GA 223 Recap, SP GA Commissioners:
Leslie Ferrell, Mercer Island PC Rev. Eliana Maxim
Rev. Doug Kelly Rachel Jewett, Mercer Island PC/YAAD
Julia Sensenbrenner, Bethany PC
Reflections from Rev. Doug Kelly, Teaching Elder Commissioner:
Here are a few highlights of my experience in St. Louis:
● Opening worship with a 300 voice choir and a 1,000 people.
● Approval of new Presbyterian Mission Agency executive, the Rev. Dr. Dianne Moffett, a powerful African American leader who appears to be a remarkable combination of Christ centered piety, passion for the world, and key administrative competency.
● The awe-inspiring organization to pull this event off.
● The healthy GA floor debate on fossil fuel divestment, even though it didn’t finish the way I was personally discerning God’s leading.
● My committee’s work on the per capita increase issue, both highs and lows.
● Marching to the St. Louis courthouse to liberate people held in jail on misdemeanor charges due to unjust cash bail bond policies, and a cop saying to some of us, “This is good.” The night before my hotel clerk said, “Hey, I heard about what you Presbyterians are doing tomorrow. Nobody’s ever come here and done that. Pretty cool.”
I certainly had my frustrations with GA, but overall, I came away having seen God work in myriad ways. Here are snippets from one of my journal entries:
6/19/18 7:40 a.m.
This older white male talked too much in yesterday's committee meetings... I love the YAAD voices.
I struggle that it seems like we are all rookies on our committee... We haven't met monthly like a session, or quarterly like a presbytery. And… it seems like committee members are less familiar with parliamentary procedures than regular presbytery meetings, which limits conversation in that room of 52 people. Is this the way to do denominational business?
However, at the same time, isn't this what makes us unique as Presbyterians. We don't consolidate authority and power. Power and authority must always be accountable to teaching and ruling elders. On the one hand, I want to say, “Can we streamline this?” On the other hand, it seems our current way of doing things assures connection all the way back to individual congregations. In the midst of it all, I am very proud and honored to be in a denomination such as this.
Reflections from Rev. Eliana Maxim, Teaching Elder Commissioner:
It was an extraordinary opportunity to participate in the 223rd General Assembly of the PCUSA in St. Louis. Particularly at this time in our culture when public discourse has devolved into shrill and dissonant noise, it was refreshing and inspiring to be a part of compassionate conversation, respectful dialogue, and collective discernment.
The first order of business was the election of the (co) moderators, and although my friend and colleague Rev. Bertram Johnson and I did not prevail in our candidacy, it was a humbling and blessed experience to share ourselves with the assembly and go through the election process. We made connections with amazing Youth Advisory Delegates and were reminded than rather being the future of the church, the youth are the church now.
This offered me time to reflect how our presbytery is encouraging and supporting the participation of youth leadership throughout our churches and presbytery.
Much of my time was spent as a commissioner in the Environmental Issues committee where we discussed overtures on possible divestment of fossil fuel companies (it did not pass plenary vote) and support for our denomination to cease utilizing Styrofoam materials. I also spent significant time as a resource person in the Way Forward committee where denominational restructuring was discussed and ultimately passed by the assembly.
I am grateful to Seattle Presbytery for the opportunity to serve as a commissioner at this assembly, and I encourage my colleagues to seize the chance to serve should they be elected.
Reflections from Leslie Ferrell, Ruling Elder Commissioner:
The 223rd General Assembly was an amazing experience. The democratic process of everyone at GA having a voice and sharing their opinions in a very civil manner that determines the direction of the whole church on a variety of social justice issues and church issues was inspiring. For those of us who had never attended before, the process was a confirmation that we are all trying to listen to the will of God, to be the hands and feet in the world, and to be beacons in the dark.
The most revealing moments for me personally, were realizing the church looks different across the country and the globe. We all tend to stay in our lanes and think that our issues and how we move through them are the same everywhere. Every meeting, every issue presented, was another opportunity to see the challenges our Presbyterian family faces in their congregations and cities. It created a desire for myself to look at ways to partner with others to help and enrich our faith journeys. Jesus calls us to be in fellowship together, it was truly evident during GA that we are better as a whole than separate. I will always be thankful for the opportunity to be part of the process to lay the foundation for the work that is yet to be done. Blessings abound!
Reflections from Rachel Jewett, Young Adult Advisory Delegate:
Hello! For those of you who don't know me I am Rachel Jewett from MIPC and I was the YAAD who had the honor of representing the Seattle Presbytery at the 223rd GA! I am sorry I am not there in person - I would love to talk but I am leading VBS at my church which is in the evenings this year!!
I am so thankful for my experience at GA and would go again in a heartbeat! I learned about our denomination around the country and world and even learned some more about myself! I wrote a blog with some of my thoughts throughout the week and have the link to those 2 posts below!
Below are some key takeaways:
● An overture passed for there to be a discussion at the next GA about YAADs having a vote for the moderator team.
● Young adults are NOT the future of the church, we are the NOW. We are currently apart of the body of this congregation and it was amazing to see the YAADS voice and vote in committees and express opinions and ask questions in plenary.
● I spoke in my committee and on the plenary floor (more in my blog). Ask Eliana about the question I asked and the not so great answer I received.
● I was on committee 12 which was Middle East issues and though I am still a little confused in the moment I understood what was going on and took notes to follow along. What it all boils down to is how can we support both Israel and Palestine in treating each other with equal human rights. (a problem we still have in America)
● I was asked to pray to close day one in my committee and that was really fun for me.
Reflections from Julia sensenbrenner, ruling elder commissioner:
Attending General Assembly was never on my radar. In fact, my initial response when asked to be a commissioner was, “I am the wrong person.” But through prayer, the Lord convinced me of the call. Now looking back, I am grateful I stepped out in faith as the experience was much better than I expected. The eight days were long and intense, but it was stimulating to meet and learn from so many different people. The younger pastors, theological students, and young adult (ages 17-23) advisory delegates I met were passionate, reflective, and full of faith, causing me to come away with more confidence in the future of our denomination.
I also learned so much about the broader PC(USA), including the diversity of our church. I met commissioners from tiny, mid-size and larger congregations from many parts of the country, including Indonesian, Korean, Puerto Rican and Black Presbyterian churches. Serving on the committee that dealt with issues related to 4 of the 6 national PC(USA) agencies, I learned—perhaps more than I wanted to know—about the Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, the Presbyterian Foundation, and the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. I come away from the 8-day experience wanting to share more with my congregation about our broader denomination, including the 1001 Worshiping Communities, the Young Adult Volunteer program, and ASWP (a national Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy that conducts research on social issues and advises the GA on many topics). I am very grateful to my church, the Seattle Presbytery, and the Lord for this opportunity to learn, contribute and be stretched.