Who don’t I know?

Teri McDowell Ott's editorial for Outlook's "Wrapping up a historic, hybrid General Assembly" issue.

I used to sideline my curiosity about new people, saying to myself, “She seems really cool. I’d like to meet her, but I don’t want to seem creepy.” Now, as the editor of the Presbyterian Outlook, meeting new people and engaging in conversation is an essential part of my job. My goals for the Outlook include not only expanding our readership but expanding the voices we include and amplify. More voices, more perspectives on issues, more diversity leads us to a clearer discernment of God’s truth.

This summer’s General Assembly offered many opportunities to meet new people. While our Outlook reporting team was in Louisville, I took advantage of coffee and lunch breaks to slide into vacant seats at commissioners’ tables or sit outside the Presbyterian Center with young adult advisory delegates (YAADs) while they ate their boxed lunches. In the halls, I pulled aside Office of the General Assembly (OGA) staff to ask, “How’s it going?” Through these conversations, I met some amazing people.

Kate Stoops from Seattle caught my attention as a smart young leader. She’d had to compete for her YAAD spot — two young adults from her presbytery wanted to go. The presbytery asked each to write an essay to be voted upon. Kate’s essay reflected her love of learning: “I will not ignore the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order, I will mark it up like the assignment it is,” she wrote. “I will not waste this opportunity.” Kate is committed to “taking down boundaries that exclude.” We don’t have any right to serve as “bouncers” in the church, she wrote, “Jesus invites everyone to the table.” Kate is thinking about going to seminary after college, thanks be to God.

Associate Director for Technologies at OGA Vicente Guna is originally from Valencia, Spain, and became a U.S. citizen during the summer of 2020. He and his wife Ariel moved to Louisville so she could work on her degree in marriage and family therapy at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. While in Louisville, I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the technology chartering the way for this hybrid GA. During my conversation with the tech team, they celebrated the success of Vicente’s “geo-fence” that was lowered and lifted to protect the vote of on-site commissioners. Vicente playfully shushed the tech team who wanted to brag about his work. “Don’t give away trade-secrets,” he said. But everyone agreed Vicente’s work was “magic.”

I introduced myself to Jodi Craiglow, a GA volunteer, in the hall and told her how much I appreciated her funny social media quips, then asked her, “How do you think it’s going?”

“Eerily well,” she responded.

I empathized with her hesitant praise. During a three-week hybrid assembly, there’s a lot of chances to get things right — and to anticipate what might go wrong. But GA veteran Von Clemans, from the Presbytery of Charlotte, told me over lunch that the training for this assembly was the best yet. Nicole Ball, from Presbytery of the James, agreed, saying she felt well-prepared to serve as a first-time commissioner.

Finally, I followed up with Josefina Ahumada and Marilyn McKelvey Tucker-Marek, the co-moderator candidates who lost the election to Shavon Starling-Louis and Ruth Santana-Grace. I was impressed by all four candidates this year, thinking we couldn’t go wrong electing any of these leaders to the office. As the election results were announced, and Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” started playing, I found myself wondering what Josefina and Marilyn might do now. These two clearly have gifts to share; it would be unwise to let them go unnoticed.

Many potential leaders go unrecognized in our church. It’s natural to focus on “who do I know,” but insularity leaves us impoverished of new voices and new talent, leaving a huge pool of people and potential untapped. The best evangelism is done through building new relationships. Who don’t I know? I pray this question will guide us into the future as we seek to be in faithful conversation with the church, the world and God’s Holy Spirit.