The Committee on General Assembly Ministry Coordination says “words matter”

Among other business, the committee voted to bestow awards, change the nomenclature of “AIDS” to “HIV” in PC(USA) publications and work towards a more inclusive understanding of family.

LydiaGrace Gray (TEC-Whitewater Valley) in the General Assembly Ministry Coordination Committee meeting. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Louisville, Kentucky – The final group of committees are wrapping up their work this week at the historic hybrid 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Committee on General Assembly Ministry Coordination (GA-MC) completed its work yesterday, July 1. The final item of business was GA-MC-15: On Determining a Format for the 226th GA (2024). The committee voted 21-16 to recommend to the assembly a plan for online committee meetings and an in-person assembly two years from now in Salt Lake City.

Awards celebrating the work the church. On Thursday, the GA-MC committee began its work with several overtures referred from the 224th GA (2020) to honor the recipients of several awards. Unanimously, the committee sent item GA-MC-03 to the assembly. It is a recommendation from the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) to recognize Ruth Azar, Joyce Hamilton and Ana D. Torres de Jiménez for the Women of Faith Award. The Women of Faith award was established in 1986. Ordinarily, the awards are presented at a GA luncheon. Due to the pandemic, no such luncheon occurred at the online assembly in 2020.

The Sam and Helen R. Walton Award was established in 1991 by the namesakes through a $6 million gift to the Presbyterian Foundation, $3 million of which was designated for new church developments placing an emphasis on “site acquisitions.” Three communities were given the award by the PMAB in 2018 and 2019 (GA-MC-06): Faith Presbyterian Church in Blue Ridge, Georgia (Cherokee Presbytery); Serious Ju Ju Skate Works in Kalispell, Montana (Presbytery of Glacier); and New Creation Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee (Middle-Tennessee Presbytery).

The final awards approved by the committee were the Sam and Helen R. Walton Awards for 2020-2021 (GA-MC-14): Matters to Mission New Worshiping Community (NWC) in Mount Holly, North Carolina (Charlotte Presbytery); Sweaty Sheep NWC in Santa Cruz, California (San Jose Presbytery); Open Table NWC in Kansas City, Missouri (Heartland Presbytery); Ormewood Church NWC in Atlanta, Georgia (Greater Atlanta).

Daniel Presa (YAAD-San Diego) speaks in the General Assembly Ministry Coordination Committee meeting. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

All people living with HIV. “Words matter,” was a mantra repeated many times throughout the two days the GA-MC Committee gathered. It started with voting 32-4 on GA-MC-11 to recommend the PC(USA) no longer use the over-stigmatized term “AIDS,” and, instead, use the term “people living with HIV” on all national awareness days in the Presbyterian Planning Calendar and all future PC(USA) publications. The rationale suggested that medical professionals have increasingly moved to using the term “Stage 3 HIV” over “AIDS” due to the stigma associated with the disease.

George Kerr, overture advocate from concurring National Capital Presbytery and former moderator of the Presbyterian HIV Network, told the committee, “Over the last several years we’ve seen the government and … nonprofits move away from using the word AIDS. AIDS has so much stigma in it, that we need to address that. … World AIDS Day will become World HIV Awareness Day.”

In its rationale, the Presbytery of Baltimore also clarified the often-misunderstood fact that HIV is the virus and AIDS is the result of the virus, which causes severe damage to the immune system. Moving toward the use of HIV or “people living with HIV” helps shed some of the stigma of AIDS and more accurately shares the medical advancements in treating the infection.

Moving toward a more inclusive PC(USA). Several items before the GA-MC Committee urged the denomination to move toward better inclusivity and representation with regard to family structures and LGBTQIA+ persons. The committee voted 28-8 to recommend approval of GA-MC-07 from the Presbytery of National Capital to add gender-inclusive options on session statistical reports, registration forms, pastor information forms, ministry information forms, and other statistical measures used throughout the denomination.

The committee then voted 30-6 to approve GA-MC-12 on directing the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) to update and commend to the wider church the Presbyterian study, “Transforming Families,” previously approved by the 216th GA in 2004.

In its rationale for the overture, ACSWP stated, “The whole notion of ‘family’ is in transition as we move into the middle of the 21st century. … Many contemporary Christian churches, including those of the PC(USA), have been led to new understandings of family that are less bound by traditional cultural norms. In the past, the church supported the culturally normative ‘nuclear’ family (married heterosexual couple and children) in its patriarchal structure. … However, in recent decades, the church has begun rightly to acknowledge the beauty and goodness of God’s love as it can be known through a variety of relationships. We acknowledge that a range of relationship structures can be categorized as ‘family’ or familial in nature.”

Continuing that effort toward broader inclusivity and advocacy, item GA-MC-05 seeks to form an Advisory Committee for LGBTQIA+ Equity. The committee voted 30-5 to approve an amended version of the overture put forth by the LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Task Force formed by 223rd GA in 2018.

Sonia Suarez-Cualia (REC-Del Suroeste, left) and Olga Ricketts-Peart (Chicago, right) in the General Assembly Ministry Coordination Committee meeting. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Early Friday morning, the committee approved 26-7 item GA-MC-04 to rename the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC) to the “Advocacy Committee for Women and Gender Justice.” In its rationale, the ACWC stated, “The term ‘women’s concerns’ does not accurately name the human rights and gender justice/equity work that we do, which is a concern for all humanity. By renaming the committee to include ‘gender justice,’ we not only more accurately name that for which we advocate, but we name the work in such a way that no longer insinuates that injustice against women is a problem or ‘concern’ for women only.”

If approved by the assembly, it is anticipated that the Advocacy Committee for LGBTQIA+ Equity and the ACWC (or ACWGJ, if the name change is approved) will be working closely with one another. It was noted that many advocacy committees overlap in their work, creating a shared mission rather than an arena of competition.

Updating “Who Are We Presbyterians” video resource. In 2001, a video was produced to help those who are new to the PC(USA) entitled, “Who Are We Presbyterians.” At an estimated cost of $10,550, the committee voted 35-0 to approve item GA-MC-02, a recommendation that the video be updated to be more relevant to today and make it available online.

Other actions taken by the committee. The GA-MC Committee voted 33-1 to approve item GA-MC-13 from the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky, the host presbytery to the 225th GA. The overture asks the assembly to receive “A Witness from the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky,” which consists of a statement, companion video and worship resources which include a new hymn. The overture also asks the assembly to “Invite the mid councils and worshiping communities of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to set aside time between this and the 226th General Assembly (2024) to intentionally share in lament and give voice to hope within their own ecclesiastical, historical, and social contexts.”

From the 224th GA that was supposed to gather in Baltimore, Maryland, ACSWP submitte GA-MC-09 and GA-MC-10, raising awareness of the challenges of gun violence in Baltimore and urging commissioners and others visiting Baltimore for the assembly to “walk prayerfully and with eyes open to God’s presence both amid the high towers and successes of redevelopment and the neighborhoods afflicted by unemployment and violence, still affected by de-industrialization and the lack of green reinvestment.” Both overtures come as part of an effort by the Office of the General Assembly to call on the PC(USA) to engage more deeply the cities visited by the biennial assemblies and invest in the work and ministries happening in their host cities.

The committee will lead the assembly through its hard work next week when all the commissioners gather online for the final plenaries of the 225th GA.