PORTLAND, Ore. – The co-moderators of the 2016 General Assembly, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, swung by The Way Forward committee to offer encouragement on June 20 – then stuck around a bit to answer questions.
Asked about their vision for the church, Edmiston quipped that they’re still trying to figure out how the assembly works – “We just learned this morning that we have an office here.” She added: “We sort of know what not to do, but we don’t know what we can do,” and they’re trying to figure out “how bossy we can be.”
The co-moderators said it was not appropriate for them to comment directly on business The Way Forward committee is considering.
But they did share some of their hopes for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Anderson said she cares about the nimbleness of the church, “our ability to be responsive and prophetic.”
Edmiston spoke of her hope that individual Presbyterians would build relationships across boundaries – for example, becoming prayer partners with someone with different theological views, to “get rid of some of the hardness we have.”
They want to encourage conversations about racial justice and to better involve and support underrepresented groups – Anderson said, for example, that immigrant communities are the fastest-growing contingent in the denomination, and she wants to look at ways to strengthen and support those communities.
Another question she has: “Are we getting in the way of the gifts of women?”
Edmiston says over and over that “if we are looking at what breaks God’s heart in our neighborhoods and try to address that, we will be a completely different denomination.” That answer will vary from place to place, she said. “What is it that keeps people enslaved? What is it that keeps people hungry?”
When she’s asked that question in Chicago, answers have included teenage suicide, homelessness, the neighbor who cooks crystal meth in the garage. “We have got to know who our neighbors are,” she said – adding “so many churches have vague or wrong ideas about that.”
And Anderson said that Presbyterians need to “move away from naval-gazing and grieving what we don’t have, and understand the embarrassment of riches we do have.”
Another tip: Don’t be afraid of conflict – “I love conflict,” Edmiston said. “God works in conflict.” With some difficult people, “I disagree and may even hate your…” – Anderson then cut off Edmiston in mid-sentence, suggesting, “strongly dislike.”
“Or strongly dislike,” Edmiston said cheerfully.
When she has a hard time with someone, “I by God’s grace can see them through the eyes of Christ. … We’ve got to talk to people we disagree with and love them in the image of Christ.”
Still talking, the co-moderators were being inched to the door, to keep them on schedule.
“As we say in the South, bless their hearts,” Anderson said as she was led away.
“Bless your hearts, too,” said Cynthia Jarvis, The Way Forward’s vice-moderator, as Anderson and Edmiston swept out the door, on to spread greetings to commissioners in committees across the land.