Newly elected co-moderators of the 224th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Elona Street-Stewart and Gregory Bentley, took questions at a news conference immediately following their election on the evening of June 20.
They were the only team seeking election from which both candidates were persons of color. Street-Stewart, a ruling elder and the synod executive for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, is the first Native American to serve as moderator; Bentley, a teaching elder and the pastor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama, is African American.
Substance. Asked what direction and projects they intend to devote energy to over the next two years, Street-Stewart and Bentley named the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 Initiative, noting that there’s existing momentum and resources to support its three emphases of building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. Bentley cited the need to consider emergent leaders and to seek and discover “resources not yet identified” in that regard. Street-Steward wants to prioritize “how we are connected” to one another.
Symbol. Street-Stewart and Bentley chose the image of the Sankofa bird standing in the Mississippi River as a symbol for their work and call as co-moderators. When asked about this choice of symbol, Bentley explained that the bird flies forward while looking backward. He said this represents their hope to “bring the best of our cultures … to make the church better.” Street-Stewart added that the symbol of water is a sacred one in Native American culture and the Mississippi River connects their synods, lifting up the relationship both between she and Bentley and between African Americans and Native Americans.
Strength. When asked to name their respective strengths, Bentley was quick to say that Street-Stewart is “very organized” while he is a “big picture” person. “We need both,” he added. Street-Stewart praised Bentley’s knowledge and regard for so many who have served the church and said one of her learning curves will be utilizing the tools of social media.
Social justice. In response to a question about addressing social justice issues in this unique and truncated General Assembly, both co-moderators noted that the work of social justice is happening at every level of the PC(USA) and needs to be shared and supported over the next two years of their term. Bentley said that the church needs to “do the work in those three areas of Matthew 25.”
Support. After sharing that this week they will be headed to Louisville to moderate the rest of the assembly, they responded to a final question: How can the church pray for you?
Stewart-Street said: “We don’t want to be stereotyped wherever we go. We are going to go to places where we are unimagined yet … we aren’t going to fit the profile … in all places.” She said the whole church needs to be in prayer so that we can name and claim and address those stereotypes.
Bentley said that while they are excited, he knows there is a lot to do in a short period of time and therefore, “pray for stamina, perseverance and patience.”