Archives for posts with tag: 221st General Assembly


20140616_174459 (1)General Assembly, while a great deal of work, thankfully has some times for refreshment and fun.   After completing our work in our committees today, the delegation from Heartland Presbytery/Kansas City gathered at a restaurant in Greektown for a great dinner, conversation and a time to wind down.

After dinner was over, I headed over to Tiger Stadium to catch the Tigers/Royals game.   It’s a gorgeous stadium with fun sculptures of Tigers prowling around the tops of the outer walls.   I got a ticket and settled in for the game.  The Royals, for the second night in the row, 20140617_211844scored 11 runs to reduce the Tigers to mere meows.   After all of the intense discussions, issue briefings and debates of GA, it was a great change of pace to catch the game and banter with Tiger fans and the KC boosters sprinkled around.

The day had begun with a breakfast focusing on evangelism.  In another provocative presentation, the speaker suggested that we consider spending less time on Sunday morning and more time in carrying the message of Christ outside our walls.  He shared how he, as a pastor, regularly asks his wife how she thinks worship went.  And then he realized, it doesn’t matter if it was perfect.  Did we gather and praise God?  Pray?  Hear the word read and proclaimed?   Good.  But then follow Jesus into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.

20140617_084416From there, I shared in the morning worship service which featured a compelling sermon and stirring singing from a local Korean Presbyterian Church.   And then we received communion.

Following worship, all of the commissioners headed to their hearing rooms for a second and final full day of considering and voting upon the array of overtures (proposals) brought before this General Assembly.   In my Social Justice committee, we acted upon overtures related to abortion, the death penalty, end-of-life issues, a clemency request for Jose Oliver Rivera, tax justice, and more.   We completed 20140617_165138 (1)our work at 5:oo p.m.   It was gratifying to watch the church, in this committee, wrestle together with these issues and seek to discern God’s call for us with regard to each.

We will return Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to the plenary in the main convention hall where the actions taken in the various committees will be reported and submitted for vote by all the commissioners.  (You can track all the action and relevant documents at

But for tonight, I’ll be satisfied with the 11-4 Royals win which put them a half game in first place.  Who knows what the rest of the season will hold, but maybe Royal fans will look back at these games in Detroit and see them as a turning point for the season.

And GA?   How, I wonder, will this national conference affect, shape and spur the witness of the church in this season?






I woke up to another beautiful morning here in Detroit and made my way from my hotel along the waterfront to the convention center.  The Detroit Princess (right) is moored along the walk.  Joggers and bikers passed by.

Our day began with a 7 a.m. breakfast and hilarious/biting/provocative/inspiring talk by writer Lillian Daniels.  Her most recent book is  When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. Daniels spoke about how mainline denominations like the PCUSA have a tendency to offer utilitarian reasons for coming to church (i.e., we’re friendly, we have a great choir, good youth programs, etc.) instead of speaking about the difference Christ makes in our fellowship and own lives.   That seems a helpful, if basic, reminder for our church today.

Following breakfast, all the commissioners and advisory delegates divided up among the 15 committees that will hold the first round of discussions and voting on all the overtures (proposals) that are before the Assembly.  (While advisory delegates don’t have a vote on the FLOOR of GA, they DO have a vote in committee.)   I am serving on the Social

20140616_114747 Justices Committee and we’ll be considering 18 different overtures — from agricultural policies,  the death penalty, gun violence, end of life issues, tax justice and more.   Anyone can follow all the business of any committee by going to  Once there, click on the “Committee” tab and then on a link for any of the 15 committees.  Once at a Committee’s page, click on the “schedule” tab and you can see what each committee is working on at what time — as well as find links to the documents (including the original overtures) that the commissioners themselves are using.

I’ll welcome your comments and questions on any of the topics before the Social Justice or the other 14 committees!

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  (Acts 2:4-8)

This morning, GA commissioners fanned out across Detroit to attend worship.  I walked with others 8 blocks over to the historic Fort Street Presbyterian Church.   The soaring steeple reached up into the bright blue morning sky.   Upon entering the church, I found a pew along with Jason Carle, pastor of Overland Park Presbyterian Church.  (Jason and I are roommates at the Detroit Marriott.)

The Reverend Dr. Sharon Mook entered the sanctuary with Rabbi Alissa Wise and Imam Abdullah El-Amin.  The newly elected Moderator of the PCUSA, elder Heath Rada, was also in attendance and offered opening words of greetings.  After opening songs and prayer, Rabbi Wise and Imam El-Amin gave words of greeting from their respective faith communities.  Rabbi Wise spoke of the Jewish tradition of “disagreeing for heaven’s sake” — which means on one hand standing up for justice, but then also being committed to being in relationship with one another.  Imam El-Amin celebrated our common Abrahamic tradition, and then in a moving moment, recited the Lord’s Prayer.  He then shared passages from the opening of the Quran which echo calls to glorify and rely upon God.20140615_093702

Rev. Mook preached from the text of Acts 2:1-13.    Referencing the work of theologian Eric Law, she asked this question:  Is the miracle of Pentecost a miracle of the tongue or a miracle of the ear?  We often assume the former, but this passage from Acts references speaking once and hearing/understanding three times.  It was an appropriate call for all the commissioners, and all the members of our national church, to seek to listen with urgency, patience and love as we head into the work of the General Assembly.

Following the worship service, I met in the narthex one of Rabbi Wise’s colleagues (Stephanie)  from Jewish Voices for Peace.  Stephanie and I talked about the question of whether or not the PCUSA should divest from three companies (Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola) or boycott products made in Jewish settlements as a means to promote justice for the Palestinian community, while remaining committed to Israel’s peace and security.  I am prayerfully considering this issue.   Jewish Voices for Peace is in favor of the divestment and boycott.   I asked Stephanie if she has encountered resistance from other members of the Jewish community because of JVP’s stance.  She told me that initially some of her own family20140615_114548 (1) members stopped talking with her, but now there is more dialogue and openness on this issue within her own family and the Jewish community at large.   I continued that conversation over lunch with other commissioners.   It’s one of the topics that will be coming up in the days to come.  (Photo above — Rabbi Wise meets PCUSA moderator Heath Rada.)

Leaving the church, I was grateful for a nourishing and thought-provoking service of worship and time of dialogue.  A miracle of the tongue or a miracle of the ear?  I’ll be praying for understanding and ability to hear in the days to come.




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.


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!”


“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”    Romans 15:13

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Welcome to my “GA Journal!”  I arrived in Detroit this morning after a two-day drive from Kansas City. After checking into my hotel, I made my way to the Cobo Conference Center where the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA is being held.   For the first time, I am serving as a commissioner along with six other commissioners from Heartland Presbytery.  In total, there are 656 voting commissioners from 172 presbyteries around the country, plus 172 Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs), 25 theological advisory delegates,  8 missionary advisory delegates and 15 ecumenical advisory delegates.  In addition, there are hundreds of other attendees — visitors, PCUSA staff and exhibitors.


The Assembly kicked off this morning with a rousing service of worship with about 2,500 people.   Outgoing moderator Rev. Neal Presa preached on the texts of Luke 24:28-51 and Romans 15:1-6, 13.  Romans  15:13 is the theme of this General Assembly.

After lunch, I explored the exhibit hall which has dozens of booths for PCUSA organizations, advocacy groups, missionary organizations, seminaries, vendors and others.   As I made my way, I delighted in seeing Veeda Javaid from the Presbyerian Education Board of Pakistan, whom we support and hosted at BRPC last fall.

The official business of the Assembly has begun.  Our host presbytery, 20140614_150617 (1)the presbytery of Detroit, opened the assembly with a welcome and stirring video about the state of the city and the call for hope.  “Little did we know how appropriate the GA theme from Romans 15:13, picked several years ago, would be for our city today,”  said a Detroit pastor of the past 30 years.    He then highlighted the importance of racial justice for the city and for our nation.  He recalled how Dr. King gave the first rendition of his “I have a Dream” speech here in this same Cobo Conference Center on June 23, 1963.   That struck me since that was the day I was born.

Then a moment of great hilarity ensued as members of the national staff of the PCUSA were introduced in a video in which they lip-synced a song about GA sung to the tune from “Les Miserables.”  You can watch it on YouTube; it’s a hoot!

Over the course of the next seven days, I will be reporting on my experiences here at GA and of the broader church.  I’ll reflect on the business of the assembly, our times of worship, encounters with other Presbyterians from around the country, and my encounters in the city of Detroit.  I welcome your comments and questions in the comment space below as I go through the week.  Perhaps you’re wondering about something, or maybe you want to express a view about any business before the assembly.   I welcome all your comments!

A last word of grace.   As some know, my mom passed away on Tuesday of this week, which of course is quite fresh upon my heart.   I ate lunch today with some other commissioners from Heartland Presbytery (including Rev. Sandra Stogsdill of 1st Presbyterian Lee’s Summit).   Another commissioner at our table was from Newark, NJ.   I said to her, “Oh, I grew up for a time in Basking Ridge (which is 30 miles from Newark).  My dad,”  I added, “was the pastor at Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church.”   At that, Sandra put her sandwich down and said “Really?!  I did my field study as a seminarian for 9 months at your dad’s church the year before he retired!   I remember your mom.   I had lunch with your parents in their home.  This is strange, but I remember — and this was 20 years ago — how your mom commented on my sweater which had this special embroidery.  She was really nice.”

While I have known Sandra through our Presbytery for a few years, I never knew that she had served at my dad’s church.  And of course I had no idea that she had ever met my mother.  It was a gentle grace as I begin my time at this gathering of our national church, and it was a personal experience of how we are joined in the body of Christ.