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These remarks were shared by YAAD Rebekah Woodburn at her home church, Henry Memorial after GA 222
During the ten days that I spent in Portland, I had a beautifully exhausting experience. I started my time in an orientation with the 140 Young Adult Advisory Delegates from presbyteries across the country. It was an intensive day in which we had fellowship, worshiped together, and learned about the GA process, what our roles would be, and how to go about doing business in the most respectable and productive way.
After our first day we were already feeling tired and a little bit overwhelmed but we felt more confident in our abilities to navigate the General Assembly. On Sunday we were welcomed with open arms into various local churches. Then our work began.
We dove head first into business by electing our new Co-Moderators. We elected two amazing women (Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston) who I have complete confidence will lead the PC(USA) beautifully. As a YAAD I was allowed voice and vote in my committee (Peacemaking and International Issues) and voice and an advisory vote in plenary. The first half of the week was spent in committee meetings where we discerned God’s will on how the PC(USA) should act as a peacemaking denomination. We discussed issues such as advocating for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (which a member of my committee was from), nonviolent means of resistance to oppression, adopting 5 new peacemaking affirmations, our relationship with Cuba, supporting the Report from the UN about protecting individuals from violence and discrimination, and the protection of refugees.
After each of our last meetings of the day, the YAADS also had a separate meeting for fellowship and to reflect on the day. Once each committee finished acting on their business, they presented their recommendations before the assembly. A few of the highlights of these decisions in my eyes include the acceptance of the Belhar Confession, the decision to uphold human values in Israel/Palestine, and the decision to accept the new peacemaking affirmations as discussed in my committee. The process was exhausting, at times frustrating, but always enlightening. I got to see as well as take a stance on issues that members of the PC(USA) consider important for our denomination. I felt more involved in the Church than I have ever felt in my life.
This has been an experience in which my faith in the PC(USA) as a denomination grew as I saw the incredible young adults as well as the rest of the advisory delegates and commissioners that were passionate about their hope for the church and work towards the common goal of a healthy and faithful national church that seeks to show God’s love in everything we do. After this meeting my heart has been filled with pride and joy for the PC(USA).
I would now like to tell you a little bit more about the Confession of Belhar because I believe that it was a historical moment that gave me so much pride to be a member of the PC(USA). The Confession of Belhar originated in South Africa during the age of apartheid. It is a beautiful confession of the harm that discrimination based on race and ethnicity has on humanity. I would now like to read you a portion of it that I think is particularly incredible.
“We believe that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people; that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged; that God calls the church to follow him in this; for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry; that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind; that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly; that for God, pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering; that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right; that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream; that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.”
James McGaw, Montgomery PC
My first thought was “What a daunting responsibility. I’ll never be able to handle this properly.” Then, just like in the movies, to my rescue came Russell Gladding, Eric Beene, Andy Meeker and Molly McCarthy who thoroughly and compassionately told me and showed me exactly what needed to be done. I breathed a sigh of relief and went on the adventure of a lifetime.
My first impression upon taking part in the first meeting of the Theological Issues and Institutions Committee was how considerately and intelligently everyone dealt with the issues and each other. There were some matters like the memorializing of persons who had committed their lives to the faith and Christian Education and the approval of seminary leaders which might have been thought of as mundane had it not been for the endorsements and accolades presented which gave these issues life and context. Then there were issues like the constitutional wording of the definition of marriage, the issue of creation by the hand of God and the antecedent consideration of the theory of evolution leading to consideration of the position of the PCUSA concerning science and God. We also wrestled with the issue of who should be admitted to the table for communion. Needless to say, the discussions got pretty involved. Throughout, however, there were no demonstrations of rancor or argumentative discord. Everyone abided by the Robert’s Rules of Order guided by an even handed and able moderator and her assistants.
Another impressive aspect of all of the proceedings was the ecumenical nature of the Assembly. Our committee included advisors of different sorts including young adult advisors, seminary students, and, among others, a very impressively intelligent and articulate Eastern Orthodox priest whose input gave a unique illumination to many of the issues.
When Assembly business began on Wednesday the gathering began to take on a truly ecumenical nature. Prayers were offered by leaders from the world’s major religions and each day on the Assembly floor brought a memorable and stirring worship service from our PCUSA church leaders from around the world. The musical selections by choir, band, chorus, and instrumentalists were world class and simply amazing.
Our committee decisions were then brought to the Assembly floor for consideration and decision by all attending advisors and commissioners. (All advisors and commissioners were given a cool little Blackberry like gadget at the beginning of each meeting day which allowed us to wirelessly vote and see the results of our decision within seconds on the main media screens in the Portland Civic Center.) My first day of business on the Assembly floor brought a historical moment in the history of our church when for the first time co-moderators were elected to guide the Assembly for the next two years. And, for the first time, both of those elected were women.
The highlight of my attendance at this General Assembly was the adoption of the Belhar Confession to our Book of Order. This confession, generated as a result of apartheid in South Africa and generated by church leaders there, is a major position instrument firmly establishing the church’s stance on the inclusion of all believers in the sovereignty and love of Christ our Lord regardless of race, religion, political ideology or life style. I was honored to have taken some small part in its adoption.
Throughout my time at the Assembly I found, of course, beautiful and interesting Portland, Oregon, the Cascade Mountains (I could see Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens from the hotel elevator), the Columbia River, the tram rides, the gorgeous architecture and the warm and welcoming people and their concern for the environment which made me not only wide eyed with wonder but comfortable and relaxed in spite of the busy pace of our Assembly.
Pastor, Wilmington Island Presbyterian Church
Some initial thoughts on my time at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) held in Portland, Oregon.
The good news is that after being home for ten days, my sleep patterns are back on track (3-hour time changes are getting harder and harder to overcome!),and I am no longer dreaming about parliamentary procedures and Roberts Rules of Order (“I would like to offer an amendment on the amendment to make the minority report the main motion!”)
Many ground-breaking events took place at this year’s General Assembly:
- We added the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions. This is the first addition in many years and the first one that comes from outside of Europe or the United States (South Africa).
- We elected Co-Moderators for the first time (a change in the Standing Rules at the last Assembly permitted this) – and two women pastors, too! Denise Anderson from the Washington D.C. area and Rev. Jan Edmiston from Chicago.
- We have a new Stated Clerk for our denomination, Rev. J. Hebert Nelson, the first African American to hold this position.
Lots of other business took place, as well. Task Forces/Commissions were approved to not only study and make recommendations on the longer-term vision and function of the PC(USA) but also to look into the relationship between the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency. There were statements and actions made concerning fossil fuels, the state of Israel, harms done to the Gay & Lesbian community, and many others. Overall, there seemed to be a sense of moderation on many issues, with some more extreme positions tempered through the discernment process. Both the Presbyterian Outlook and the Office of the General Assembly have more detailed reviews of what did (and did not) take place at this year’s Generals Assembly.
I very much appreciate the opportunity to attend the 222nd General Assembly and to participate in the work of the larger church. I look forward to sharing more thoughts and reflections with many of you in the coming months.
Pastor, Wilmington Island Presbyterian Church
TE Commissioner to the 222nd General Assembly of the PC(USA)