It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. With these words, Charles Dickens begins his classic novel A Tale of Two Cities, a book I first read as part of my eighth grade English class. Those words came to mind as I watched the opening of the 224th General Assembly.
The good news: our co-moderators were fantastic. Gracious, patient, taking minor technical difficulties in stride, asking for help from the Stated Clerk and the parliamentarians when they needed assistance. They even called for a bathroom break three hours into the meeting when one wasn’t scheduled. They made me proud to be Presbyterian.
On the other hand, we can already identify several candidates for most annoying commissioner to the 224th General Assembly. One of the most contentious issues to arise involves the status of San Francisco Theological Seminary. Since the school was sold to the University of Redlands, the Committee on Theological Education has been in conversation with them about their status as one of our seminaries. Since they are no longer owned and operated by Presbyterians, the Committee had decided they don’t really qualify in the same way as they did before, and so their representative would not be seated as a corresponding member for this meeting. You might think this is not a big deal. Several commissioners would strongly disagree.
Despite several attempts, their representative was not seated. However, the report of the Committee on Theological Education was removed from the list of reports going to the next General Assembly in 2022 and will be dealt with this year instead. Commissioners also agreed to take two other reports dealing with Native American issues off that same list and to consider them this year.
This will obviously take more time than was originally planned, so the docket is going to have to be expanded to accommodate these changes. We saw that happen in other ways as well.
Originally, the election of the co-moderators was scheduled for 8 p.m. on the first night of the Assembly. Earlier last week, that was pushed back to 9 p.m. Well, 9 p.m. came and went. 10 p.m. came and went, and Presbyterians kept talking as we are wont to do. I think it was around 11 p.m. that the suggestion was made to postpone the election of co-moderators until 7 p.m. Saturday. We found out the whole process was expected to last two hours, which would push the end of the meeting back to at least 1 a.m. Some thought that pushing ahead and just getting it over with was a good idea. Most did not.
There were three teams standing for the office of co-moderators for the 224th General Assembly: Teaching Elder Gregory J. Bentley, pastor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, AL, and Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart, executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies; Ruling Elder Moon Lee of Community Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA, and Teaching Elder Sandra Hedrick, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of St. Augustine in Florida; and Teaching Elder Marie Mainard O’Connell, pastor of Park Hill Presbyterian Church in North Little Rock, AR, and Ruling Elder Arthur King Fullerton of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, NY. I didn’t really see any of these three as being an obvious favorite. Often, the election of moderator/co-moderators comes down to their responses during the question-and-answer period, which I expected to happen again this year.
These first two sessions, as well as the rest of the General Assembly sessions, are being livestreamed on the General Assembly website and the Spirit of GA Facebook page. I was on both Friday, and for the first 15-20 minutes, I was having trouble with buffering, although I’m not sure if that was due to problems on their end or mine. After that, I had no problems at all.
You may also find it helpful and interesting to follow the business before the Assembly on PC-Biz, which gives you access to see and follow the business of the General Assembly. Using the Session Sync tab shows the business that is currently being considered. Other tabs let you see the details of every report and recommendation that is coming before the Assembly.
I wasn’t going to write daily reports from the General Assembly this year, but after watching Saturday night, I changed my mind. What we’re doing there matters. I encourage you to watch and to keep in prayer our commissioners – Ruling Elder George Lilley from Morgantown First Presbyterian Church and Teaching Elder Claire Butler, pastor of Ravenswood First United Presbyterian Church – as well as our Young Adult Advisory Delegate, Rachel McNeel from Beckley Presbyterian Church.