembly.

It began with the election of Co-Moderators to serve GA, an historic first in a church that has always elected a Moderator and a Vice-Moderator. Instead of a Moderator leading most of the Assembly assisted occasionally by a Vice-Moderator, our Co-Moderators alternated equally at the podium this year. This kept freshness in the Assembly and helped prevent burnout for the person in the Moderator's chair. Moreover, this is the first time that the PCUSA has elected two women to serve in the Moderator's office.

Second, this Assembly approved two major constitutional changes - a recommendation that presbyteries approve a revised " Directory for Worship" as part of our Book of Order, and the addition of " The Belhar Confession" to our Book of Confessions. The revision of the Directory is less about changing the shape of our worship than about making the Directory clearer and more useful for worship planning, but it does include a few substantive changes. Belhar adds to our Book of Confessions a strong statement on the nature of the church's unity amid its diversity. Moreover, it stands as the first statement in our constitution that comes from our brothers and sisters in the global South. Together, these two constitutional documents will exercise a great impact on the church for many years.
A third unprecedented action was the Assembly's election of the first African-American to serve as our denomination's highest officer, Stated Clerk-elect   J Herbert Nelson. I have been privileged to count J Hebert as a friend for many years (yes, the "J" is always part of his given name), and can testify unequivocally to his passionate love for our Lord and commitment to his church.
Each of these historic milestones signals a strong current of intent to widen our arms - to one another in leadership and fellowship, and to the surrounding world in evangelism and justice. One marker of these widening arms was the Assembly's resolve on Middle East peace issues, that the church be equally attentive to the wellness of Israelis and Palestinians. Another marker is the Presbyterian Foundation's promotion of positive investment in business and education as a primary means for helping Palestinians and Israelis alike, a story told on   this video  that Moderator Edmiston urged those present to share around the church.
Yesterday saw debate and decisions on some of the most controversial matters before the Assembly. Outcomes of those deliberations are published in the Daily GA News. The thread that runs through those resolutions is that each was a vote to keep dialogue open between those who are at odds in difficult matters, from Israeli-Palestinian peace issues to sexuality divides to fossil fuel industry divestment. GA's actions demonstrate a confidence that reconciliation, not alienation, is the final word for those who trust in Jesus.
In worship yesterday, Rev. Jerry Andrews reminded the Assembly that our reconciliation with God has been already accomplished in Christ, yet we are called to be reconciled with God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20) Similarly, reconciliation with one another is a gift, yet it requires our intentional commitment. How is that going for us?

Yours in the hope of our calling,

Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
Pittsburgh Presbytery

Pittsburgh, PA 15233