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.