CHICAGO – When word reached the Mid Council Leaders Gathering that the Senate had confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, these Presbyterians stopped to pray.
J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), acknowledged, “Today will be a hard day for many, while others will be rejoicing.” He spoke of a divided nation and the need for enduring faith. “We need you, Jesus,” Nelson prayed. He asked for hope, for the sense that even in difficult times, “the Lord is speaking.”
When news of the controversial Senate vote on Kavanaugh was delivered, these synod and presbytery leaders – who are meeting Oct. 5-7 at a hotel in Chicago – were in the midst of providing feedback on the 2018 General Assembly.
Generally, evaluations from commissioners were overwhelmingly positive, said Tom Hay, director of assembly operations.
During the assembly, Presbyterians marched through downtown St. Louis to deliver funds from an offering that would be used to bail out of jail people who were incarcerated for minor offenses, but who couldn’t afford to pay their fines. Hay didn’t march; his work responsibilities kept him at the convention center. As he watched the live feed, a custodian at the convention center stood next to him watching and said: “That’s a good thing you’re doing.”
The mid council leaders also were given a chance to offer their own ideas for making the assembly better. Some of those suggestions:
- Have roving parliamentarians available to help commissioners draft their motions, to avoid getting stuck in procedural muck.
- Find better ways to discourage the same commissioners from coming to the microphones to speak time after time.
- Consider whether minority reports are given too much time compared to the time given to the committee’s recommendation. That particularly became a concern in with the handling of the minority report on fossil fuel divestment, said Tamara Williams, stated clerk and administrative coordinator of Charlotte Presbytery. That was one of the top two issues raised in comments from commissioners in the evaluations, Hay said. The other: that to vote so late on a Friday night on the report of the Committee on Middle East was unfortunate.
- Take a look at the role of resource people at the assembly. Do they have too much influence?
- Also, “I wonder if it’s time for the purpose of the ACC (Advisory Committee on the Constitution) to be re-evaluated,” one mid council leader asked, saying it sometimes felt “their offering was gate-keeping and not permission-giving.” A few minutes later, Dan Williams, presbytery executive of Central Florida Presbytery, responded. Williams said he’d just rotated off the ACC, and “we are neither gatekeepers nor permission-givers. We simply advise the assembly on constitutional implications. … The assembly is free to follow or not follow our advice. They frequently do not follow it.”
Hay also said that the 2020 General Assembly will hear the story of the 19 committees, commissions and task forces that the 2018 General Assembly created “loud and clearly.”
Jerrod Lowry, who has just been named general presbyter and stated clerk of the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina, suggested that consideration be given to holding an upcoming assembly in Puerto Rico. Hay reminded Lowry that he did suggest some years ago that the 2020 assembly be held in Puerto Rico, but got voted down. “I wonder what it would mean for this world at this time” if the decision had gone the other way, Hay said.
As it turned out, it is 621 days to the next General Assembly, Hay said. It will be held in Baltimore, “a city that, like St. Louis, matters. Our being there matters.”
Tricia Dykers Koenig, associate director for mid council relations, said the deadline for applications to serve on one of the19 committees, commissions and task forces the 2018 assembly created has been extended from September 30 to October 25, to encourage more diversity in applications, “particularly people of color and young adults,” she said. (To access the nominations website, click here.)
Cindy Kohlmann, a presbytery executive who is co-moderator with Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri of the 2018 General Assembly, said diversity is not just needed for race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and age, but also of geography. “My friends from the Midwest, Southwest, and west West, we need you,” Kohlmann said. “With 19 groups being appointed, there is something for everybody” – about 118 slots need to be filled.
Before the meeting ended for the day with worship, the gathering also offered prayer on the 20thanniversary of the beating of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was abducted, beaten and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6, 1998. Jonathan Reinink, church support associate for special offerings, prayed for those who’ve endured slurs for their sexual identity, for those in pain, for much-needed compassion.
There are times “when we have absolutely no response, but you have something to say,” Reinink said. “May we be your hands and your feet and your voice.”