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The main business Saturday night was to elect the moderator for the 221st General Assembly.    There were three candidates—Rev. John Wilkinson, Rev. Kelly Allen and Ruling Elder Heath Rada.  Each candidate gave a 5 minute speech and then there was a 45 minute Q&A session in which commissioners asked questions from the floor.  After that, we voted.

All the voting on the floor of the GA occurs in two steps.   First, the 220 “advisory delegates”  (comprised of 172 youth, 25 seminary students, 8 missionaries and 15 ecumenical partners) cast a non-binding vote to give their advice to the 656 voting commissioners (like me).  In the advisory vote, elder Heath Rada received a significant majority.   The second, binding vote of the Commissioners fell the same way with Rada receiving 331 votes, Rev. Wilkinson 157 and Rev. Allen 143, so effective immediately, elder Rada is the Moderator of the PCUSA.

In his professional life Elder Rada was CEO of the Greater Richmond (VA) Chapter of the American Red Cross. He was 20140614_225407also the first lay person to head one of the PCUSA’s seminaries (Presbyterian School of Christian Education – now part of Union Seminary).  All three candidates were impressive and would, in my opinion, ably lead our denomination.

I thought I would share some of elder Rada’s comments from his speech and the Q&A to give you a sense of our new moderator.   In his speech, elder Rada talked about how he saw a t-shirt for sale in a store that had the following message:   “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite!”  He used that illustration to talk about how the church is suffering from division and that we need to pull together.   This was a theme that he would sound throughout the Q&A as well.  Here are excerpts from his responses to the questions asked.  I’m paraphrasing his answers.

Q:   What do you think are the theological views of Evangelical Christians and what do you think their role should be in the PCUSA?

A:   Evangelicals are not a single group; they are as diverse as liberals and progressives.   But as I understand Evangelicals, a foundational belief for them is their love for Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  But then that’s something that we all believe.

Q:   The moderator needs to be a good communicator and help forge understanding.   How do you approach communication?

A:    Two days ago my wife and I celebrated 46 years of marriage.  Now there have been times when we have had 20140614_225339disagreements, but you work those out.   I think the church is like a family and we need to be able to live together with our differences.

Q:   Tell us about your vice moderator

This is the question I am the most eager to answer.   When I was first asked by people to run for the office of moderator, I said no.   I’m a white male, and this face is not the face of the church.  So I went to some young leaders in the church and told them that if they found me a younger partner who could help me effectively lead the church, then I’d consider it.   They introduced me to Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia, a Chinese American who pastors the First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills in Queens, New York.  She’s very dynamic and I know we would work well together.

Q:  What is the role of youth and young adults in the church?

A:  Young people are vital to the life of the church.   They are bringing us into a new understanding of the church.  We need to be techies, selfies!

Q:  What is your understanding of the Belhar confession (which the last GA attempted to add to our Book of Confessions but it fell just short).   How would including this confession in our Book of Confessions serve the church?

A:  I spent time in the Republic of South Africa (where the Belhar Confession was drafted), and had the chance to see that Belhar was an outgrowth of peacemaking and how to work together with people despite hatred.  Adding this confession would help us to take another look at peacemaking and who we can be with one another.

Q:  The Moderator of the PCUSA has to serve in many capacities.  Is there one that best suits you?

A:  I would name three.  (1)  I bring gifts as an educator.  I’m a Certified Christian Educator.   (2)  I can be a  peacemaker.  (3) And I  would be an ambassador for the church nationally and globally.

 Q:  What gifts do LGBTQ members bring to church?

A:  LGBTQ folks are an important part of my home congregation.  But what I find in the church is a desire to get beyond the fact that we need to label people and our church.   I’m frustrated that the PCUSA is being labeled by one or two issues.  That doesn’t minimize the need for justice, but I believe we need to be the church together.

Q:   There are churches that may consider leaving the PCUSA.  What advice would you give them?

A:  We’re family, and we need to be able to disagree and still live together.  I would use my skills to get folks to 20140614_225251communicate and build on what we agree on.  Sometimes differences are so significant that we’ve separated, new denominations have formed.  It’s amazing how many splits have occurred.  But  denominations are a human phenomenon and we see things thru our own lenses.  But once we can’t reach accord, we need to be gracious in separation.   It saddens me, but it is an option.

Q:  I’m a missionary in the Middle East.   What is your view of international partnerships and ecumenical relationships?

A:  Thank you for your service in the mission field.  We need to support you more fully.  We don’t have good history in our international mission support, so I hope we could find more resources.   I’ve traveled around the world and place great value in those relationships.

Q:   Some other countries, such as Ghana, have taken harsh actions vs. LGBTQ persons.  What would you do in response?

A:  First, a confession.  It makes me want to weep, what’s going on in Ghana.  But the PCUSA offers hope.  We are a denomination that invites others to the table.  We cannot impose Presbyterian thoughts on the government of Ghana.  But we can reach out to the people of Ghana.  Make gestures, and also listen.  But hopefully, through our witness and conversation, we can help life in Ghana, or anywhere, to not be threatening to anyone.

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Once the questions were over, the voting began.  Or I should say we tried to vote.   The internet had gone out in the convention hall, so we could not vote as planned on-line.   So conference organizers distributed “clickers” that look like cell phones to use for the vote.  But after a few test votes, it was clear that they weren’t fully functioning.   So finally, it was decided that we would vote by paper ballot – and then Elder Rada was elected.

I hope that you will join me in praying for Heath Rada as he assumes this important and challenging role.  He will have his hands full this week as the GA progresses and we handle many issues, some controversial.

It was a little after 11:00 p.m. when the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, Gradye Parsons, gaveled us to a close.  He remarked:  “If they don’t fix the internet service tomorrow, I’m breaking out flannel boards!”

 

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