Guest commentary by Chris Iosso
- Belief that the God made known to us in Jesus Christ cares about the PC(USA), and that the PC(USA) is trying to be faithful to that God of love and justice.
(Unofficial: Belief that God believes that not all meetings, like fish or guests, go bad after 3 days.)
- Be a commissioner to the 2016 General Assembly.
(Unofficial: Have a latent Messiah complex, so that you and only you can prevent chaos, fear and mediocrity from killing the denomination.)
- Pick a vice-moderator, aka “running mate,” who can complement your gifts.
(Unofficial: The best vice-messiah can give you intelligence and bring you a network of people, at least in their part of the church. Never forget: The church is memory, relationships and hope.)
- Ability to tolerate any number of people claiming to represent the “Reformed” tradition.
(Unofficial: Suppress sarcasm about lack of institutional memory and theology in much of the business.)
- Willingness to travel a fair amount, sometimes squeezed in those luxurious coach middle seats, to represent both the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in general at other assemblages.
(Unofficial: You must actually like befriending many new acquaintances, and representing often means listening as much as talking.)
- Be interesting and coherent through the moderatorial question time and election, sometimes the most difficult part of the task.
(Unofficial: Just do not sing. At least in recent years, even good singers lose.)
- Wield the gavel, under the guidance of the stated clerk, throughout a General Assembly that may ratify both a new stated clerk and a new executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency — if the latter group presents a nominee for ratification.
(Unofficial: Leadership is the real assignment; being real helps, as does parliamentary procedure, but the church is looking — groping? — for vision rather than clichés and good looks.)
- Be able to recognize with absolute fairness everyone standing at microphones under variable lighting in a large assembly hall, and at the same time to be fair to the larger body when it loses patience on a given topic.
(Unofficial: There is an intuition in knowing when to sum up the feeling of the group and get the group to act when the substance of an issue has been grasped. Do not apologize too often for getting lost yourself, or slighting people, but a few times is probably right.)
- Understand enough of the content of the business, even though your job is form.
(Unofficial: Give the people presenting the business enough time to lay out the issues, as it will save the whole body hearing ignorant or misleading questions that are answered in the reports themselves. But trust your own ignorance if you don’t get it and ask a question yourself every now and then.)
- Preside over recognitions, honorings, remembrances and participate in as many events as possible.
(Unofficial: The General Assembly is supposed to be a great big “round table,” a place to bless the servants who have been faithful and (we pray!) done good. So if you can trim the self-indulgence, good, but allow genuine praise and gratitude to God — that upbuilds the Body.)
- Nominate people to committees or task forces or even special committees.
(Unofficial: Spend no money, approve no task forces, keep the studies small! Well, it may not be that bad, but the church has a bunch of committees already set up and still has a pretty decent bunch of employees; the finance people want you to steer stuff to those bodies rather than reinvent wheels. You do get to appoint people to a number of things anyway, though the General Assembly has a professionally done nominating process — nobody gets to stack the deck.)
- Visit churches, mid-councils and other bodies that invite you.
(Unofficial: Have a plan, bring a message. Yes, they should stand for the office, not the person, when you arrive. But, people want to be encouraged and challenged and you may need to find ways to get invited to places that are giving up or under stress. Also understand that the mid-councils are under stress big-time. The Lutherans have about 50 regional bodies, combining synod and presbytery features; we are groping forward piecemeal and lots of leaders are stretched.)
- Attend meetings of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and other agencies of the General Assembly, bringing reports (upbeat, profound and brief), and appearing attentive (even if sleep deprived).
(Unofficial: Distrust the hierarchal structures, but not the staff in general or the role of staff, which is service with dignity. Recognize how vastly different the pay may be at the top of some of these bodies, far different from most pastors. If people really wanted to reform the national church, they might look at salary structures. See if the staff experts understand the church, and always ask why more consultants are being hired.)
- Attend ecumenical and interfaith body meetings.
(Unofficial: If there are next steps with our full communion partners, few people know what those next steps are. The official bodies say nothing about the other denominations, but ostrichville cannot be your sole understanding of the church. Certainly in your one overseas trip you will meet with ecumenical partners; you may want to look at innovative ecumenical ministries in the U.S. as well as the councils that have done great work for many years.)
- Speak out when God requires it.
(Unofficial: Stay on the same page with the stated clerk and Presbyterian Ministry Agency director if you can. But yes, testify in Congress and at State Houses, demonstrate, show solidarity, visit the suffering, dialogue with the difficult, honor the brave, co-sign letters, show up where most Presbyterians actually get their news and where God just may be working in the world.)
- Return to your own calling when your term is up.
(Unofficial: This is often the most difficult thing, and some say almost all former moderators go through a kind of “deflation” of the ego, often changing jobs, even when the folks where you currently work want to be supportive and believe in loaning you to the church at large. It used to be that seminary presidents would get their turns as moderator, lifting up their institutions but also affirming their participation in the church’s leadership. Whoever you are, see it as taking your turn, and then honor the next person God calls.)
CHRIS IOSSO served as pastor of the Scarborough Presbyterian Church in New York before becoming coordinator of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP). He was a theological student advisory delegate (TSAD) at the 1977 General Assembly, his second, and has been to many, though never as a commissioner.