Ruling Elder Commissioner’s First Thoughts on GA222

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.

Teaching Elder Commissioner’s First Thoughts on GA222

Andy Meeker
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.

In Christ,
Andy Meeker
Pastor, Wilmington Island Presbyterian Church
Savannah, Georgia
TE Commissioner to the 222nd General Assembly of the PC(USA)
Portland, Oregon

Race and Reconciliation: Confessions of 1967 and Belhar

Sundays in June at 9:30 – 10:30 a.m.

Butler Memorial Presbyterian Church and
First Presbyterian Church
Using a study written by Clifton Kirkpatrick, former stated clerk of the General Assembly, the class will read these confessional statements to explore the topic of race and reconciliation.  All are invited.

“The Confessions of 1967 and Belhar have the potential to be great blessings to the Presbyterian Church USA, but only if they come off the shelf and into our hearts… We risk missing a great opportunity for the renewal of our churches and transformation of our society if we do not bring these two confessions front and center in our churches.”  –Clifton Kirkpatrick

Sunday, June 5 at Butler
For Such a Time as This

Sunday, June 12 at First
The Confession of 1967 and the Call for Reconciliation in Society

Sunday, June 19 at Butler
The Confession of Belhar and Unity in the Church

Sunday, June 26 at First
Two Sides of the Same Coin

Report of the General Presbyter

The Story: New Life at Swainsboro, The Birth of Iglesia Latina

Sometimes in our wisdom we attempt to plan everything out in great detail. This is not always a bad thing and sometimes it even works, for a while. I would submit that the institutional church is an example of this planning. In my office there is a magnet on a file cabinet that says, We Plan, God Laughs.

In the spring of 2010 the session at the Swainsboro Church contacted the Presbytery to begin conversation about the future of the Swainsboro Presbyterian Church. As they met with then General Presbyter Ken McKenzie, it was evident that the session, primarily composed of three women, was thinking is this the time to close this church? How could this be accomplished, the congregation was down to six or eight people and they were all worn down, even though there was great love for this church. They were looking for a plan to dissolve the charter and dismiss the members to other congregations.

Chapter One:
In that same time, Ken happened to meet a Catholic priest in Swainsboro who had a large contingent of Hispanic immigrants in his parish. He was aware that there were a lesser number of these folks, who come to work in the fields harvesting the crops, who were protestant and had no church affiliation. There was no plan in place, no budget, no committees met, Presbyterian Polity was not invoked. It was a highly irregular, decent, but not at all in order, opportunity for new life in the Swainsboro Presbyterian Church. If we had planned it in the traditional way we do things, I am convinced that this ministry would not be celebrating it sixth anniversary in June, 2016. Ken talked about the possibility of this ministry with the session, called his former colleague from Cherokee Presbytery, Rev. Ozeas Silva and with the agreement of these folks, Iglesia Latina was born.

There are lots of you here, too many to mention and we would leave some out if we tried, that have made significant contributions in those early days of infancy in this ministry. Ozeas made us aware of an international language, soccer, that could draw the Hispanic/Latina peoples to this place. Through that they would be exposed to the loving good news of the gospel of our Lord Jesus, The Christ. So we built a soccer field, and they came! A food ministry was born, Bibles in Spanish were furnished, building repairs were made, English classes were started. Iglesia Latina became part of the 1001 New Worshipping Communities and grants from PC (U.S.A.) were obtained.
The congregation grew and will have forty to fifty in worship here on most Sundays. While there is a core of the membership who remain here year round, the congregation changes as some go back to their countries and are not able to return. However, others do come to work, but because of this unstable population, and our immigration laws, the sustainability of the congregation is slower in terms of membership growth.
We in our own congregations might learn a lesson from these faithful Latina Christians. At the first anniversary of Iglesia Latina on a Saturday afternoon, I was sitting beside Mary Lee Zimmerman, one of the Ruling Elders from Swainsboro Presbyterian Church. We were watching a soccer tournament, the parking lot was full, several teams were competing for a trophy. Families had come to watch. There was a bouncy castle with a large number of small children screaming for joy as the jumped and played together. As we took it all in, all of the sounds and sights of people being together for fiesta, for celebration, Mary Lee turned to me and said, “Look the children are back!”
My friends, what I believe Mary Lee’s words really meant to me was that, “The Church is alive, the church is vital again. Thanks be to God!

There are many other chapters in this Iglesia Latina story that will be written by perhaps others. But I want to jump to a little bit of years 5 and 6, and future chapters to be written more completely as we continue this story. Recently, Ozeas began talking to me about a Baptist church that wanted to help with this ministry. Having been raised Baptist and later as a Deacon, chairing the Diaconate in a large church in Decatur, I remembered how independent and territorial some Baptists can be. So I agreed to meet with Ozeas and Pastor Hal Wilson to see what was going on with this. Rick Douyliez and I met at the church shortly thereafter with them. We found out that Hal’s congregation had been journeying to Alabama to help a Hispanic ministry there. When they found Iglesia Latina in their own town it was a great joy to be able to serve this congregation. As we talked, to my great satisfaction, I heard nothing in our conversation but a love for all God’s children and a desire to help Iglesia Latina with both financial and human resources. The renovations and repairs underway at the church property are part of the financial aid. Additionally, members of the Baptist congregation have volunteers working in the English as a second language classes.
As I listened I heard Hal Wilson speak of the joy and vitality of his congregation as they worked outside of the walls of their church building to share their love with others who are quite different in many ways, but are children of God who return that love to these that serve. Both groups are seeing the face of Jesus as they work together building God’s kingdom.
My friends, we have spent the last couple of years working in the area of discipling as Jesus has called us to be and do. We have explored what that means as it relates to church renewal and transformation. I still hear so much worry about our membership numbers, our smaller budgets and how there is not enough. The Church discusses it as the theology of scarcity instead of God’s abundance. I hope you can take away from today a feeling of what a vital church can do if it will look outside of its walls for a world that needs God’s love. The question is about looking inward, or looking outward and trusting God for the resources that are abundant when we work together in God’s plan.
I challenge you all to look outside the walls for the vitality you are not finding inside. I challenge the congregations in this District 2 to look at this ministry in your back yard. Find out what you can do to help and in the process find the new life, the vitality, that your church has needed. I challenge our other two districts find opportunities for being vital outside of your walls. There are ministries all around if we have eyes to see; Crosswalk, a new worshiping community in Brunswick, sister congregations in need, ministries to the homeless, for children, for battered women, or those incarcerated; for the least of these. Be God’s blessing in the world and find your own blessing in the process.
Grace and Peace,

Gladding, Russel_informal