“He had so much energy.”
“He felt so approachable.”
“He had the hometown advantage.”
“It was the Obama effect.”
Armchair quarterback time. The General Assembly had just elected its moderator, so it was time for the commissioners, delegates, staff, and observers to provide color commentary to explain why the voting went as it did. The election of Bruce Reyes-Chow as moderator of the 218th General Assembly generated such responses as those quoted above.
At 39 years of age he captivated the interest of the youth advisory delegates. They recommended him overwhelmingly.
At 39 years of age he caught the imagination of many commissioners. Senior statespersons usually get elected to the post, but the aging of the denomination’s membership has generated a yearning for a more youthful face and outlook for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
At 39 he answered the call of young adults who, last fall, set up a Facebook group titled, “A Young Adult for Moderator of the PC(USA) in 2008!”
At 39 he evoked memories of Rick Ufford-Chase, the charismatic, John F. Kennedy-esque moderator of the 2004 General Assembly.
He certainly exuded energy, enthusiasm, and verve. And his informality — has a male candidate ever stood before the podium without wearing a tie? — defied conventional wisdom about appearance by collapsing the psychological distance between the podium and the gathered masses.
His answers to questions sounded direct, not calculated.
He brought a big fan club. Members of his church just up the road in San Francisco cheered his microphone moments.
Put that altogether, and you get the Obama Effect — that sense that this person, this out-of-the-ordinary person, is signaling a change in direction, a change in identity, a change in tone.
Change is in the air, or to be more exact, a yearning for change fills our church’s air like the scent of coffee fills the neighborhood Starbucks.
One intriguing change in store, as expressed in his answer to the first question from the commissioners, is that, when traveling on behalf of the denomination, Reyes-Chow will continue giving pastoral care to his congregation via the Internet. Virtual pastoral care? Well, champions of pastoral visitation once shunned the idea of using telephones to supplement home visitation. Today’s emailing pastors have gone high touch by going high tech.
This bodes well for us. Electronic communications, Internet Web sites, and e-mail are reinventing our connectionalism. Rick Ufford-Chase introduced us to the idea of a moderator being e-accessible. By blogging (a word many of us had never heard of before then) through his travels, many of us got to experience the moderatorial adventure, the discovery of sisters and brothers near and far who are like us and so different from us at the same time. And he actually read and responded to our e-mails.
We now live in the Web 2.0 era (yes, Rick was sooooo Web 1.0!), where e-mail is being supplemented or even superceded by Facebook and other social networking platforms. Throughout his season of standing for moderator (we Presbyterians don’t run for office), Reyes-Chow built friendships on those 2.0 foundations, and he promises to continue to build friendships further, wider, broader. More importantly, he will be encouraging us to build our own connectional networks to increase the reach and deepen the quality of fellowship and missional partnerships that can carry us into a new season of authentic, uplifting, and world-impacting ministry.
The early Christians never could have imagined any of these modern technologies. But they appropriated a universal language — spread by the Greeks — and they traveled on a system of highways — built by the Romans — to extend Christ’s mission through the known world, and to build a vision for a worldwide family of faith that 300 years later was officially dubbed one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
In this era of change, where youthfulness, informality, enthusiasm, and vision can help us seize the day, let us appropriate the resources available, and with our new moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow, connect with one another and with the world that needs to know the love of Christ.