We greet you with great hopes for our denomination and with gratitude for the privilege of serving as your co-moderators. By the time we gather at Big Tent in July, we will have visited 19 presbyteries, four synods, three seminaries, two Presbyterian-related colleges, three ecumenical dialogues, eight conferences (including the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, Montreat College Conference, Association of Presbyterian Church Educators annual event, Progressive Youth Ministry Conference, White Privilege Conference and the Mo-Ranch Women’s Conference), made three international trips (Thailand, Lebanon/Syria and Rwanda) and attended countless meetings. We are happy to share our observations so far.
Presbyterian Outlook: Where are you seeing the movement of the Spirit?
Jan Edmiston: You might have heard this question asked: “If your congregation disappeared, who would notice?” Many of the communities I’ve visited would be spiritually and socially decimated if their local Presbyterian congregations disappeared. While offering the usual worship and Christian education offerings, our thriving congregations have a common characteristic: They are addressing what breaks God’s heart in their communities in the name of Jesus Christ. The Presbyterian Church in Minyara, Lebanon, offers a school for Syrian refugee children living in the camp nearby. They meet in a former car garage and the school is staffed by church members. In addition to the school, their church building offers two medical offices, a dental office, a bookstore (the only place where Bibles are sold in that part of Lebanon) and a hostel.
The farm workers in Immokalee, Florida, would be in dire straits without their partnership with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the congregations of Peace River Presbytery. And many other congregations and presbyteries are offering life-giving ministries in addition to their regular worship and education programs. Our bravest ministries throughout the PC(USA) offer new, creative portals through which people can connect with each other apart from Sunday mornings. From pay-as-you-can cafés to UKirk gatherings, I’ve seen the Spirit working to crack open traditional ways of being the church.
Denise Anderson: The beauty of this job is that you get an intimate and hopeful glimpse into what’s going on in our communion and what God is impressing upon the hearts of God’s people. I’ve gotten to see firsthand the extensive work our mission co-workers are doing to combat human trafficking in Asia. Our presbyteries are deeply engaged in local mission and justice work. Our congregations are wrestling and working with the difficult realities of racism, even when it makes them uncomfortable or they receive pushback for it. Our ministers are on the frontlines in the fight against poverty and inequity. Our seminarians are some of the brightest and most engaging people I’ve met, and they give me immense hope for the future. Presbyterian Women and Self Development of People have been instrumental in, among countless other things, helping Rwanda rebuild more than two decades after the genocide. (By the way, I implore you to support our mission co-workers financially and to provide space for them to share when they come back for itineration!)
I often tell people that good news doesn’t sell papers, and I say that because it is very easy for us to focus on what’s not working or what needs to be fixed. And we should focus on those things. We should always strive to do and be better. But I hope that the stories of amazing courage and relentless work for God’s kin-dom aren’t being buried by worries and fears. Rather than lament what we aren’t, I want us to pay attention to what we are and dream big about what we could be. God is doing wonderful things – and using us to do them!
Outlook: What are your hopes for the next half of your co-moderator journey?
Anderson: As much as I am invigorated by the stories we’re able to hear, I hope that in the second half of our term we can share those stories more broadly and effectively. We also sense that our country and the world are in a kairos moment and the church is being called by the Spirit to bear a strong witness. I’m still a pastor, and I’m concerned for my congregants who have myriad health issues, who face immigration challenges and who are trying to climb above the poverty line. We’re hoping to help encourage and equip the PC(USA) to be doers of justice and beacons of hope for these tumultuous times.
Edmiston: One of the issues we felt called to address was racial justice, and subsequently we asked the whole church to consider reading one book together as a denomination. After a great response from those reading and talking about “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving, we hope to continue with another One Church/One Book offering in our second year. While we want conversations about race to continue, we also want to expand the conversation by addressing the intersection between race and the economy.
Outlook: What has surprised you the most?
Edmiston: The experience of serving as co-moderator has been much more invigorating than exhausting (but ask me again this time next year). Although I’m not surprised that the co-moderator model is working well, I’m happily surprised about how beautifully it works. It has especially helped that Denise and I live in different parts of the country. (She can easily drive to many places near Washington, D.C., and I can easily drive to many places in the Midwest.) It also helps that we were friends prior to standing together for co-moderator. My hope is that several of you reading this are discerning the call to stand for co-moderator or moderator of the 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis, and that you will find it a joyous surprise that God is nudging you.
Anderson: I think I’m most surprised by how well the co-moderator model has been received and how much excitement there is about it. There’s something powerful about seeing shared leadership anywhere, but I think that’s especially so for this role. I’ve been greatly energized by others’ energy around this, and it’s increased my resolve to do a good job for God’s glory and society’s benefit.
Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston are co-moderators of the 222nd General Assembly. Anderson is pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church in Temple Hills, Maryland. Edmiston is associate executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Chicago.