Don’t take offense. That title would match any General Assembly meeting, whether the 220th or the 110th, whether in Pittsburgh or Long
Beach or Montreat. This assembly was just like previous ones, only more so.
’Twas a wonderful gathering, one especially marked with openness and prayer.
Prayer took even greater prominence in this assembly than in previous ones. Many of the committees broke for prayer often amid their
deliberations. The marriage committee spent more time in prayer then in debate. In plenary, the commissioners formed into small prayer circles, which prayed earnestly and often.
The intensity of God-conversations evidenced a piety and love for the Lord that hinted of an old-time revival.
Wonderful also was the fellowship shared in this biennial Presbyterian family reunion. Banquets at each meal hour — including breakfast
banquets scheduled to farmers’ body clocks — brought together allies in causes and colleagues of common vision. Some of them marked milestones — like the 20-year celebration of the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith; the 45th anniversary of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba (PRCC); the 50th anniversary of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG); the 100th anniversary of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK), whose seeds were planted by PC(USA) missionaries; and indeed, the 175th anniversary of Presbyterian missions in general.
Other honors were bestowed on individuals: women of faith Ann Rhee Menzie, Judith Henry and Rosemary Rice McMahan; peace-seekers
Victor Makari and Alice Winters; educator John B. Trotti; mission co-worker, the late Joyce McMillan; students Kris Johnson and Kari Olsen; writers John Buchanan and Kenneth E. Kovacs; Middle East peacemaker Raafat Zaki; constitutionalist Alyson Janke; and lifelong leader Laura Mendenhall (see Page 6).
The assembly exhibited openness, too. It came in the form of color-coded rectangles of paper. Moderator Neal Presa and Vice Moderator
Tom Trinidad often polled the commissioners and delegates, especially to ask if they were ready to vote on a matter or needed to take a break. On cue, the participants waved the color indicating their preference (blue for yes, orange for no, black for undecided), and if one color
dominated, he would guide accordingly. This way the moderator was helping the body to lead itself.
The openness was served also by the use of Google groups and tweeting by the Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs), who were
comparing notes and circulating ideas throughout the week. Yes, some persuading was going on, but subgroups on competing sides of issues were free to collaborate with the like- minded, while respecting the others’ freedom to collaborate in their own ways.
Which leads to the difficult part of the GA. In spite of all of the many efforts to build esprit de corps, a contentious spirit did pervade much of
the work. In committees, open sessions of testimony pitted not just left against right, but former staff against present staff, synod executives against presbytery executives, commissioners against national staff, young against old, red against blue, blue against gray. Major task force recommendations were dispatched to the recycling bin. Bold-thinking YAADs and TSADs (theological student advisory delegates) kept seeing their advice tossed aside in favor of the status quo, the safer way to go. And even attempts to close debate to move on to other matters often were voted down.
When the first-elected vice mod- erator resigned, Presa challenged the “suspicion and mistrust” arising throughout the denomination. Yet,
contentiousness kept raising its head. Prior to the GA, outgoing Moderator Cynthia Bolbach urged the commissioners to exercise caution in their voting. They did. Overall, I’m thankful for that. I’m especially thankful that they refused to issue authoritative interpretations of the constitution that would have changed its meaning without properly amending it.
However, I come away with an ache in my belly — knowing that we have not yet captured the spirit of unity in diversity that marks healthy
families. We don’t yet know how to disagree graciously. We need to cultivate more of the wonderfully prayerful, open part of our life together and diminish the difficult, contentious part. Is that too much to hope?