I served at my first General Assembly in 2018. As a young adult advisory delegate (YAAD), it was a transformational experience in my life. I witnessed the birth of the Hands & Feet initiative, and I saw overtures pass dealing with social justice, the environment, and the future of the church. With my fellow YAADs, I formed lasting friendships. I’ve seen the vitality of our denomination on full display.
I came to the 225th General Assembly with high hopes. I dreamt that this would be the year for categorical divestment from fossil fuels, that we would plan to return to a fully in-person format for future assemblies, and that serious action would be taken to prevent gun violence in communities across this country. We took some big strides, but not all these dreams came to fruition. I admit that there is disappointment in that.
Despite the progress that is yet to be made, I am hopeful. This assembly revealed that our church is still alive, still fighting, still reforming. We are still seeking to do what is right, to love justice, and to walk humbly in our faith. I was reminded that we, as Presbyterians, value the voices of everyone in our congregations. This is who we are. Part of the call to be the church is to show up and lift our voices. One moment from this assembly illustrated this beautifully:
On the evening of July 6, just after 10:00 p.m. EST, halfway through the ninth plenary, the assembly was working through issues of gun violence in the United States. Item VIOL-05 came up with a motion to answer with previous action. The co-moderators acknowledged Young Adult Advisory Delegate Daniel Presa, from San Diego Presbytery, to speak in favor.
Presa did not offer a comment on the overture, instead – in a surprising move – he acknowledged a fellow YAAD and encouraged the moderators to let her speak. The moderators said that parliamentary rules do not allow one to yield their time; it is out of order. But with compassion, they acknowledged Zoe Goode, YAAD from the Presbytery of Cincinnati, to speak.
Goode began by speaking to the realities of this moment — we see active shooter drills and mass shootings every day. As a recent high school graduate, she said: “In my lifetime, mass shootings have become the norm. That is not okay.” Continuing, “there comes a time when we have to choose between people’s lives and guns. And in my opinion, there is a correct answer to that question.” Her truth and vulnerability shook the assembly. Co-Moderator Shavon Starling-Louis then led the assembly in a deep breath before a moment of prayer.
I believe the Holy Spirit was moving in that humble interaction. It spoke to the immense need for the inclusion of young voices in our General Assembly. There were fewer Young Adult Advisory Delegates participating in this assembly than any in recent history. Jeff Moles, leader of the YAAD program, has overseen the last seven assemblies. “For a typical in-person assembly, there might be 130 young adult advisory delegates. This year, only about 35 participated in plenary.”
Young people know our stuff. We bring truth to the table — a realization that the issues of today will not just be in our hands tomorrow, but they are already. In my YAAD cohort, we had vulnerable and real conversations about the issues that our communities face and that impact each one of us. I believe the time is near for us to figure out a way to give young adults a full voice and vote in plenary. Presbyterians at every level should do all that they can to elevate these voices in our congregations and presbyteries.
This assembly considered items of great importance such as gun violence, abortion rights, sexual misconduct in the church, divestment from fossil fuels, and the future of our denomination. After days of prayerful liturgies, live-tweeting, colorful worship, funny memes and Zoom calls that went on for just a bit too long, I am left with a sense of profound joy and gratitude. With new friends – young and old – I am reminded that we are a people of the living God, and that our church will be vibrant just so long as we show up.