Saturday, June 25, 2016

Final Plenary and Worship

Yesterday was another lonnnnnng day, finishing last night at 11 pm.  But it was also another inspiring day and we got through our entire agenda of committee reports.

Each day we have had worship and communion together.  I can't begin to describe how thrilling and inspiring it is to worship in this large body of believers.  People are excited about worship and sing out with enthusiasm.  Plus we have had special music each day which has been varied in style, but always inspirational.  Communion has been especially moving, not just because of the size of the service, but that fact you are communing with those who have worked long and hard together in committees, fellowshipped during meals together and prayed together - always seeking to discern God's will in our decisions and actions.

This morning was the final plenary and worship together.  It has been a long and grueling week, but also an inspiring one.  After all the thought and preparation prior to coming here, the sacrifices of my family with me being gone for 10 days, all the moving and inspiring moments together with all the other participants at GA, it is hard to believe it is over.  Even though I am tired and ready to come home.

I also must recognize all the volunteers from the Presbytery of the Cascades, hundreds of them.  They met us at the airport, welcomed us, guided and supported us throughout the week and are working today to help everyone get to the airport and helping in any ways possible.  Even the hotel staff at my hotel, and all the staff at the convention center have been friendly and kind to us.  The above photo is a small praise band made up of some of the employees of the GA in Louisville who worked on all the technology stuff during the meetings, but lead us in music as we gathered and left each day.  I am very appreciative of all the people who were here to support us.

I am also very appreciative of the leadership we had, in the committees, worship, and plenary.  Above is our retiring State Clerk, Grady Parsons and one of our co-moderators, Denise Anderson.

I am also honored to be part of the Whitewater Valley Presbytery's commissioners, Youngsu An, Grace German, Judy Trabue and Jon Reinking.  Thank you, presbytery, for inviting us to serve in this way.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Proud to be a Presbyterian Commissioner

Yesterday was an amazing day.  Plenary started at 8:30 AM and we finished at 11:30 PM!!!

Here are the best things about the day:

  • Perseverance -  Commissioners & YAADs are awesome.  Virtually everyone worked diligently and stayed through the end.  I'm healthy and get around pretty well, but last night I was especially appreciative of those for whom getting here and home is uncomfortable or challenging -- and yet they stayed to the end!
  • Grace -  We considered several very controversial overtures, but EVERYONE was allowed their say about it -- and EVERYONE was respectful of each other!  When the vote was recorded, there was no cheering, no gloating, and no griping or complaining.  In fact several of those on the losing side of the issue expressed their appreciation that they were listened to respectfully and had the opportunity to be in the process.  Likewise, winners were gracious and expressed appreciation for the input of the opposing views, recognizing ways it informed their decision.
  • Justice - Presbyterians again made me proud by coming down on the side of justice and being willing to be a prophetic voice in our chaotic world
  • Faith - Recognizing that God will ALWAYS have the final say, that we need to trust God and be bold in our faithfulness.
  • Unity - The many ecumenical representatives here give me hope for unity!
  • Reconciliation - Belhar and the fact that we voted to offer apologies to native americans and the ways the church discriminated against them, ignored their right to their own religious beliefs, and tried to make them be like us as conditions of faith.  We also acknowledged that the church had discriminated against LGBTQ people and has often stood in the way of their full participation in the exercise of their faith.
  • Obedience - The general tone has been one of attempting to discern and OBEY the will of God in all matters.
  • HOPE -  In light of all of the above and the energy, imagination, and faithfulness of our YAADS, I am very hopeful for the future of Christ's church

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

First Day of Plenary Deliberations

This morning opened with worship at 8:30.  Amazingly, Grace, our YAAD, after a late night of committee work, got up and made it to worship!  Worship, again, was so amazing and inspiring!

After worship, I attended a meeting for COM (Committee on Ministry) members for a discussion of various COM issues and sharing of ideas.  Immediately following, we met with the head of CLC, the church leadership connection, to hear about changes at CLC and advice on ways to better use CLC and to perform other position searches.  Both of these will be helpful in my work on COM.

Then I attended a luncheon for Ruling Elders, where we had a panel discussion about what it means to be a Ruling Elder and how that affects ones work in the church and life outside the church.  It was great to talk with other elders and participate in this discussion.  The moderator for the meeting was Sara Dingman, our interim Synod Executive.  Sara did a great job.

After lunch, we reconvene the Plenary to consider more business and overtures.  Supper together included recognition of Grady Parsons, who is retiring as the State Clerk of the GA.  Grady has done exceptional work in the past 8 years, including extensive travel representing the PCUSA in Ecumenical and Interfaith work.  Grady is an exception pastor and leader and will be greatly missed.  We can all be thankful for the his wisdom, guidance and labors for the church.

After dinner, we resumed business until about 9:15.  This session included the approval for adding the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions.  One of the speakers who participated in celebrating this was Motlalentwa (Godfrey) Betha, my new friend from Committee 7, vice moderator of the Uniting Reformed Churches of South Africa.  He gave a very inspirational speech.  It was a very moving and spiritual celebration.  I was honored to be part of that committee.

So ends another busy, but inspiring, day at GA222.

Catching Up

Wow!  They have kept us busy.  Monday and Tuesday were spent in committee meetings.  My committee is Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.  Our work included moving the final approval of the Confession of Belhar for inclusion in the book of order.  We heard from a number of people, including Stated Clerk Grady Parsons.

The coolest thing is that my assigned seat for all meetings was next one of the Ecumenical Advisory Delegates, Motlalentwa Betha, who is the vice moderator of the the Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa.  He is an amazing man and I enjoyed much conversation with him.  He also shared his story of how he was a poor young boy on a farm in South Africa with little hope for anything but a life of poverty on the farm.  Amazingly, he was able to begin an education and ultimately go to seminary and become a pastor.  Now he is one of the top religious leaders in South Africa.  Here are photos of him with me.

In addition to Belhar, our committee was tasked with reviewing the work of the General Assembly  Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations (GACEIR).  We had to act on several pieces of business, review minutes and evaluate a self-study the committee had done to plan its work for the next several years.  In the course of that, we also heard from a number of other Ecumenical partners who are attending GA as observers or advisory delegates.  That was very enlightening.

I now have a much greater appreciation for the work the PCUSA does in Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.  I am very proud of our long tradition of leadership and many years we've supported this work - working toward the unity of the church to be a prophetic voice in the world.

We also acted on two related Commissioner Overtures, one on Celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the other to encourage prayer for the many Christians in the world who are persecuted for their belief.

Tuesday, after our committee finished, I took a couple of hours to travel to the Rose Garden in Washington Park.  This large garden contains thousands of roses, test gardens, used in developing roses.  Below are some pictures, including one with Mt. Hood visible in the background.  It was a beautiful place and a beautiful day.

The other amazing thing that happened at the Rose Garden was that I met two college age young women who were in Portland for a research project but are international students from Russia and Sudan at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa where my sone Andy is a professor - and they knew him. Is it a small world or what?

Tuesday evening all of the Whitewater Valley people here met for a nice dinner together.  Alan Thames, Kristy Quinn, Cheryl Montgomery, Youngsoo An, Jon Reinking, Judy Trabue and me.  Unfortunately our Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD), Grace German, was not able to join us.  She was assigned to one of the busiest committees and they did not finish their work until 9:30 PM.  We missed you, Grace!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday, June 19

Sunday I travelled by bus with 16 other GA participants to Tualatin Presbyterian Church.  Tualatin is a town about 20 minutes from Portland.  Tualatin is a native american word that means still waters.  The Tualatin River passes through the town and is known for its peaceful waters.  

The congregation was very excited about hosting us.  We were greeted and given a wooden cross necklace that was hand made by one if the members there.  I plan to wear mine all week as a reminder of their hospitality and our connectedness.  

Worship was wonderful.  The church was almost completely full, I'd guess 150 people or more.  The whole service was very energetic and enthusiastic and featured some great new (to me) songs from the Glory to God hymnal.  The message, by the Rev. Dr. Ken Evans-Hood, was entitled "The Fabulous Fishnets Church" and emphasized the connectedness of our denomination and Christians in general.  Ken is a very energetic and dynamic preacher and the message was excellent.

After worship, they had prepared a 'pot luck' lunch for us.  It seemed that nearly everyone stayed and ate with us.  They were very friendly and welcoming, but also all very proud of and excited about their church.

Here is a photo of the front of the sanctuary just before the service started.

We got back to the convention center just in time for me to return to my hotel, check in with home and get my backpack for the day's meetings.  

This afternoon was more general business and many reports by various committees and agencies.  Also the two candidates for State Clerk were formally placed in nomination.  We also heard from representatives of the Mormon church, the Jewish faith and Muslim faith.  Their comments were interesting and enlightening.

After dinner, our committees met for the first time to begin committee work.  Most of this time was spent getting to know each other, learn about the work we need to do and how our work needs to be processed.  We finished the day at about 9:45pm.

Tired, but a very good day, the highlight of which was the trip to Tualatin and getting to meet more of the participants at GA,

Saturday, June 18

Saturday morning, the commissioners gathered in the morning to discuss the Report of the COGA (Committee on General Assembly) on the survey of the membership conducted over the past few months.  It was a time to meet other commissioners and discuss where our denomination is now and what we see going forward.  It was a good way to meet people from all over and get a sense for the diversity of our membership, as well as what we share in common.

The Assembly opened at 11am with worship - and what a worship service it was.  There was a magnificent bell choir and huge vocal choir, made up of people from the Cascades Presbytery our host presbytery for this assembly.  The music, message and communion were great.  The whole service was spiritual, powerful and very moving,

After a nice working lunch together, we spent the afternoon learning about how business would be conducted, how to access information, speak to an issue, vote on an issue, etc.

After dinner, we approved some routine reports and business items, then had our first major decision - electing the Moderator for this Assembly.  For the first time, Co-Moderators were elected to fill the Moderator and vice moderator positions.  Here is a link to more news about the first day:

      Download Today's General Assembly News PDF

The view from my seat:

Saturday, June 18, 2016

GA 222 Opens Today!

Up at 5:30 this morning to get ready for a busy day.  Here is the day's schedule for Commissioners:

8:30am    Riverside conversations about the survey conducted by PCUSA and the future of our church

11:00 am    Opening Worship 

12:30-1:30 pm    Group Lunch

2:00-4:30  First Plenary business meeting

5:00-6:30  Orientation Dinner

7:00-10:00  Second Plenary business meeting

A full day!

Columbia River Gorge: