It didn’t take long after his election on the first ballot for Heath K. Rada — a smooth Southern Presbyterian — to find his moderatorial groove.
Using old-fashioned, hand-written ballots, the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) elected Rada — the only ruling elder in the mix — as its moderator on a night made surreal by difficulties with the assembly’s voting system.
Rada won on the first ballot, earning 331 votes (52 percent) compared to 157 votes (25 percent) for John Wilkinson of Rochester, New York, and 143 votes (23 percent) for Kelly Allen of San Antonio, Texas, both teaching elders.
After his election, Rada approached the stage hand-in-hand with his wife, Peggy, with whom he had recently celebrated his 48th wedding anniversary.
Quickly christening him #modeRada on Twitter, the assembly showed an immediate affection for Rada, who selected as his vice-moderator essentially his demographic opposite: Larissa Kwong Abazia, a young Chinese-American teaching elder from New York. From the start, the white-haired Rada resonated with the young adult advisory delegates — passing out Heath bars and dancing during breaks on the platform.
Rada, a former president of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond (now part of Union Presbyterian Seminary), retired in 2004 as chief executive officer of the Greater Richmond Chapter of the American Red Cross. God called him to that work “as intentionally as if I were called to be a teaching elder,” Rada told the commissioners. He now lives in Montreat and was nominated by the Presbytery of Western North Carolina.
Rada, a member of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, also serves on the board of the Montreat Conference Center and is a member of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University and earned a master of arts from Union Presbyterian Seminary and a doctorate in education from North Carolina State University.
Rada told the commissioners he first said “No” when asked to consider standing for moderator — telling those who approached him at a NEXT Church meeting “I don’t think I represent the face of our denomination any longer.” But folks continued to encourage him, telling him he would bring gifts for reconciliation and as a bridge-builder.
Throughout a week packed with contentious issues, Rada kept his cool, flashing his wide smile and leaning on prayer, hymn-singing and calls for forbearance. Friends on Facebook praised Rada for his “graceful ease” and “steady, firm yet gentle and light touch.”