Six ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament from Presbytery of the James were among 503 who participated in the 224th General Assembly, June 19-27, 2020. One young adult advisory delegate and six alternates from POJ also were involved. Learn about their experience serving through these reflections.
Hyan Chan Bae, Teaching Elder Commissioner
This is the third time I have served as a GA commissioner. As I approach my retirement at the end of this month, I recognize and am impressed with the technology we used for this year’s GA gathering, including using both Zoom and PC Biz. I used both my own and my wife’s iPad to make sure I was able to participate fully. It was a learning experience after 39 years of ministry.
I was very pleased and impressed with the election for the co-moderators. This is the first time I’ve witnessed such a common concern for social justice among the candidates. I believe our nation is facing one of the most crucial times for our society at large. With the PCUSA membership consisting of nearly a 91% White majority, the election of our co-moderators with one being an Indigenous Native American female ruling elder and the other an African-American male teaching elder is outstanding and historical. Considering the current social economic situation of the United States, I hope that the PCUSA denomination will grow in its focus and actionable efforts to be more responsible towards its social justice goals, especially on the local community level.
Beverly Bullock, Teaching Elder Alternate
As with other past General Assemblies, I remain amazed and humbled by the ways in which our denomination encompassed peoples, regions, states, and nations as we came together in worship, testimony, witness, and work - all for the Kingdom of God.
Although I grieved the inability for us to meet in person, I was encouraged and blessed to be a witness to our ability to assemble digitally across time zones and countries.
For me, there was not 'one' meaningful experience during the 224th General Assembly. Sharing in worship, seeing and hearing the hard work of the church being done, electing our co-moderators and re-electing our stated clerk - cumulatively weaved 'a moment' of the church in this place and time.
Ann Cherry, Teaching Elder Alternate
It was an honor to participate in this small way to especially pray our commissioners through GA and specifically a joy to pray Judy through.
It was fascinating to see the PC (USA) Body of Christ in action, not dissuaded by a FB live/Zoom platform, actively discerning the heart of God for this time and place. The most fun was observing the election of our new moderators. I valued the thoughtful speeches and the mindful questions.
Marilyn Johns, Ruling Elder Commissioner
This was a special GA for me; it has been 20 years since I last attended as a commissioner. I felt then and now the extraordinary responsibility of doing the work of the larger church. GA in 2000 was life-changing for me. GA in 2020 was so different in so many ways: meeting by Zoom - and all that entailed: not being able to connect with old friends, no hugs, no committees, no gatherings at all; having so many important actions deferred to 2022; the shortened time to meet (and deliberate issues); the challenges of the moderators. It was an historic assembly, and I am proud to have been part of it.
For me, a memorable moment was the time of silence for 8:46 minutes in memory of George Floyd and all who have been senselessly murdered for the "crime" of being black. (I didn't learn about the person with the anti-abortion sign until after the assembly was over). It was a VERY long time and made Mr. Floyd's suffering much more real to me.
I also strongly felt the prayers of the POJ during our time at GA. It was much appreciated!
Brint Pratt Keyes, Teaching Elder Commissioner
I’m very grateful that the POJ elected me to serve as a commissioner to this GA. It is a high honor and a weighty responsibility. That being said, I can’t say that serving as a commissioner was not disappointing. I was very much looking forward to participating in committee work, in plenary procedures, and in renewing old friendships and making new ones. Of course, I understand and fully support the reasons for going virtual. Still, overall, it was a bit of a letdown; despite my involvement in plenary, I still felt for the most part much more like an observer than a participant.
I found three moments during the Assembly to be particularly meaningful:
- When the assembly – after having begun with many words acknowledging our Native American brothers and sisters – supported those words with action to address two overtures concerning Native American ministries (and later approve them both) during this session, rather than allow them to be deferred to the next GA.
- The first-ballot election of Elona Street-Stewart and Gregory Bentley as Co-Moderators. I am very hopeful about their leadership in our denomination for the next two years.
- The third moment was meaningful, but in a negative way: the GA’s decision not to reconsider a motion allowing us to address language concerning the experience of black women and girls. To be sure, the Moderators were in a difficult position, being forced to deal with an electronic process that (through no fault of anyone involved) significantly lagged the real-time proceedings, and often ruling before people had a chance to engage in the matter. And to their credit, they went as far as they legally could in the end to present opportunities to those who may have been (inadvertently) procedurally silenced. My sense, however, is that when this opportunity was finally presented at the end of business, the majority of the Assembly was more interested in bringing business to a close than considering yet another motion, albeit one that the Church (IMHO) was obliged to address. I fear that weariness trumped faithfulness, and for that I am deeply sorry.
Lamar Lockhart, Ruling Elder Alternate
I am Blessed and Thankful for the week of the 224 GA. The first meeting event was on Friday and the opening night which was extended into the next day set the stage for an Exciting, Educational and Spiritual next week for many reasons. The Co-Moderators, organizers and participants were all spiritually energized.
The sessions which required both Spiritual and Professional training were conducted with just the "Right" amount of patience and understanding. There were moments of heighten concerns with requests for special exceptions and "Rule" bending. The Co-Moderators handled each situation and did not let participant's emotions turn into conflicts.
The Co-Moderators were well prepared and met the challenges. The newly elected Co-Moderators will present a combination of Spirituality, Growth and Inclusion. The three functions of Ministry go hand and hand. The two Moderators appear to bring many personal, denominational, and church related experiences to the positions each have been called to fill.
The worship experiences were "Spiritual, diverse and well presented." The Stated Clerk was impressive and gives me hope that the PCUSA is focused on Preaching and Discipleship. The most meaningful moment was the vote and election of the Co-Moderators. I have a granddaughter at Redstone, Huntsville, AL and will refer her to Fellowship Presbyterian Church.
I thank the POJ for the opportunity to represent the presbytery as an alternate and look forward to 225 GA.
Noah Morgan, Young Adult Advisory Delegate
Serving as a YAAD to the 224th GA has meant a great deal to me. This unique experience has given me the opportunity to see the diversity of thought within the PC(USA), especially around important issues facing the Church. Even with a condensed docket and fewer plenaries, the Assembly took the time to address important issues which could not be pushed off until the next GA, including our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a call to action addressing white supremacy, racial violence, and the support of our siblings of color.
However, the GA did not and cannot address every issue, and for me, this reinforces the importance of the local church. The primary work of the Church doesn’t happen at the national level; instead, it is the witness and activism of the local church equipping the saints, which accomplishes the work of the Kingdom of God in matters of justice, discipleship, and evangelism. This GA has reignited my passion to roll up my sleeves to do the work and witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The most meaningful moment I experienced during the GA was not really one moment, but a series of moments of solidarity within the YAAD group. The YAADs come from diverse geographical, political, and socio-economic backgrounds. However, we supported each other, holding space for differing ideas and priorities, while staying true to our own. The YAAD group created a space to debrief, struggle with, and digest the information and results of each plenary. Even though we never got the chance to meet in-person, we formed unique bonds which can never be replaced.
Kenna Payne, Ruling Elder Commissioner
Please let me begin by expressing my sincere appreciation for the Presbytery’s election of me to serve as a Commissioner to the 224th General Assembly, held by Zoom meeting in June 2020. This service has been a highlight of my experiences in all levels of the church, and it is one that I will honor and not forget.
Well, this certainly was not the usual General Assembly (GA) and was not the one for which I (and everyone else) prepared. My expectations of committee work, events, group meals and fellowship, and plenary sessions, and my anticipation of exciting daily worship services had been things for which I had been mentally and intellectually preparing since my election. With the logistical changes made necessary by the pandemic, I thought that this would be an uneventful and un-exciting GA. I’m glad to say I was wrong.
Despite the unusual structural nature of the meeting, serving in this role and at this level demonstrated to me WHY I chose to become a Presbyterian over 40 years ago. In everything that happened, that was said, that was decided, I felt the strong connectional nature of every person, church, presbytery, synod, and staff working to conduct the church’s secular business in the midst of our sacred lives. God’s love, grace, and spirit were everywhere. It was a privilege to hear people present pieces of business, to pose questions, to discuss, and then to vote our hearts. While the vast majority of planned business could not be conducted at this GA, the situation was accepted with understanding and grace, even by those people whose passion for a particular topic was never made visible on the floor.
With the change to the design of the GA, the theme was changed to Lamentations 5:21 – 22, and the idea of ‘from lamentation to hope.’ I was unprepared for the complete soaking of the GA in this message and scripture – it colored everything we did (even if not outwardly), as we all are experiencing lamentations during these days. The small group discussion on this scripture - part of the mid-week Bible study on this lesson - was the most meaningful time for me. When I shared that I was from a church in Richmond, VA, located about 12 blocks from the recent civil unrest, there were gasps, hands over hearts, offering of prayers, and complete sharing of love from these people I never had met before. We are all connected.
I will confess that once or twice I scrolled through the faces of those in the Zoom meeting during lulls in the conversation. This afforded me the opportunity to see over 750 faces in more than 30 pages (25 per page!) of my siblings in Christ. Knowing that we were all connected in our love for Jesus and the PCUSA was a comforting thought, bringing some connective and collective hope out of our connected and collected lamentations.
The planning and work done by the Office of the General Assembly was nothing short of amazing. Within a very short timeframe, the GA was completely re-planned. With very few instances, the result was efficient, effective, and well-done. I particularly loved the videos that were shown with each start of a plenary session – mountaintop views of clouds rolling over the top and down the mountainside – the perfect vision of the Holy Spirit with us during all of the GA……and it was. Thank you for this opportunity to serve.
Judy Thomson, Teaching Elder Commissioner
I am honored and proud to have been a Commissioner to the 2020 GA. However, had I not previously been a Commissioner to a "live" GA, I don't know if a "virtual" GA could have conveyed to me the awe-inspiring experience it is to be a part of the biannual, national-level, gathering of the PC(USA). Participating in the working through of the policymaking, program-approving, and God-worshiping experience of a couple of thousand people plus the national denominational leadership. from all across the country, that is a live General Assembly, is a humbling and exciting experience. It's not the same when you sit in your home office at your computer, bare-footed and visited occasionally by your dog, for hours at a time, watching recorded worship and squinting at pages of thumbnail photos of the other commissioners. I came to a new appreciation of the days of committee work that begin a General Assembly.
That said, I was totally in awe of the technology that allowed us to hold a virtual GA. What resources God has given and what the human mind is capable of building! Amazing. I was moved by the eight minutes, 46 seconds of silence during which we remembered George Floyd and the concept of Black lives mattering. I found I had no trouble pondering white supremacy, white privilege, and institutionalized racism for that time period. I was very interested in J. Herbert Nelson's comments on the Presbyterian Church and Presbyterian churches of the future when he spoke after his re-election as Stated Clerk.
In addition, as the meeting unfolded, I found myself a number of times realizing I was responding, thinking, and voting through "white lenses." That was a valuable insight.
Perhaps it is my own fault for not being better informed before GA. But I wish I had had more understanding of the move to introduce material in support of Black women and girls. Only after the meeting had ended did I read Facebook posts on how upsetting this GA was to many Presbyterians and how parts of it smacked of white supremacy. I had a sense of that during the meeting, but certainly did not have the big picture that I was able to see only in retrospect.