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Meet those standing for moderator of the 224th General Assembly

Gregory Bentley & Elona Street Stewart

Gregory Bentley & Elona Street-Stewart
Standing for co-moderators

Gregory Bentley
Teaching elder
Presbytery of North Alabama

Elona Street-Stewart
Ruling elder
Presbytery of the Twin Cities area

Sandra Hedrick & Moon Lee

Alexandra “Sandra” Hedrick & Moon Lee
Standing for co-moderators

Sandra Hedrick
Teaching elder
Presbytery of St. Augustine

Moon Lee
Ruling elder
Presbytery of the Northwest Coast

Arthur Fullerton & Marie Mainard O’Connell

Arthur Fullerton & Marie Mainard O’Connell
Standing for co-moderator

Arthur Fullerton
Ruling elder
Albany Presbytery

Marie Mainard O’Connell
Teaching elder
Presbytery of Arkansas

The Presbyterian Outlook asked those standing for co-moderator to share their sense of call as well as their vision of what God may be calling the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) to be and do in the next two years. Given the unique circumstances of this year’s General Assembly, the co-moderators will be elected during a virtual meeting on June 19, 2020. The team elected will face the challenge of navigating church and culture in the wake of the ongoing pandemic. Our prayers are with these candidates, the church and indeed the entire world.

The Outlook hosted a webinar on  June 10 to hear directly from the candidates.  Find more information here. 

OUTLOOK: Why do you feel called to stand for co-moderator?

SANDRA HEDRICK: My call to stand for co-moderator came on a morning walk just after sunrise. I was surprised by the call, but soon it filled my heart with gratitude and excitement! The PC(USA) has been a source of grace, hope and love for nearly all of my adult life. I never intended to go to seminary, or be someone’s pastor, or serve as the stated clerk of a presbytery. I didn’t expect the grace of this present opportunity to serve the church that I love. Even so, God interrupted me with each of these calls and continues to challenge me to embody Christ’s love for the world in every way that I can. Sensing that this call is indeed from God, I see it as a ministry of praying and presence, of loving and listening. If I am elected, this call will take shape by encouraging our church and its communities to serve Christ in prophetic and caring collaboration with others. I am prepared to constantly seek the discernment of the Holy Spirit to help lead change while sharing the witness of the Body of Christ.

MOON LEE: For nearly four decades, I have been blessed with many calls in the church, including presbytery moderator, stated clerk, Committee on Ministry (COM) chairperson and member of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. I have been a General Assembly commissioner three times and served twice as a committee moderator. These calls have paralleled with my vocation in research, teaching and clinical services in the fields of neuroscience and psychology. At each call I asked myself why I want to serve, and my answer has always been the same: for my love of God and our church.

We are now going through an extraordinary challenge of historic proportions. Our idea of what is normal will change and a new normal will emerge. It is our opportunity and responsibility to reframe our practices and reimagine our roles for the future. At this critical juncture, I feel called to share my vocational training in science and psychology as our church continues to understand and learn from these fields in its search for new approaches. Together with Sandra, who brings her own unique ecclesiastical and vocational background, we believe we can offer to the church our gifts and experiences that can greatly benefit in shaping our future. As co-moderators, we will continue to witness to the love of God, just as we have done up to this time. “God’s call, our passion!”

GREGORY BENTLEY & ELONA STREET-STEWART: We both cite their own heritage and the dramatic influence of the PC(USA) on our lives and our communities as the foundation of our desire to serve the wider church — with “a hope that combines faith and justice into a life of service. Our personal experiences teach so much about who we are, and are key to building relations across the church, across our differences, across our experiences through the hope of being a Matthew 25 church as the world experiences the corona virus,” Street-Stewart observed.“We believe it will take all that we are, individually and collectively, to continue to take on the important work God has for the PC(USA) to do.”

We bring an inclusive message to the role of co-moderator shaped by our personal histories. Our experiences prepare us now for this pandemic crisis, with a capacity to address the fears and a panoramic understanding of the immediate challenges.

For both of us, that includes a deep embrace of the church’s Matthew 25 initiative. In approaching the cultural-geographic-political differences and social distancing across diverse communities, we ask: How might we better recognize the diversity and mutuality of gifts around us? “We live in a world house,” Bentley says, to which Street-Stewart adds: “We’re woven together, interdependent, our lives and futures tied to one another, across the generations into the future. We are all related.”

ARTHUR FULLERTON: What a time to serve as moderator! In a moment when our society is stressed and politically divided, our churches mirror these divisions. Scripture tells us “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” By inference, Scripture also tells us that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, neither a capitalist nor a socialist, neither an Apple nor an Android user. Fundraising for Covenant House I successfully raised millions of dollars to help get homeless kids off the street. I did this work as an openly gay progressive Presbyterian raising funds primarily from straight conservative Catholic donors. My secret? I focused on what we had in common: wanting to help save homeless kids. That is the type of common ground I hope to help our church find in my term as moderator.

We need an invigorated focus on service with communities in need, a renewed effort on major gifts and planned giving and a 21st-century communications strategy. My background as a Harvard MBA with extensive nonprofit and fundraising experience makes me an ideal person to help lead this change.

MARIE MAINARD O’CONNELL: I only recognized the call when I understood how the COVID -19 crisis was affecting the church and the 224th GA; I was struck by how hard this work will be, realizing that the situation required a very different kind of General Assembly, one in which our usual business (and frankly, joy and passion) would largely have to be delayed or deferred. I had a lot of the same emotions as others did: I was concerned that the role of the commissioner was significantly altered, I was aware that a GA held during a crisis would by necessity be very different and I was very empathetic to the frustration and confusion of the average attendee as well as the OGA.  What uncharted waters!  How would we connect with others?  What would become of beloved overtures and important decisions?  When I realized that my concerns were echoed by other commissioners and that the overwhelming tsunami of change brought about by COVID-19 had to be handled head-on, I also realized that I might have a role to serve for the body.

I was a TSAD at the 219th General Assembly, and I loved every minute of it, feeling drawn even then to this level of service.  Since then I have served the local church and community in crisis, moderating both sessions and large public assemblies, serving as an interim associate pastor and assisting with the closure of two small churches; because of this I understand that the role of moderator is one to bring peace, order, trust and compassion to the work before us, enabling the will of the body to be made real amid the constraints of the constitution and the context.  I feel called because I see with clarity the changes being wrought by the pandemic, and I believe we are being called as a church to deeper trust of the Holy Spirit and one another even as we mourn the loss of one of our most beloved and transformative traditions: the in-person assemblies. The work of this week will set the tone for our denomination for the next two years, and I recognize it may be the most challenging assembly of our lifetimes.

OUTLOOK: What is the most pressing issue facing our denomination? Our congregations?

BENTLEY & STREET-STEWART: The pressing crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic engulfing our communities around the world has become immediate and most urgent. The church is called to rise, clothed in its contemporary integrity, and provide relief, purpose, hope and encouragement as the body of Christ.

These uncertain times cause us to dive deep into our connectional relationships, our Reformed theology and polity, and our purpose. The church will lament and grieve over loss of lives, homes and jobs with the rest of the world. Nevertheless, it must stand together with all people in compassion, uplift radical generosity and embody the interdependence of all God’s Kingdom.

The challenges that we are talking about in the church today are not just issues, but people and relationships. While there will be technical and adaptive solutions to the humanitarian crisis, this is an opportunity to personify what the gospel is about, for all the people it is about. We are rooted in a resilient faith. We are fit to respond because we know who we are in a world turned upside down. We are the hands and feet of Christ. That is our identity.

FULLERTON: Before the virus struck, the PC(USA) was like the ancient Israelites wandering in the wilderness, pining for Egypt. The Egypt remembered was the post-WWII era of full pews, with lots of children and overflowing budgets. Of course that rosy-remembered Egypt also had segregation, marginalized women and thought LGBTQ folks were criminals or insane.

We are not going back to Egypt. We may still be wandering in the wilderness, but COVID-19 has given us a glimpse of a potential Promised Land. A future church focused more on relationships than right beliefs; a church beyond the four walls; a church that remembers Jesus commanding us to love God and love our neighbor. A church that remembers Jesus calls us to be fishers of people not building preservationists. We can see the new church being born in our 1001 New Worshiping Communities,
in our Earth Care congregations and through our
Matthew 25 churches. There is incredible lament in letting go of the way we have gathered and the where we have gathered. Many churches won’t cheerfully give up their buildings or their method of worship. That’s OK. That’s part of being a wilderness generation. But welcome or not, change is coming.

O’CONNELL: I believe the most pressing issue is change itself: change imposed on us, and change still needed.  We’ve long known about the need to dismantle racism and institutional oppression in the culture, but also from within our own churches — and the death of George Floyd and so many other persons of color has galvanized our country to change. Will the church see this as a moment of our change too?  Will our predominantly White denomination actually begin the difficult work of uprooting white supremacy from within the pews and church structures?  Will we embrace the Matthew 25 Initiative to live into the call?  Change is forced upon us to respond to “coronatide,” this long lonely season of the church in isolation, and the change we need to enable, endure and thrive in to create community in new ways (online, house churches, parking lot worship, small groups and more).  And we face change we don’t even recognize as more church workers and pastors live into part-time calls and duties — our best growing edges are in 1001 ministries and Matthew 25 Initiatives that frequently craft part-time lay and ordained work, and these good fieldworkers for Christ are struggling mightily with burnout and emotional exhaustion without adequate structural supports such as benefits and fair wages.  We need to support and understand this shift in ministry, to recognize the value and importance of tentmaking as the burgeoning norm, and no longer an exception.  This particular change – the growing shift to part-time ministry as the standard – is already at work, recognized in part by entities like the Board of Pensions and yet not well understood by our denomination because we haven’t made its study and support a full priority.  Our most pressing issue is to look fully towards the future, to read the signs of what is occurring in our present and to ask “How is God working through these changes?” so that we may join in God’s will.  We must maintain our missions focus to the world, but we cannot avoid the work we must do within. The most pressing issue facing the church is our inner need for repentance and change.

LEE: I believe the issues of peace, justice and equality will continue to dominate our attention, but the most pressing issue is unity. As followers of Jesus, we Presbyterians have boldly claimed radical courses of reformation in response to God’s calling that demands faithful and committed actions. Nonetheless, passion may also bring division that jeopardizes our overall mission. We need to self-examine and develop practical strategies to translate the principle of “unity in diversity.” Unity is essential for having impact, and true hope can most convincingly be conveyed through a unified voice. In a polarized world that condones and even encourages seemingly irreconcilable views, discord in prophetic voices and actions can be readily discounted or rejected.

Our church consists predominantly of small congregations, where the effect of declining membership and income is most severely felt. Many struggle to balance their checkbooks and repair leaky buildings. Rhetorical appeals and conceptual models do little to address these immediate concerns. It’s my hope that initiatives like Vital Congregations will help them find a new way to refocus toward our unified mission.

HEDRICK: How do we proclaim the gospel in this present age? How do we share the good news that the Triune God “creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people” (Book of Order, F-1.01)? In a time of global change, this issue is our challenge and our call, especially in light of this recent pandemic. It is hard to give up familiar ways, longstanding privilege and rules that become too beloved. But change that feels frightening and disorienting also brings discovery! In our present challenges we are discovering a myriad of new ways to worship and offer God’s love and grace to all people. As we share the gospel in this present age, we must remember that all people means ALL people. This means putting new energy into listening to youth and children, and celebrating their gifts. It means caring for human needs and injustices of all kinds. It means reading local context and making bold decisions about the use of buildings and endowment funds. It means devoting ourselves to unity as we trust our Living God whose compassion and creative power never fails. Then when the world looks at the PC(USA) and its congregations, it will see a living gospel!

OUTLOOK: What do you see in the PC(USA) that inspires you and gives you hope?

FULLERTON: Angels are always announcing, “Be not afraid.” That is a message our churches need to hear today. In this time of physical distancing when all our verities are under sanction, I can feel God saying, “Be not afraid.” God is doing a new thing in our church, and we are all along for the ride.

In this time of change, new churches are being born. We are also reimagining church in our 1001 New Worshiping Communities, in our Earth Care congregations and through our Matthew 25 churches. These give me hope for our future. In addition, our Hands and Feet Initiative shows the importance of being in the trenches providing service to those in need.

I am also inspired that the PC(USA) has moved from grudging acceptance of LGBTQ people to outright welcome. When I served as moderator of Albany Presbytery I was one of the first openly gay people to lead in this way. If I should be selected to serve as moderator of the PC(USA) I would be the first openly LGBTQ person to lead a denomination in the US. This would send a clear message to the world that all are truly welcome in this place.

O’CONNELL: Hope gets me out of bed in the morning.  Hope is everywhere: in the faith of our youth, our growing ministries of 1001 new worshipping communities, the Matthew 25 Initiative, but most recently in the refusal of the church at our most basic core – the individual congregation – to forget our relationships and calls amid crisis.  I have seen so many churches step out in creativity, and frankly dogged determination, to keep up with one another by any means possible: Zoom, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts and the classic phone-tree, cards, calls and social-distancing porch-visits.  Hope is springing all around us as churches figure out how to still do their missions, how to still share the gospel, how to stand up against the oppression and systemic injustices of our culture through protest, self-reflection and legislative change.  I see so much hope in how our faithful are digging deeper into Scripture and worship, going beyond what their church can offer and exploring worship and Bible study in new ways.  I am inspired by all the ways people have found to say “yes” to offers to help, and I’m encouraged that when I’ve asked, “Can you help?” the answer is either “I can” or “I know who might.”  I’m grateful for and inspired by the encouragement and support I see healthy congregations offering to one another and their servant leaders, to step up and share the burden of high learning curves and new ways of being the church.  The Holy Spirit beckons each morning with new possibility for renewal, growth, repentance and change.  I’ve never been so invigorated (or tired!) in my life, and I’m grateful to be among a people that also share this hope — that even when we are so very tired and in need of continuing to change, the Spirit is providing the power and the direction.

HEDRICK: Signs of renewal are already here! Stories of innovation and collaboration abound as our worship and service take creative and meaningful forms! Leaders are confessing that they don’t have all the answers (amen!). New leaders and prophetic voices are emerging in every generation. In the church where I serve as pastor, our youth group leads the music and liturgy on the third Sunday of every month. After our service, our sister church worships in Spanish in the very same space. During the rest of the week, our modest campus is alive with the activities of community groups, our preschool and the satellite location of a Missionary Baptist church that worships on Saturday nights. In the PC(USA) there are new worshipping communities, visible fellowship among the generations and more relevant and timely resources coming from all of our six agencies. The Spirit’s work shines brightly in our continuing response to the pandemic in so many ways, including creative worship online. We are learning what it looks like when diverse voices unify in purpose to be faithful in every time and place where God calls us. I am also inspired when I look at the history of our church, including very tough and divisive times, and I see how God has worked through countless people to fashion the wonderful church that I love.

LEE: First and foremost, I am inspired that we are a faith community passionate about Jesus. I am also encouraged by the spirit of compassionate acceptance widely seen in our church. For me, the most challenging call was the multiple terms I served as COM chairperson in the Presbytery of New York City. It was beyond my imagination that the presbytery trusted this 40-something young immigrant of unknown cultural background to assume such critical responsibilities. I believe this very spirit of acceptance is an indispensable asset for our future ministries, when new immigrants and their descendants will lead our church. Another quality I put my hope in is our tradition of reformation. We are not afraid of change, but seek renewal.

However, as excited as I am by all these promising qualities, I also wonder if they are sufficient to penetrate the hearts of people and to change the world. Can we confidently claim that our faith and the gospel go beyond psychological theories and scientific innovations? I challenge the church to prayerfully search for deeper answers for the spirit-broken world, and seek to hear God’s Spirit with open hearts and minds.

BENTLEY & STREET-STEWART: We promised in our ordinations to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.

As a Matthew 25 church, we see the PC(USA) becoming a cross-generational church bringing all those together. That is the essence of our hope.

Our personal stories shape the inclusive message we bring to the role of co-moderators. “God has used the Presbyterian Church in a mighty way to mold and shape me into the person God created and called me to be,” Bentley recalls. “At a time when the state of Alabama was only required to provide for schooling up to the fifth grade, my maternal grandmother, Virginia B. Howze, was able to finish high school because of a mission school founded by the (then) Northern Church. My mother, Juanita B. Hattaway graduated from the only Historically Black College founded by the (then) Southern Church, Stillman College, of which I am an alum as well. It was the PC(USA) that taught me how to blend head and heart, to nurture the ‘learning and the burning.’”

Street-Stewart is a member of the Delaware Nanticoke tribe, whose ancestral home is across the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore, where the 224thGeneral Assembly was originally scheduled to be held. She remembers: “Even before becoming Presbyterian, this church nurtured me, welcomed me, educated me and encouraged my voice. It is through these decades of service that my voice, and with me the voices of ‘All my relations,’ emerge to speak from truths often overlooked. Gregory and I represent the people who have been a part of this church from the beginning — but often not in roles that have allowed them to bring their full selves.”

Those values in which we are rooted remain the inspiration for our hope in the PC(USA). Education, equity and empowerment are fundamental to the resilience of our peoples and their Presbyterian commitment.

We both understand our own heritage and the dramatic influence of the Presbyterian Church on our lives, and on those like us, as the foundation of our desire to serve the wider church with a hope that combines faith and justice into a life of service. Our personal experiences teach so much about who we are, and they are key to building relations across the church, across our differences, across our experiences through the hope of the Matthew 25 initiative. We believe it will take all that we are, individually and collectively, to continue to take on the important work God has for the PC(USA) to do.

OUTLOOK: What issues do you want to address in the next two years?

BENTLEY & STREET-STEWART: The pandemic has rightly taken front-and-center attention and might dominate much of the 224th General Assembly. This medical and economic crisis will exacerbate all critical issues addressed during the 224th General Assembly and beyond. However, it cannot displace the legitimate concerns of presbyteries and church leadership forwarded through the overture and referral processes. It may be necessary to adapt procedures for addressing business and gatherings alongside of unanticipated recovery, relief and repair ministries.

Sooner or later we will learn how to survive the COVID-19 virus, and over the next two years, we will still need to address core issues of how we bridge our differences, improve our governing body processes, sustain resources to support our mission, build congregational vitality, dismantle racism and eradicate causes of poverty.

In the face of all urgent challenges, as co-moderators, we commit to these core issues and will highlight Christ’s offer of hope to the church and world. Yet, as Paul reminded us in 2 Timothy 1:3-7, hope is not a strategy without action and commitment. This is a time to lean into the values of Lois, Eunice and our other ancestors, and draw purpose from the gifts already within us.

We are not a gift-less church; our job is to stir up the gifts. As co-moderators, our message will be to “rekindle the gifts of God” within the church. God has so many other possibilities for us to imagine to be a church of the living God.

FULLERTON: What does the PC(USA) mean to you? Most can’t define how being a Presbyterian differs from being a member of another denomination. We have no brand awareness. We need to strengthen our communications around our distinctive strengths. We also need a focus on raising major gifts and planned giving efforts to support our mission.

In addition, to help our smaller churches adapt to the changed environment, I’d like to raise $5 million to provide 2,000 of our smaller churches with $2,500 technology grants to build their online capacity. This money would enable smaller churches and their pastors to purchase a good computer microphone, web camera, improve their internet connection, facilitate livestreaming, upgrade or install church Wi-Fi, get social media training and purchase other needed computer hardware, software and service subscriptions. The funds might also be spent to connect low income and isolated members who need technical help or equipment to participate with our congregations in the virtual world. We need to partner with our smaller churches and see them as the assets they are. As the African proverb says, “If you want to go far, go together.” We need our small churches by our side as we journey together.

O’CONNELL: In short, I would like to see the church pivot to address our current and immediate context of pandemic and civil rights as the most profoundly impacting event of our generations.  Just as we are the first denomination to live into this reality with an online General Assembly, we have the opportunity to lead in responding to COVID-19 in other ways.  In the next two years I would like to see the church at each level begin both an assessment and a plan for change in our structures of being; that predominantly white congregations would ask the deep questions about structural racism and the sin of white supremacy as they operate in the church itself, and move to make tangible changes as one example.  I would like to see our denomination prioritize an understanding of our current employment context from a lens of justice for part-time and tentmaking ministers and lay leaders, and assist the Board of Pensions in their efforts to encourage expanding coverage of benefits for part-time workers.  Without the statistical analysis of our current hiring patterns to include the intersections of race, age and gender, we can’t address the patterns of overwork and undersupport held by tentmakers in the gig economy; I would like to see us address the needs of lay leaders and ordained ministers alike, as well as understand who we are in respect to sexual orientation and gender expression.  I would like to address the other epidemics in our culture related to mental health access: depression, anger and overwork, as they are the context in which we spread the Good News.  I agree with moderator Arthur’s ideas to enable small churches to expand their digital presence, as the church goes online en masse in response to COVID-19, and would add that as schools and churches struggle with how to educate when in-person classrooms are unavailable or unwise, that we lean into the wisdom of our Christian educators: we begin to lift up the possibilities of intergenerational and home-based education.

HEDRICK: In faithfulness to the office, and in partnership with Moon Lee, I will address the mission and ministry priorities set by the 224th General Assembly and previous assemblies. I pray that these priorities take us deeper into the three focuses of the Matthew 25 initiative: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. Now that so much is changing in this season of COVID-19, our gospel calling is more urgent than ever, requiring flexibility, imagination and cooperation. In a posture that begins with deep listening, I personally want to be a presence that is direct, honest and encouraging. As a disciple of Jesus, I want to proclaim the good news that everyone’s contribution to God’s mission is meaningful and needed. I want to be a part of breathing new life into “dry bones” that will rise up to join the movement to make a holy difference in our communities, welcoming the stranger, freeing the captive, preaching good news to the poor and proclaiming the time of the Lord’s favor to all of creation.

LEE: While I am inspired by our church’s passion for many issues, I would like to highlight several here:

Nurturing the next generation: Signs of broken intergenerational connections are evident. New approaches are urgently needed. We are used to teaching the next generation, but do we have enough love and patience to listen to and learn from younger people?

Racism/discrimination: We all benefit from the initiatives to extinguish systemic and personal racism. Racism, however, is very difficult to defeat. Categorical classification is hard-wired in the brain. For my personal fight against racism, God has put my focus on discovering the beauty in people my brain automatically classifies as being different from me.

Immigration: Conservative estimates indicate that within the next 30 years, the number of foreign-born immigrants and their descendants will comprise the majority of the U.S. population. Is the church ready for them? My presbytery (Northwest Coast) is blessed with a wide spectrum of ethnic backgrounds, from Native Americans to recent immigrants. More than 30% of our members worship in non-English languages.

Mental health: Nearly 20% of U.S. adults live with mental health issues. Repeated social and natural disasters will increase that percentage. Scientists fear this current crisis will be followed by a pandemic of mental illness. Mental health is causatively related to human suffering in our communities, including suicide and gun violence. The church must address this need. There are fields of services no other professionals but local congregations can provide.

Hidden resources: I have seen Presbyterians with valuable talents representing every sector of the society. Many are not in service to the church mission, and some even think their gifts are irrelevant to it. We need to create a system to ensure that no children of God are left behind.

OUTLOOK: Is there anything else you would like to share?

BENTLEY & STREET-STEWART: We want to honor and emulate the ministries of the moderators we follow by listening during our visits around the church to hear how the Presbyterian Church is here for good, caring for others and blessing our communities.

Together, shaped by our forebears and profoundly committed to the future of the church, we embody an understanding of what will shape this church to be a place where imagined hope is to be made possible for all people. Can we be the hands and feet of Christ and not tackle poverty and racism now in a world of such huge disparities and disasters? Christ didn’t talk about healing, feeding, liberating later. He said what can be done should be done now, I’ll be with you. This is the time to do this. We already have enough, like in the story of feeding the 5000, by participating in the miracle of sharing.

Together, we embody both the pain of our collective past and the possibilities of a preferred future — a future of vitality and fruitfulness in the church. God is doing a new thing in the church and we are grateful to be a part of it. Our communities need us now, more than ever.

HEDRICK: It is through grace alone that I find myself with the ability to share the unique combination of gifts and experiences that the Lord has given me. I am a helper and a healer who currently serves as a pastor and presbytery leader. In the past I have served God as a ruling elder, teacher, writer, mediator and lawyer. As a professional mediator for many years, I learned the importance of deep listening and the reconciliation that begins with sharing stories. As a lawyer, I learned how unjust systems silence the weak and those without power. This led me to devote as much time as I could to pro bono legal services. As a health teacher (yoga), I guide students to a deeper connection to breath and movement. In each of these roles, I find my greatest reward in caring for and connecting with diverse communities of people. I am a flexible traveler and proficient with electronic gatherings. I have steady and gracious support from my husband and extended family. Out of a sense of deep call, and with a bright hope for the church, I offer myself in service to the church as co-moderator of the 224th General Assembly.

LEE: I am a Presbyterian through and through. In addition to our theology, we have a polity that gives us a faithful framework for discerning God’s will. I am also a Presbyterian product, so to speak, that has been sewn and shaped by our church. I was born on the campus of the Pyongyang Seminary, the Korean seminary founded by Presbyterian missionaries from America. My secondary school and college were all founded and sponsored by American Presbyterians. Our World Mission continues to sow seeds in different parts of the world; we will soon see the harvest in our land.

Finally, I don’t deny that my understanding and reasoning are strongly influenced by science and psychology, but I seek truth in God’s Word. I love to tell my story that there’s nothing more concrete and convincing than God’s Word. 

FULLERTON: I’m a lifelong Presbyterian, and I love this church for its willingness to stand together even when we disagree. I love the way our polity embraces lay leadership and how we can be responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We are devout without being doctrinaire; faithful even when doubting; and kind and merciful even when angry. In short, I like being a member of a denomination where having questions is OK, where having disagreements doesn’t mean disunity and where acting out of love and forbearance is more the rule than the exception.

There is no off-the-rack one-size-fits all in the PC(USA). We are diverse in the best sense of that word. We are also in the process of changing who we are and how we gather. That’s OK. God is not finished with us yet. We are being measured for a new suit and some of the seams are a little tight; the legs may need to be let out. We are going to get to the Promised Land. When we get there it may be oat milk rather than dairy, but we will be together.  

O’CONNELL: I would like to share that my experience of being outside the church as a child and young adult and the welcome I received in the Presbyterian Church have been seminal to who I have grown into being.  This denomination and the local church accepted my doubts, my questions, my beliefs and fears, my entire person in such a profound way that I was able to experience the Holy Spirit not only moving around me, but through me.  It is out of deep gratitude for God’s work and the church that I gleefully submit myself to our polity, theology and way of being; I would crow to the world that even when we Presbyterians are contentious, we are so beautiful, praise be to God.