Archives for posts with tag: PCUSA




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.



“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.